Aucilla logging operation opposed

Following in the steps of the Monticello City Council, county officials recently adopted a resolution that similarly urges public purchase of the 160 acres of old growth cypresses near the Aucilla River that are under threat of logging. By unanimous vote, the Jefferson County Commission on Tuesday evening, May 19th, approved a resolution that pretty much duplicated the city’s, with the exception of two phrases in the document that that caused concern to Commission Chairman Benny Bishop. One phrase stated, “by assertion of sovereign land ownership of the area proposed for logging.” The other stated, “or by whatever means available.” The two were among the several ways that the resolution suggested that the Suwannee River Water Management District might acquire possession of the 160 acres and so protect the trees from logging. The other ways suggested ways were by purchase of the land and putting it into public ownership or perpetual conservation easement, or by working in conjunction with groups of conservationists, environmentalists and citizens to purchase or protect the property, “or by whatever other means available.” Bishop said he had no problem with the SWRMD purchasing and protecting the land. He had a problem, however, with the government or a state agency taking private property by assertion of sovereignty or by condemnation. He also had a problem with the phrase “or by whatever other means available,” he said. What exactly did all that mean? Bishop asked. In the end, the commission agreed to delete the phrase “by assertion of sovereign land ownership of the area proposed for logging.” It also agreed to insert the word “legal” between “other” and “means” in the phrase, “or by whatever other means available.” Otherwise, the document remained the same as the one that the city adopted on May 5. The resolution urges the SRWMD to put forth a maximum effort to resolve what it calls “a threat to the Aucilla.” Per information discussed at the meeting, Ware Forest Inc., the Georgia timber company that owns and wants to log the property, paid $271,000 for the 160 acres in 2013. The deed also is considered weak, in that it grants the purchaser no access to the property and specifically notes a possible conflict of state’s sovereign rights. Opponents of the logging operation point out that several out-of-state timber companies have owned the particular property in recent years and none has considered it worthwhile to log the timber, possibly because of the access issue. Ware Forests, however, reportedly maintains that the property holds a couple of million dollars worth of timber and is determined to harvest it. The company has been pressuring the Ashville Area Property Owners Association (AAPOA) to grant it access via the Aucilla Shores Subdivision to get to its property, going so far as to threaten litigation if the access is denied. It’s Commissioner Hines Boyd’s theory, one he reiterated at the recent commission meeting, that Ware Forest Inc. is calculating to maximize its profits by forcing a public purchase of the land at a price exceedingly higher than it’s really worth. “They think if they apply enough pressure, they can get more then what they paid,” Boyd said. “To ask $2.5 million is not a reasonable request.” The commission-approved resolution enumerates the Aucilla River’s many values, including aesthetical, economical and recreational ones. It reminds the SRWMD that it is entrusted and tasked by law to protect the water resources within its boundaries. Moreover, it states, the SRWMD owns the land directly upstream and downstream of the proposed logging site, giving it extra cause to protect the property. The resolution argues that cutting the old-growth cypresses would cause long and short-term damage to the river, not the least of which would be derogation of the water quality, impediment of vessel and recreational access, and obliteration of the scenic vistas. The Aucilla/Wacissa river group (AWR) plans to present the county’s resolution, along with the city’s, to the SRWMD when its governing board meets on June 9 at the agency’s headquarters in Live Oak.