Water-bottling opponents win hearing that could block plan to pump truckloads of water out of Sumter County

An administrative hearing will be held on a decision by the Southwest Florida Water Management District to approve a 20-year permit for an Ocala company to pump nearly 500,000 gallons of water daily from two springs along County Road 470 near Sumterville.

After rejecting several requests for a hearing, the district found requests by villagers Joe Flynn and Michael Schobinger “timely and substantial” enough to warrant a hearing. It may be held in early October.

The hearing by the state Division of Administrative Hearings is similar to an appeal of the permit approval and could overturn it. The district’s staff attorney, Christopher Tumminia, requested the hearing in letters last week to Robert Cohen, the division’s director and chief judge.

The permit was approved in early June despite public opposition. SWR Properties, also known as Spring Water Resources, applied for the permit last November.

The company plans to pump 496,000 gallons of water daily from Fern Spring and an unnamed spring on a 10.5-acre site it owns, according to the permit application. The well normally would operate 13 hours daily and fill 80 trucks with 6,200 gallons each, but in peak months, it would operate around-the-clock and pump 892,000 gallons, filling 144 trucks.

Azure Water of Leesburg has agreed to buy the water. That company supplies grocery, convenience and other stores with bottled water under several brand names.

In his 14-page hearing request, Flynn said SWR Properties did not demonstrate a need for the water. He said Azure Water, a small company, has indicated it won’t be able to handle the entire volume for five years. He also claimed that the application contained misstatements and inaccuracies.

“I anticipate by issuing this permit, it will damage the future value of my home because of potential lack of water, water restrictions, damage to the environment (and) increase in the amount of money I spend on potable and non-potable water,” Flynn wrote.

The permit application prompted more than 200 letters and emails to the water district opposing approval and spawned a local group called Protect Our Water.

Last month, about 400 people attended a meeting of the Sumter County Board of Commissioners at Colony Cottage Recreation Center, asking the board to oppose the permit. But chairman Garry Breeden said the board needed to remain objective.

The board has authority to approve zoning, building permits and roadway improvements for the pumping station.

The Withlacoochee Regional Water Supply Authority discussed the case last week, but did not take a position.

Protect Our Water also wrote a letter to Gov. Rick Scott outlining its opposition to the permit, but has not yet received a response.

Flynn said the pumping station land is close to a private cemetery and that maps prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicate part of the area is in a flood plain.

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