Pictured is a wetland area
Ryan Benk / WFSU-FM

A controversial repeal of a Wakulla County wetlands protection ordinance is set to take effect in about a week.

While a public vote on whether to repeal the ordinance is on the November ballot, Monday’s Wakulla County commission vote centered around what should be done during the months leading up to the referendum. And, in a 4 to 1 decision, commissioners repealed the ordinance requiring a 75-foot buffer zone around the county’s wetlands during a final public hearing on the issue.

R.Benk / WFSU-News

Both chambers of the Florida Legislature are trying to push through reforms to the way the state regulates the environment. Some call the proposals an affront to local sovereignty, while others call the move common sense. But increasing differences between the Senate and House versions of the measure are leading some to question whether it has a chance of passing this session.

Kim Seng

Representative Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City) says his bill will cut red tape for Florida’s farmers by removing excess regulations.  Currently, county governments in Florida can set standards for wetlands and springs protection and drilling wells. Patronis’s bill would take some of that ability away from local governments and leave it to the state. But Lee County lobbyist Sarah Bleakly says her county’s diverse environment requires local regulation.

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In a near-unanimous vote, the Wakulla County Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended stripping wetland protections from the county’s comprehensive plan. Monday night’s meeting was only the latest in battles for control of the community’s wetlands.

Close to thirty citizens commented at Monday night’s meeting and after the decision to remove wetland protections from the county’s comprehensive plan, reaction from opponents was swift.

R.Benk / WFSU-News

At issue is whether the planning and zoning department will throw its weight behind developers or environmentalists.  Environmentalists want tougher county regulations and real estate investors would like less stringent state wetland regulations. Wakulla County Commissioner Howard Kessler is advocating for the former approach. He argues that the amendment to repeal existing protections is ill-conceived.

R.Benk / WFSU-News

After first voting to completely repeal a wetlands protection ordinance, Wakulla County commissioners now say they’ll try to amend the existing ordinance instead. But, environmentalists say amendment is tantamount to repeal.