Locals, environmentalists prepare to defend Wakulla Springs ahead of upcoming meeting

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Wakulla Springs is one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. Photo via Florida State Parks.

Environmental advocates and Wakulla County residents are protesting proposed changes that may threaten a state attraction. Locals are rallying support to try to protect Wakulla Springs ahead of a meeting that could jeopardize its future.

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Wakulla Springs is one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. 

Novelist Jeff VanderMeer has been going there ever since he moved to Tallahassee in 1992. He said it’s strange the springs aren’t more widely known on a national, and even international, scale. 

“It’s definitely comparable, in its way — in the context of the U.S. — to the Amazon in South America,” he said. “It is that important.” 

That’s why VanderMeer and others — at meetings or on social media — have vocally opposed plans to build a gas station on land right above an underground cavern that feeds into Wakulla Springs. 

On August 7, the Wakulla County Board of County Commissioners will vote on agenda items that, if supported, will allow Southwest Georgia Oil Company to move forward with their gas station.

The company is requesting to change the property’s comprehensive plan designation from “agriculture” to “commercial.” That way, non-farming development can occur on the land.

Environmentalists and locals are concerned that petroleum may leak into the cavern below. A leak would not only pollute the springs, but also contaminate Wakulla County’s drinking water. 

Anthony Gaudio is chair of the Wakulla Springs Alliance, which is a group focused on conserving and protecting “the ecological health” of Wakulla Springs. 

The alliance, in partnership with other environmental groups and residents, crafted a “Wakulla Springs Water Quality Protection Regulation” this summer in hopes of defending the future of the attraction. But when the ordinance was presented at the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting last month, it failed to receive the support it needed.

Gaudio said during the Board’s upcoming meeting on Monday, people opposed to the gas station will speak during the public comment section. They’re going to read the regulations that he says will allow the commissioners to deny Southwest Georgia Oil Company’s application.

“It doesn’t make any sense why, the county commission, who has the ability to prevent this, is choosing not to,” he said.

Gaudio expects hundreds of people to show up to Monday’s meeting who are united in opposition. If the oil company’s application is approved, he said the alliance is considering pursuing lawsuits.

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