|Groveland Intends to Appeal Niagara Permit|
|Written by Marjorie Holt|
|Friday, November 6 2009|
SENTINEL STAFF WRITER
October 28, 2009
GROVELAND — The city hasn't given up its expensive water war with Niagara Bottling.
The city informed lawyers for the California-based company and the St. Johns River Water Management District that it intends to challenge the district's decision giving the bottler permission to pump 484,000 gallons of water a day from the aquifer.
The fight has cost Groveland nearly $900,000 to date, according to a tally of legal invoices.
Groveland Mayor Richard Smith said he could not comment because city officials had been advised by their lawyers not to discuss the appeal.
The City Council met behind closed doors last week with the city's lawyer, Anita Geraci-Carver. She said the council voted during the meeting to authorize the appeal and will ratify that decision in an upcoming public meeting. The appeal was filed Friday, just ahead of Monday's deadline.
Hank Largin, spokesman for the St. Johns River Water Management District, said he could not respond to Groveland's decision because the city filed only notice and not a brief. Its arguments are due to the court by Jan. 4.
"We won't know what their issues are until they file their brief," Largin said. "But it means they're going to appeal."
Niagara spokeswoman Honey Rand questioned the wisdom of a Groveland appeal, arguing that it would only add to the legal bills for the company and the city's taxpayers.
"Groveland leaders and experts have already admitted that Niagara will not cause any environmental damage and will have no material impact on the city," Rand said in an e-mail to the Orlando Sentinel. "What purpose is there in pouring hundreds of thousands more of taxpayer dollars into this pointless effort, given the money that has already been spent? And, sadly, this simply adds additional liability to the city of Groveland and its taxpayers."
The company has a pending motion with state Administrative Law Judge Bram Canter, seeking reimbursement of lawyer fees and other expenses related to the company's defense. Rand contends the city — and perhaps Lake County, which dropped out of the legal challenge in March — could be forced to pay the company as much as $4 million.
Kirby Green, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, approved Niagara's request for a water-use permit on Sept. 25, a decision that cited the administrative judge's findings. The permit allows the company to pull up to 484,000 gallons of groundwater a day from the Floridan Aquifer through wells on its property in south Lake near Groveland.
The company opened its plant at the Christopher C. Ford Commerce Park near Groveland last year, bottling spring water trucked into its facility from a supplier in Wildwood. The permit will allow the company to increase production, Rand said.
Groveland officials and other critics contend the company should not be allowed to take water for a commercial enterprise at a time when the St. Johns has tightened water-use restrictions for residential users and directed cities to seek alternative water sources.
Copyright © 2009, Orlando Sentinel
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