MARTIN COUNTY — Several Martin County officials and activists agreed that local governments should have the final say on the location of Florida Inland Navigation District sediment processing facilities for dredging projects in the Intracoastal and Okeechobee waterways, as requested by a group of Sebastian homeowners.
“I think that’s a fine proposal,” Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard said. “I think that all projects that are funded with taxpayers dollars should undergo rigorous public scrutiny before they’re approved.”
The Concerned Taxpayers of Indian River County submitted petitions with more than 600 signatures to state lawmakers asking for legislation to give county commissions veto power over the location of sediment facilities. They hope the proposal will be discussed during the legislative session that starts in January.
The group is fighting a sediment facility under construction on U.S. 1 near their homes, which they fear will harm their property values and quality of life. They were taken aback that work started on the 46-acre earthen dike without notice to nearby property owners or the typical government approvals for a construction project.
“We have been and continue to send letters to advocate for a change in the Florida statute because it is the basis for all that is wrong with FIND,” said Hal Goforth, a Sebastian area homeowner. “It gives tax dollars and autonomy to FIND without public recourse.”
David Roach, FIND’s executive director, said the district does not need to obtain local government approvals to build the containment basins because they are used to maintain a federal transportation facility, the Intracoastal Waterway. Roach also maintains FIND only spends money on dredging projects and facilities that are needed.
“The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway project is a congressionally authorized federal navigation project supporting intrastate commerce,” Roach said. “As such, it is exempted from local laws through federal supremacy.”
While officials in Indian River and St. Lucie counties have required no local county permits for the construction of sediment facilities, Martin County planners said they believe FIND would have to comply with at least some county development regulations.
The issue could come to a head in 2012 when FIND plans to start work on a 32-acre containment basin near the St. Lucie Lock and Dam in Martin County to handle the sediment from a dredging project in the Okeechobee Waterway that is set for 2013.
Engineering and design is under way for the $1.8 million sediment facility, FIND records show. Engineering and design for the $1.5 million dredging project is expected to start in 2012.
The agricultural property would need a land use and zoning change to conform to county policies for a dredge spoil management site, Martin County Growth Management Director Nicki van Vonno said. The sediment facility also would need site plan approval, unless FIND can point to a state statute that exempts the project from local permitting requirements.
“Regardless of that determination there are provisions within the Comp Plan that all sites must meet,” van Vonno said. “So these policies would be reviewed with them at (a pre-application meeting with county planners).”
Roach said local governments have a legal responsibility to designate lands in their comprehensive plan for spoil sites.
Virginia Sherlock, a Stuart lawyer who often represents homeowners on land use issues, said she agrees FIND’s sediment facilities should be subject to county regulations.
“I do not understand why federal or state regulations should pre-empt local land use controls which protect neighborhoods and citizens from having potentially hazardous materials dumped and stored near their homes,” Sherlock said. “The farther removed citizens are from the decision-makers, the harder it is to ensure that good decisions are made.”
Jacqueline Trancynger said she was surprised to learn that FIND has long-standing plans to build a sediment facility east of Savannah Road, not far from her home in the Jensen Park Estates subdivision.
“Why are people so angry at government right now in this time in our country’s history? It’s because people have no say in their own government,” Trancynger said. “I want my destiny to be in the hands of the people in Martin County.”