Audio report by Corey Brooks.
North Central Florida residents argued against a billionaire-backed cattle ranch’s high water request at a public meeting in Palatka Tuesday.
Adena Springs South first drew attention in April for the large amount of daily water requested for new land the ranch is buying for a beef production operation.
In August, the ranch reduced its request of 13.267 million gallons of water a day to 5.3 million gallons.
The ranch’s original application asked for 27 million gallons of water a day before the board convinced the ranch to lower that request in December, according to the St. Johns River Water Management District website.
Adena Springs South is part of a series of ranches founded by Austrian-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach. The car parts and horseracing entertainment businessman donated $1.5 million to fund construction of the center at UF’s Plant Research and Education Unit in Citra, according to the Gainesville Sun.
The ranch said it expects to create about 150 new jobs.
At the meeting, comments from residents prompted Putnam County commissioners to delay discussion on the issue for another time.
Discussion moved to the St. Johns Water district, where the focus moved to decreased discharge from Silver Springs.
A report released Tuesday showed the decreased discharge is because of organisms in the water. Opponents of the ranch expansion said fertilizer from the ranch will further slow the discharge.
Lad Daniels, chairman of the St. Johns Water Management District Board, said the board is still waiting for a permit application from Adena, which changed its application to show less water requested.
Daniels said the amount of water requested got the board’s attention but wasn’t shocking. He said most people don’t realize how much water they use a day.
He said the board, which represents about five million people, will wait for a scientific group’s conclusion before making a decision based on what’s best for the spring. He said the board and scientific group will not be swayed by public or political pressure.
“We are going to be driven purely by the science,” he said.
Karen Chadwick, a resident of Interlachen in Putnam County, said she’s concerned the ranch isn’t honest about its plans.
She said the ranch’s revised plans, while lowering the water demand, used an old map that didn’t reflect the amount of land the ranch cleared.
“They make it sound like nothing’s happening,” she said.
Chadwick said the ranch didn’t specify at an Aug. 22 meeting where it would buy land as part of the $50 million its allotting for satellite farms.
Her other concerns included the ranch displacing wildlife to clear land and the added pesticides and manure from 17,000 cows will run into a nearby lake.
She said Putnam, Marion and Levy counties residents are unhappy with what the ranch is doing.
“I just feel like we’re being invaded and misled. They’re clearcutting vast areas. They’re creating an environmental disaster, and they’re being very secretive about it.”
Honey Rand, a spokeswoman for Adena, said the ranch expansion won’t hurt local water overall because of management and operational changes. The nutrient management plan and technology at the site would prevent the flow from rainfall.
Brad Purcell, Putnam County commissioner for district 5, said the commissioners are monitoring the ranch’s activity and the property is just for cattle grazing.
He said the commissioners will make sure the ranch uses the best practices and suggests the ranch be more forthcoming and communicate with the community, though it doesn’t seem the ranch is hiding anything.
“They don’t really have a lot to share,” Purcell said. “So if there’s not a whole lot besides the facts that we’re prepared to do some cattle grazing, then there’s really not a whole lot that we can ask of them.”
The ranch is expected to finalize its new application in November and present scientific data to the board.
The St. Johns district expects the process to go through December.