Monday, October 20, 2008

Yankee Lake Ends with Little Fanfare-Decision Later

I apologize for leaving you hanging last week.

After the hearing ended Thursday, I drove home and intended to post that night. Unfortunately, I felt a cold coming on and just didn’t feel well. Planned to post Friday, but I was laid up in bed Friday and Saturday. Rested yesterday, and I am back at the office today.

Today, I will try and wrap up the hearing—well, up to this point anyway. As you will learn, the ending remains to be written.

Last Thursday, the hearing ended, but not before Seminole County and the SJRWMD both presented rebuttal witnesses. I believe our attorneys did a good job of rebuffing this testimony. And that was it’ no closing arguments or statements. After three weeks it all ends rather quietly.

The parties agreed that the proposed recommended order, or PRO, will be filed by December 8th. A PRO is a legal document that each side submits to the judge, in effect, to state how they believed the hearing went down, i.e., based upon the evidence and testimony, how the judge should rule. (NOTE: this is my take; I’m not an attorney).

For SJRK, we believe our case proved that the withdrawals would cause harm to the St. Johns, would negatively impact our members’ use and enjoyment of the river, and Seminole County could meet its reuse needs WITHOUT removing water from the St. Johns.

The judge will review the PROs, exhibits, testimony and make his decision. At this time, I don’t have a timetable for the ruling. So, we all just need to sit tight and continue our opposition to the misguided withdrawals. Believe me there are many other communities and utilities watching the Yankee Lake case. The threats to the river will not end with this one ruling, regardless of the outcome.

I’ve been asked what we have gained by this struggle.

First, SJRK’s mission is to stand and defend the St. Johns from those who seek to harm it. I can honestly say we have done the very best we could to do just that. Thanks to the community’s support, both emotional and financial, we presented a compelling case against the withdrawal of water from, the St. Johns.

We exposed how little thought the SJRWMD put toward the Yankee Lake permit decision. One of the most remarkable pieces of testimony came from the SRJWMD staff person who drafted the Yankee Lake permit. He testified that he did the cumulative impact analysis for this permit in his head. Unbelievable.

During the course of the hearing, the SJRWMD finally admitted something SJRK has been saying for 18 months. Removing water from the river WILL increase the potential for algae blooms AND increase the length of time blooms exist in the river. As I mentioned in previous blogs, had SJRK NOT challenged the Yankee Lake Permit, no additional science would have been completed by the SJRWMD and the Yankee Lake permit would be fait acompli.

Our next challenge is to continue to monitor and question the science that is now being completed as part of the reanalysis.

So, that’s it-- my last blog on the administrative hearing. Hope it kept you up to date and informed you about this important, no historic, happening.

I’ll end with some exciting news about a new program SJRK has developed. It’s called My St. Johns River, and it is an education and awareness campaign to facilitate personal connections with the St. Johns and to provide you with tools to “get to know” your river.

The goal of the My St. Johns River campaign is to foster a greater sense of awareness, appreciation and understanding of the river and to ultimately provide inspiration and opportunities for you to get out and experience your St. Johns firsthand.

Check it out at WWW.mystjohnsriver.com

Thanks for everything.

For the River,
Neil
Your St. Johns Riverkeeper

2 comments:

About me said...

Neil,
Just want to thank you for your dedication to the river. I am currently in the midst of a two-week goodwill tour of the St. Johns on behalf of the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation District. Anyone interested can follow my journey at www.SJRmag.com.
Thanks,
Steve Barnes
Seminole Soil and Water Conservation District

ufkimball said...

Neil,
My name is Brent Kimball. I'm a law student at UF and part of a property organization that wanted to do an article on Seminole County's efforts to tap the St. John's. I wonder if we could do a brief interview via email about Judge Johnston's recent holding and get more information about the potential algae blooms? If so, I can be contacted at bkimball@ufl.edu.

Thanks!