Live Oak —
By Lori McCraney
Suwannee County resident
I am writing with regard to the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners recent 3-2 vote to decline assistance from the Department of Economic Opportunity. The commissioners had only recently voted 3-2 to seek DEO assistance in developing the Suwannee County Land Development Regulations in a manner acceptable to both the board and to the community. The agency had responded and indicated that it could advise the board at no cost. Now, the commissioners have reversed course, and in doing so violated the good faith of the public.
Last month, the No Bio group submitted a list of recommended changes to the Land Development Regulations for the board to consider:
- Removing the harmful “by right” additions to the LDRs.
- Prohibiting uses and structures that are unacceptably dangerous or polluting.
- Correcting context errors (misplaced text) in the LDRs and the Suwannee County Comprehensive Plan.
These changes were to be part of the conversation that commissioner Jason Bashaw had suggested, but now the board has summarily rejected these suggestions, ignoring the 2,263 petition signatures of county residents asking the board to remove the “by right” text.
The unprecedented LDR 13-06 “by right” additions to the LDRs effectively bypass public hearings for special permits and special exceptions for the Catalyst site. They also remove the public’s right to be heard regarding the catalyst site’s future development.
The board is continuing to modify the LDRs in a piecemeal fashion for the commissioners’ convenience. Now, with yet another proposed amendment, LDR 13-07, the board is suggesting the addition of one public hearing before the board, which grants exclusive catalyst rule-making and oversight to the board. This also limits the public’s opportunity for discovery to only one public hearing.
Narrowing such authority to these five public officials is without precedent and usurps the conventional authority of the Board of Adjustment regarding special exceptions. This violates the intent of the LDRs and the Comprehensive Plan.
Catalyst site regulations should not be implemented in such an insular manner at the expensive of other business development in the county. Developing too few industries will subject the county to the boom/bust cycles of those industries. A more sustainable economic development initiative that supports a broad spectrum of businesses and industries will lessen the impact from layoffs and shutdowns during down-cycles that affect specific industries.
This scale of industrial development is unprecedented in Suwannee County’s history. The board and county administrative staff have demonstrated insufficient institutional experience in the planning and development of such a project, as numerous problems with the catalyst project have shown:
- The county located the catalyst site in one of the most sinkhole-prone areas of the county, and has already overrun the catalyst budget by millions of dollars in part due to the unexpected costs of filling in sinkholes.
- The purported need for competitive secrecy compels the board and county administrator to negotiate with companies behind closed doors, while the public is left in the dark.
- Catalyst businesses are unfairly exempted from the regulatory processes that are required of non-catalyst businesses.
- The board underestimates the detrimental effects when catalyst companies exploit the county’s naivety by demanding “by right” privileges, relaxed regulations, imprudent financial concessions, and overly-generous tax abatements.
- The board has given away valuable Suwannee County land to Klausner, a foreign corporation.
- The board is overly confident that Klausner (and related businesses) will establish sustainable operations here, despite forestry experts’ concerns about adequate southeastern wood availability for such a sawmilling giant. (In 2008, Klausner’s overcapacity in Europe resulted in sawmill closures and financial distress for the company.)
- Worst of all, our commissioners were so unwise as to invite a giant medical waste incinerator facility to the catalyst site, unaware that 39 states have banned medical waste incinerators!
Considering these facts, I have no confidence that the commissioners are handling the catalyst project competently. How can they insist that they do not need any assistance in this complex undertaking?
Suwannee County residents need economic growth and jobs, but also expect economic development that serves the best interests of Suwannee County’s rural communities, its small businesses, its agricultural interests, its natural resources and its character. Our myopic county commissioners have apparently lost sight of this fact.
Considering the risks that our commissioners are taking, one can only hope for the sake of Suwannee County that the Catalyst project will succeed.