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Dade City drops citations over private wells

David Hernandez and his wife, Dade City Commissioner Camille Hernandez, were originally slated to appear in court Friday  for a hearing on the citation.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

David Hernandez and his wife, Dade City Commissioner Camille Hernandez, were originally slated to appear in court Friday for a hearing on the citation.

DADE CITY — City Commissioner Camille Hernandez and her husband, David, are in the clear.

City officials have dropped the citation issued to the couple earlier this year, which accused them of violating city codes by having a private well at their Bougainvillea Avenue home. City Attorney Karla Owens determined the couple's well predates the city's 1982 ban on private wells, and is therefore grandfathered in.

"I'm glad it's over," City Manager Billy Poe said. "It's done with."

The couple was originally slated to appear in court on Friday for a hearing on the citation. But David Hernandez said that after his last court date on April 9, he provided "an overwhelming amount of documents" to Owens proving the well's early origins.

Owens said the materials included papers from a land grading company, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and a building permit showing that part of the Hernandez property was originally included in a large orange grove and that the well was already there.

"It's all been resolved and it was never an issue," Hernandez said Wednesday.

In fact, the citation was dismissed on April 15. But the resolution of the case that caused a stir at City Hall was never mentioned at a commission meeting.

"I don't usually discuss code enforcement issues at commission meetings," Owens said. "It's routine. It's not litigation. It's just code enforcement."

The well controversy bubbled up in October, after Camille Hernandez and other commissioners suggested lifting the ban on private wells, which the city had outlawed to protect its water supply and utility revenue.

She argued that residents could save money by sinking their own well instead of buying city water.

"I do think this is in the citizens' best interest," she said at the Oct. 13 meeting. "We are the stewards of their money."

She made no mention then that she had a private well.

That information came out a few days later, when documentation from 2007 surfaced at City Hall indicating the couple had a well. They said it was there when they bought the property in 1997.

The commission later voted to uphold the ban, and city officials began researching the private wells in town to determine which ones might be in violation. The city sent letters to about a dozen possible violators. By the end of January, all but two provided proof that they either didn't have a well, or that theirs predated the ban.

The last two couples — the Hernandezes and former commission candidate Robert Avila and his wife, Lucy — received citations for their wells. If found in violation, they faced fines of up to $500.

The Avilas later provided documentation showing their well also predated the ban, and their citation was dropped at the April 9 hearing.

Ebony Windom can be reached at ebony.windom@yahoo.com.

Dade City drops citations over private wells 06/02/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 7:57pm]
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