Family takes a step toward canal's required restoration

Published: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 11, 2004 at 2:53 a.m.
Two years after the Alachua County Commission voted unanimously to require the family of a former Gainesville mayor to fill a controversial boat canal on Lake Santa Fe, restoration efforts are just now beginning to inch forward, county environmental officials say.
"There's some movement," said Chris Bird, director of the county's Environmental Protection Department. "The Development Review Committee has given them approval. The holdup now is that they are finally pursuing the Suwannee River Water Management District permit" required before the project can begin.
In 2001, the County Commission agreed that Jim Painter and his family had gone overboard when dredging a 1,250-foot-long canal on their property east of the county boat ramp near Melrose.
The issue came to the commission after the Alachua County Code Enforcement Board fined the Painters in April of that year more than $2,000 for removing sediment from the channel.
County staff had determined that silt and clay exposed after the digging of the waterway, which was 20 feet wider and 5 feet deeper after the work was done, would cause water quality problems, including violation of the state's standard for turbidity.
Painter and his lawyer have said that the dredging was routine maintenance of a private waterway - work that does not require a county or district permit. Painter could not be reached for comment.
But Bird and county officials have disputed Painter's maintenance argument, insisting that the digging went too deep, churning up too much muck to be exempted from county environmental rules.
"Everything is tied to a performance standard that they have to be able to meet the state water quality standard for turbidity," the environmental director said recently.
"One of the reasons the turbidity was so different is that they disturbed this clay layer" at the bottom of the canal.
Once that happened, Bird said, tiny clay particles were disbursed into the water column, making it difficult for fish to breathe or plants to grow.
"The problem with these clay particles is that it can take them literally years to settle out."
In response to environmental concerns and the county's fine, Painter's parents, who own the property, requested an amendment to the canal's original 1976 permit so the digging wouldn't have to be undone.
County commissioners didn't comply with the request, but did agree to approve an amended permit on the condition that the channel be restored before it could be reopened to the lake.
Today, the northern reaches of the canal are blocked by a yellow silt curtain, stretched from bank to bank underwater, which blocks suspended clays from moving into Lake Santa Fe.
Over the past two years, much of the clay has returned to the bottom of the canal, and concerns over its water quality have subsided.
Jon Dinges, director of resource management for the district, said Painter has submitted an application for district approval to begin the restoration work, but the district was still waiting for specific project information.
Once that is received, restoration of the long-disputed environmental problem can finally begin, Dinges said.
Greg Bruno can be reached at 374-5026 or greg.bruno@

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