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NWFWMD board rejects Bay County wellfield application

Staff report

The Northwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board voted unanimously to accept an administrative law judge’s finding that “it is not in the public interest for Bay County to operate the wellfield” in the Sand Hill Lakes region.

The decision came after hearing from its legal counsel, opposing lawyers for Bay and Washington counties, and several supporters of the Save Sand Hill Lakes Coalition.

“We need to stop this (legal dispute) and consider what we’re doing with the taxpayers’ money,” said board member Joyce Estes just before the panel voted.

The two-year dispute over the wellfield stems from Bay County’s original proposal to draw up to 30 million gallons of water daily from an area located in northern Bay County on the Washington County line. The area is home to a fragile network of hundreds of karst lakes, some of which now look more like puddles after years of drought.

Doug Manson, lead counsel for one of the petitioners in the lawsuit against Bay County, applauded the board’s decision.

“We thank the governing board for listening to us and to the citizens who came here today to voice their concerns about the Sand Hill Lakes area,” he said. “We are ready to put this divisive issue behind us and foster better relations with Bay County. It is our hope to work with Bay County in the future.”

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