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Monday, Sep 22, 2014
Brandon News

Hearing master recommends against Wawa in protected Seffner wellfield

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SEFFNER - A Hillsborough County hearing officer is recommending against construction of a Wawa gas station and convenience store within a protected drinking-water wellhead off Williams Road.

Property owner Charlie Springer wants a permit to build within the protected wellhead area just north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard so he can sell his land to Wawa. The well on his property provides drinking water to a nearby mobile home park.

The gas station would require the installation of underground fuel tanks.

It is the first time a land owner has pursued, to this extent, permission to build within a protected wellhead area, county officials said. In previous cases, because of the restrictions on building in these areas, developers who posed projects in them withdrew their requests once they learned of those restrictions.

But Wawa is claiming a hardship, saying the company couldn't find another location between Gibsonton Drive and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard that fits its needs and that is close to Interstate 75.

Wellhead Hearing Master George F. Gramling III didn't accept that reasoning. In his report to the Hillsborough County Commission, Gramling said Wawa failed to show it is in the public interest to override the wellhead protection ordinance.

"While the applicant ... presented various arguments and evidence about the value of a Wawa convenience store, attacked the (Land Development Code) Wellhead Ordinance on technical and 'hardship' grounds and attempted to show the (underground storage tanks associated with a gas station) would not pose a threat to the environment, the evidence is insufficient to demonstrate an overriding public interest," he said.

The matter is scheduled to go before the Board of County Commissioners at 9 a.m. on July 23 on the second floor of the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.

Gramling went on to say in his report that evidence from Tampa Bay Water - the umbrella agency that provides water throughout the county - and the Keystone Civic Association outweighs evidence presented by Wawa and Springer. Acquiring property one knows is located in a protected wellhead area does not generate a hardship, he said.

And though Wawa is arguing that state of the art technology makes underground storage tanks safe, Gramling received a report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection showing that there were 152 petroleum releases from underground storage tanks in the state during 2012, including 10 in Hillsborough County.

The applicant, Gramling said, did not demonstrate that the technology Wawa would use for underground tanks would prevent such spills within the protected wellhead area.

The property is part of a planned development approved in 2007 that allows for construction of offices and townhomes. The landowner agreed to steer clear of the wellfield protection area as part of that approval.

Terry Flott, chair of the United Citizens Action Network, or U-CAN Hillsborough County, is urging residents in the area to attend the July 23 hearing to let commissioners know they oppose allowing construction of a gas station on that property.

She said Wawa had a number of its own employees attend the June 3 wellhead hearing and expects the same for the July county commission meeting. Flott said that when county commissioners see concerned members of the public at the meeting, it can make a difference in how they vote.

yhammett@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7127

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