Ormond Beach's objective is to protect wetlands, a city employee said.
Protecting wetlands and eliminating septic tanks were the major topics of conversation between speakers and attendees alike at the latest OB Life civic engagement workshop held on Thursday, Aug. 30.
The series' third workshop centered around the environment and water quality in Ormond Beach. It featured the largest number of guest speakers so far, representing entities from Stetson University's Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience to the St. Johns River Water Management District. Input was gathered from attendees during the workshop's table discussions which will be used to help the City Commission update the city's strategic plan.
Deputy City Engineer Shawn Finley was one of the guest speakers. During his presentation, he said the city's objective is to safeguard wetlands. The City Commission has been recently criticized by CANDO 2 on the city's protection of wetlands, and members have advocated for the city to return to 2009's wetland protection standards.
Finley said the city abides by Volusia County's standards on the issue, with added elements that relate specifically to the Tomoka and Halifax rivers.
“We’ve made it an objective to continue to support, protect, and manage wetlands via regulations and policy established by regulatory partners," Finley said, listing The St. John's River Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Clay Henderson, executive director of Stetson University's Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience, informed the crowd that Florida has the most wetlands outside of Alaska, although for the past century, it has also been the state to lose more wetlands.
As a result, wetlands today are heavily regulated, though not all are considered equal, he said. Florida uses mitigation banks frequently to offset impacts, Henderson explained.
He also said that almost all the waterways, including the Tomoka and Halifax River, are deemed impaired in the state. If people want to continue to protect our major waterways, they should protect all the smaller bodies of water that help connect them.
“And you know what?" Henderson said. "I think they look nice. You know, I think we’ve got some pretty wetlands in Volusia County.”
Septic tanks and their negative impact on the Halifax River, specifically, were also brought up during the workshop. A question from the audience asked about the high cost of conversion for residents, saying that if the cost were lower, more residents would consider the change. The city of Ormond Beach has mostly eliminated septic tanks, except for those in a few neighborhoods like Oak and Magnolia Avenue.
The largest septic impact into the Halifax River comes from an estimated 5,000 residences in Ormond-by-the-Sea. Henderson said there are over 100,000 septic tanks in the entire county and that the bill for replacing the systems is likely just going to keep rising.
“Everybody wants to be number one at something," Henderson said. "Why Volusia County wants to be number one in the number of septic tanks is just beyond me.”