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Story doesn't jibe on Dade City Commissioner Camille Hernandez's private well

DADE CITY — City officials aren't sure the story adds up.

David Hernandez, the husband of City Commissioner Camille Hernandez, has argued the well on the couple's property predates the city's ban on private wells. He said the well was unearthed in 2001 during construction work, and a building inspector named Mike Barthle told them the well could be repaired and put to use.

But city records show Barthle worked in the city's public works department at the time. He didn't start in the building division until the following year.

"I can't see why he would have been out there," said City Manager Billy Poe.

City staff issued a citation last month to the Hernandezes for having an illegal well. The couple has an April 9 court date and could face a fine of up to $500 plus administrative fees.

Poe said the Hernandezes met with city staff last week and are in the process of locating paperwork to prove the well predates the ban. If they can prove it does, the citation would be dropped.

Officials banned private wells within the city limits in 1982 to protect the city's water supply and utility revenue.

After documentation surfaced last fall indicating Camille Hernandez had her own well, officials sent out notices to her and a dozen other residents who may have had wells installed after the ban was enacted.

The property owners had until Jan. 22 to explain their private wells to city officials.

Six proved they did not have wells and four provided documentation that the wells either predated the ordinance, or were located outside the city limits and had the proper backflow protection device.

The Hernandezes and Robert Avila, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Commission in 2008, both supplied eleventh-hour responses on Jan. 22.

But their explanations didn't satisfy city staff.

In his letter, Avila said the property's original well was replaced during a renovation before he bought the home in 1999. Drilling of the new well 22 years ago involved an attorney and was approved by the city, Avila said.

The city is not aware of any paperwork backing his claims.

"That's all stuff we have to look at," Poe said.

Until the Avilas and Hernandezes show otherwise, staffers assume both wells are illegal. They are the only property owners so far facing citations.

None of them returned calls for this story.

The issue could hang over Camille Hernandez this election season if she decides to seek another term. Her term ends in April, and her court date on the citation precedes the city's election by four days.

That is just coincidence, city staff said. The court dates for these types of infractions are held every other month and staff did not want the matter to drag on.

If the Avilas and Hernandezes prove their wells to be either legal or abandoned, the citations could be dismissed.

The city sent additional inquiries to three other property owners in January who may have private wells. They have until March to respond.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 435-7312.

Story doesn't jibe on Dade City Commissioner Camille Hernandez's private well 02/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 9:50pm]
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