Over-development and recklessness threatens Volusia County water, ecosystems: Blue Springs, Spruce Creek and Charlie Crist's promise
June 29, 2022
Today, I'd like to highlight an article from our Volusia County Soil and Water Conservation District Chair, Dr. Wendy Anderson, and a recent op-ed by Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Charlie Crist.
Yesterday, Dr. Anderson wrote an opinion piece in The West Volusia Beacon titled "Imagine West Volusia: It’s cheaper to save it than to try to re-create it." This piece is targeted toward a misguided proposal to use conservation dollars levied from property taxes to attempt to create an artificial ecosystem that recharges our water supply from Blue Springs in Orange City, Florida. Our fresh water supplies are being gobbled up by furious development and consumptive use permits, which is going on all over our state. Nonetheless, this proposal was completely misguided, as Dr. Anderson notes:
"But at this meeting, they were coming for Volusia Forever dollars to fund this scheme to ‘re-create’ a complex ecosystem in this 40-foot-deep borrow pit by laying out some 'biofilter,’ throwing a few wetland plants on top of it, and calling it a 'recharge wetland.'"
Fortunately, this proposal was voted down by members of the Volusia Forever Advisory Committee, as Dr. Anderson notes that it would likely be unsuccessful and could even poison our springs with unwanted algal blooms or other disruptive inputs. Furthermore, she points out that state and federal laws put the onus of responsibility on the corporation that mined the site—likely, one that profited handily from the immense demand for fill dirt due to widespread construction throughout our region.
To take tax dollars for conservation that Volusia County voters approved as an ad valorem assessment on their annual property tax bills and use them for this purpose is an insult to our citizens. It is a bailout for corporate donors who back the political campaigns of our elected officials, and of course the corporations and their owners make these political contributions specifically because the elected officials offer such a strong return-on-investment.
This is just one of scores of environmental travesties occuring throughout our county. Another notably awful one is to create a new interchange on I-95 in Port Orange, which will wreak ecological havoc on the beautiful Spruce Creek. The main beneficiary of this project will be ICI Homes, a homebuilding company that seeks to destroy wetlands for sprawling development in this area. The founder, CEO, and Chairman of ICI Homes is Morteza “Mori” Hosseini, a close ally and super-donor to Governor Ron DeSantis who, through his machinations, has attained immense profits and political power in the Daytona Beach region and beyond over the past 4 decades.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist has come out against the proposed I-95 interchange, penning an op-ed in The Daytona Beach News-Journal titled “Spare Volusia a new I-95 interchange near Spruce Creek."
Here are several paragraphs from Crist's hard-hitting op-ed:
The battle over this interchange is a classic Florida story: It has stretched over decades; the players include a politically well-connected developer; and it pits preserving our natural environment against classic urban sprawl. Florida's natural environment is usually the underdog in these battles, but this time the will of the people will win.
When I was attorney general in 2006, I sat on a panel that guaranteed protections for the Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve. Overall, the state has spent tens of millions to acquire undeveloped land near the creek to preserve it. And there's even another 366 acres the state wants to preserve along the creek, including part of the interchange site.
Why then is the Florida Department of Transportation moving forward with the interchange, which would destroy at least 28 acres of wetlands? This makes no sense.
The public is overwhelmingly opposed to a new interchange. At a public hearing held in 2020, only 60 people were supportive or neutral on the project, while more than 400 people opposed it, citing the environment, cost, traffic, sprawl, and quality of life. Powerful developers want the interchange so they can more easily build on nearby land they own. But they should not have the final say.
I'm proud to join with long-time residents of Volusia County to tell FDOT to stop this interchange. And if I'm elected governor in November, this project will be dead on arrival. Together, we can preserve and protect the Spruce Creek watershed for generations to come.
This op-ed is an unequivocal campaign promise that puts Crist on a warpath with Volusia County's most powerful political kingmaker. Politically, this is a risky move as Crist's campaign has only a small fraction of DeSantis' financial firepower, with DeSantis having raised well over $100 million including massive donations from 42 billionaires across the country. Surprisingly, Crist's op-ed appeared only on Page A18 of the Sunday, June 12, 2022 copy of The Daytona Beach News-Journal (there is an e-newspaper digital copy included in today's Notes). It has been picked up by a local advocacy website called "Save Don't Pave Spruce Creek," but has not appeared on any news websites.
Being that the proposed interchange and destruction of wetlands has almost zero support from local residents and voters, this promise by candidate Crist is likely to garner thousands of votes from citizens across the political spectrum in Volusia County, if disseminated more widely. Being that Governor DeSantis won by only 32,463 votes (0.4%) in the November 2018 election and has, especially in the past 2 years since the emergence of COVID-19, positioned himself with the radical fringe of the Republican party, Crist's environmental advocacy may prove decisive in the August 23, 2022 Democratic primary and November 8, 2022 general election.
Charlie Crist's op-ed against the Spruce Creek I-95 interchange:
Ask Charlie Crist about his long friendly history with the “King Maker” developer in Volusia County. I am against the interchange too but Crist is simply playing politics. Don’t be fooled by this charlatan.