BROOKSVILLE — Considering new projects already approved or on the drawing board, Hernando County's permitted water use will reach its capacity a dozen years too soon, county utilities director Gordon Onderdonk told commissioners last month.
Despite that, and a long-standing policy of keeping precious ground-water resources close to where they are needed, the County Commission has agreed to explore giving Hernando water to a Pasco County development owned by a local political heavyweight and Hernando County's former economic development director.
Commissioners even discussed annexing the Pasco property into Hernando County if that's what it takes to provide water service.
The discussion started late last year over a 20-acre property purchased in 2016 by Spring Hill Acquisitions from Cemex Construction Materials Florida.
The site owner is listed as Stall Master Company, which will process wood for shavings used in livestock stalls. Bagging those shavings would be the second phase of development, and the third phase would build 50,000 square feet of commercial development, according to paperwork submitted by company principal Randy Woodruff.
The owners plan a $4 million investment, and they need up to 4,000 gallons of potable water a day, plus additional water for fire suppression. Woodruff told county officials he would pay to run Hernando County water lines under County Line Road to the Pasco side to make the project work.
The proposal came before the commission in December and was brought back last month when Onderdonk presented details backing up his recommendation to deny the request.
Hernando County can withdraw 23.3 million gallons of ground water per day under its permit with the Southwest Florida Water Management District. That permit expires in 2035. But daily usage is rising, and the daily usage per person has accelerated in recent years.
Last year, water usage reached 18.83 million gallons per day. Onderdonk said the county likely will reach its daily limit by 2023.
Hernando already limits lawn watering and is pushing for the use of more reclaimed water.
"We're up against a wall with water,'' said the county's hydrology consultant Jeff Trommer. The public doesn't like dead lawns, he said, and would not look favorably on sending water over the county line.
Pasco County has an available water line about two miles from the property, Woodruff said, but it would be expensive for him to connect to that. He spoke about being a Hernando native and how his deal would help both Hernando and Pasco counties.
A certified public accountant, Woodruff is well known in Hernando County political circles. He is a principal in nine active political action committees and electioneering committees listed on the state's election website. He's also campaign treasurer for several local elected officials, including state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill.
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The other well-known name connected to the business is Mike McHugh, Hernando County's economic development director for 11 years until he left in 2013 to pursue other interests.
Hernando water, Woodruff said to the commission last month, "is just across the county line.'' When Pasco County finally extends water service near his property, he will hook up to their system.
"In the grand scheme of things,'' Woodruff said, "it's a minute request.''
Because of its rapid growth, Pasco County is in the Tampa Bay cautionary area for water use, Onderdonk said, and faces more regulation.
"We don't want to get ourselves into that situation,'' he said. Giving away water, even just for fire suppression, would set a precedent making it hard to say no to other applicants, he said. Woodruff disagreed.
Commissioner John Allocco said he was not comfortable with the proposal.
"I don't think that government should be picking and choosing the winners and the losers,' he said, adding that it was Pasco County's responsibility to provide water to its property owners. Allocco disclosed that Woodruff is his campaign treasurer, but said it was his responsibility to take care of Hernando County.
Only four commissioners discussed the proposal. Commissioner Nick Nicholson withdrew from the commission chambers because of a conflict. He is the engineer on the project.
Commissioner Chairman Steve Champion said he wants to see development along County Line Road, which he thinks would help Hernando County. He said he wasn't sure the commission would approve potable water, but could possibly provide water for fire suppression.
Woodruff said he needed at least that to get his project started.
Commissioner Jeff Holcomb suggested the county annex the property into Hernando County, but officials said that would require action through the Florida Legislature.
Even a fire-suppression connection would require an agreement with Pasco County, Onderdonk said, and negotiating interlocal agreements can take time. Commissioners directed staff to explore such agreements, as well as annexation.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.