Until now, when developers realized they were trying to build near a protected wellhead in Hillsborough County, they dropped the plan and moved to another location.
That’s because there are legal restrictions on what can be built near the top of a well that provides drinking water.
This time, though, the owner of land at the corner of Williams Road and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard isn’t moving along.
Property owner Charlie Springer wants a permit allowing him to build a gas station and store within 1,000 feet of a well that provides drinking water to a nearby mobile home park. He maintains building a Wawa gas station and convenience store there is in the public interest. It will create jobs and business, he told Hillsborough County officials.
And there’s a hardship, Wawa officials say. They can’t find another good location between Gibsonton Drive and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard that fits their needs and is close to Interstate 75.
A wellhead hearing master had been scheduled to hear arguments recently and consider a report from county Senior Hydrologist Mike Stevenson, who is recommending against issuing a permit. But because of an issue with the legal ad notifying people about it, the hearing has been postponed. A new date has not yet been set.
Community activists and the county’s drinking-water supplier also oppose the permit request.
“To be honest, this has never happened before,” said Stevenson. One other time, someone pursued a request to build in a wellhead protection area, but withdrew the request, he said. And that was years ago.
Ivana Blankenship, planning and outreach program manager for Tampa Bay Water, said in a report to the county that the developer has failed to show the project has a substantial public interest. Tampa Bay Water supplies drinking water for all of Hillsborough County.
The property is part of a planned development approved in 2007 that allows construction of offices and townhomes. As part of that planned development, the landowner agreed to steer clear of the wellhead protection area.
But Wawa officials say they will take every precaution to protect the water source, by using state-of-the-art petroleum tanks with continuous monitoring to detect any spills and by keeping a “spill kit” on site. The kit would include a 55-gallon or larger drum, absorbent booms and pads, storm drain covers and plastic sheeting.
Three petroleum tanks could hold 36,000 gallons of fuel.
Wawa is claiming a hardship on the basis that it cannot find another suitable location for a convenience store and gas station along the I-75 corridor “with adjacent utilities and high visibility for a prominent sign.”
To get a non-allowed use on the property, the developer needs to show there is an overriding public interest. For that, Wawa lists, among other things, the addition of a retail business to the area that would provide long-term employment opportunities near a major interchange. In paperwork submitted to the county, the company also maintains it will offer the addition of “an upscale, state-of-the art food market” and other basic services that nearby residents need.
The Tampa Bay Water pushback is extensive.
“The proposed site is located within a Wellhead Resource Protection Area because of its proximity to the Charles E. Springer Production Well,” Blankenship wrote. “This is a private well,” but, if contaminated, Tampa Bay Water could be required to replace the water it provides to the nearby DavPam mobile home community.
Also, Blankenship wrote, the location is within the Surface Water Resource Protection Area established to shield the Hillsborough River and the Tampa Bypass Canal from contamination. Both are used for the drinking-water supply. “Based on the potential for harm … Tampa Bay Water recommends denial” of the permit, Blankenship wrote.
“We have wellhead protection areas for a reason and surface water runoff areas for a reason; to protect the public and to protect pollution of our water bodies,” said Terry Flott, chair of United Citizens Action Network – Hillsborough County. “The most egregious thing is to put a gas station” in a protected area, he said.
“It’s not out of the question that accidents can happen and a spill could pollute the water,” Flott said. “Why have rules if we are not going to enforce them?”