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Gilchrist receives over $39K in PILT funds from SRWMD

Hugh Thomas, Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, addressed the Gilchrist County Commission on June 29, to bring the board up to date on the many programs that are on going in the 15 county district, including his home county of Gilchrist. Mr. Thomas introduced Ben Glass, a legislative liaison that accompanied the Executive Director representing the Live Oak based water management district.
Mr. Thomas reported that the 15 counties represented by the SRWMD now has over 340,000 in population with the current water level at approximately 63%. “We’re in good shape at this time,” he added. The Director explained that in North Central Florida our wetlands are drying out, but this is a wet time of year when we receive quite a bit of our annual rain. He pointed out that 53% of the district’s water resources actually originate in South Georgia. The Suwannee River Water Management District is continually working with the agriculture interests in the district to reduce nitrites and at the same time use the latest innovations possible to maximize the use of water through irrigation systems.
The SRWMD works well with Gilchrist County and presented the rural county with a check for $39,363.72 representing (PILT) payment in lieu of taxes for 2019.
Connie Sanchez, Gilchrist County Supervisor of Elections, addressed the County Commission to ask if Gilchrist County would support an elections grant that would pay for some of the requirements that are being placed on the Florida counties due to COVID-19 requirements. Mrs. Sanchez reported that the grant is for $50,000 and Gilchrist county is required to pay a 20% match, $12,800 for the awarded funding.
The Supervisor of Elections reported that the new COVID-19 guidelines would require Gilchrist County to clean and sterilize the equipment used for voting as well as the voting precincts used for all Gilchrist county elections. She added that this funding could also be used for the expenses to send ballots to voters in both the August primary and November General Elections. The Supervisor of Elections reported the State of Florida requires that each individual voter have their own marking device to use in identifying their choice on the ballot. Gilchrist County has purchased over 7K pens to give to each person voting in these elections.
Commissioner Bill Martin made a motion to approve the Supervisor of Elections seek the elections’ grant and that Gilchrist County pay the 20% match required. Commissioner Kenrick Thomas gave a second to the motion in support as the board voted 5-0 in favor of the motion.
The Commission held a Public Hearing at 2:15 p.m. to review SP 2020-03, a site plan by Tarpon Towers II, LLC for a 280 self supporting telecommunications tower on approximately 39 acres of Ag 2 property owned by Patsy Jane Coyne at SW 47th Court Bell, FL. Gilchrist County Planning and Zoning Director, David M. Lang, Jr. presented the application for consideration to the Commission. He explained in detail that this applicant had made all of the specific requirements to meet the Gilchrist County guidelines. The staff recommended approval of the application. Commissioner Bill Martin made a motion to approve SP 2020-03 as Commissioner Marion Poitevint gave a second to the motion before the board approved the motion by a unanimous vote.
The Commission in a 2:30 p.m. Public Hearing considered SP 2020-04, a site plan
request for a 250’ self supporting telecommunications tower on 12.54 acres of A2 agriculture land at 4040 NE County Road 340, High Springs in Gilchrist County, FL. The property is owned by Marty Owens Bruce and the applicant Tarpon Towers II, LLC attended the meeting to address the Commission in lieu of questions involving this application. Mr Lang explained that the applicant has met all of the conditions required by the Gilchrist County Land Development regulations. The application was presented by staff and a recommendation for approval was given due to the application meeting all of the required guidelines. Commissioner Kenrick Thomas made a motion to approve SP 2020-04 and Commissioner Marion Poitevint gave a second to the motion before the board approved the application by a 5-0 vote.
Mr. Lang reported that the addition of these telecommunication towers in the county will improve the cellular service in these rural areas.
The Commission heard SP 2020-05 a site plan from Bell Ridge Solar/Alliance Dairies to put a 74.5 Maga-Watt solar photovoltaic solar farm on 523 acres located off of CR 232 east at CR 337 in Gilchrist County.
Attorney Lang asked each of the board members if they had any conflict or communications with the applicants involving this site plan.
Commissioner Kenrick Thomas reported that he had filed a conflict of interest form involving this application because his employer Piedmont Farms is a partner in business with the applicant Alliance Dairies. Mr. Lang explained that Commissioner Thomas would not be involved in the hearing or voting on this application.
Mr Lang presented the application to the Commission involving a proposed buffer that would surround the identified 523-acre parcel. The applicant addressed the Commission explaining that they intend on keeping many of the large canopy oak trees that line the property boundary as a part of the natural buffer. The representative explained that there would be many trees planted between the remaining oaks to keep the solar farm from being seen from the adjacent highways.
The applicant explained the solar farm would provide electric power to service 15,000 homes in the future. The construction of the solar facility will provide from 200 to 250 jobs for a period from six months to one year. The new solar farm is expected to be in service by early 2023.
Commissioner Martin asked how would the management company keep up the maintenance of the grasses around these solar collectors? They explained that a contract would be available to a maintenance company to keep these areas mowed twice a month.
Gilchrist County resident Porter Smith asked if this solar farm would attract lightning strikes when thunderstorms are in the area. The applicant explained that the solar collectors will be grounded and they should not necessarily attract lightning in thunderstorms. Mr. Smith also asked if a lightning storm does occur during construction, will the construction be stopped within ten miles of this location.
The applicant explained that a safety officer is on site at the location daily during construction. If a weather issue does occur, then the safety person will do what is best to keep the safety of the employees from becoming a problem.
Commissioner Bill Martin made a motion to approve SP 2020-05 and Commissioner Sharon Langford gave a second before the board approved the motion by a 4-0 vote.