Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Commission Cuts Wetland Buffer Minimum by Half

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Commission Cuts Wetland Buffer Minimum by Half

Article excerpt

Byline: KEVIN TURNER

YULEE -- After years of conflict between environmentalists and builders about the width of "buffers" meant to protect wetlands from development, Nassau County commissioners decided to "be done with it" Mondayand voted to reduce them by half.

Officials will now submit a change in the county's comprehensive plan to the Florida Department of Community Affairs, reducing wetland buffers from 50 to 25 feet. The department may accept or dispute it.

The commissioners' vote came to the dismay of the majority of audience members, who advocated keeping buffers at 50 feet or even increasing their size.

Wetland buffers are undeveloped areas that separate wetlands from development. Nassau County's comprehensive plan now says wetland buffers must be 50 feet wide at a minimum. That differs from the county's land-use regulations, which call for buffers to average 50 feet over a lot, but to never be smaller than 25 feet wide.

Those in favor of larger buffers said they act as a natural filter, keeping pollutants out of waterways. The more buffer, the more filtration, they say.

"At 25 feet, you're letting water quality and aquatic life take a back seat to development," Winifred Stephenson said. "Don't put the economic gain of a few individuals over the people who live in Nassau County."

Speakers favoring the buffer reduction said there's no definitive scientific standard for how big wetland buffers should be. They said the county has had mixed signals in its development laws long enough.

"The buffers, from a water management point of view, aren't terribly relevant," Nassau Builders Council Chairman Bill Moore said. "Continued delay doesn't accomplish what we need to accomplish in this county."

"There is no science having to do with what the buffer should be," said Marcia Tjoflat of the Builders Council. "That's why the [St. Johns River] Water Management District is the appropriate agency to look at this."

In keeping to the 25-foot buffers, county officials say they are getting out of wetland buffer enforcement and deferring to the St. …

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