The county staved off a lawsuit for now after a special magistrate was brought in to mediate a dispute between a soil company and the county, spurred by an ordinance that blocked a proposed construction and debris landfill in East Milton.

Santa Rosa Soils, LLC acquired an attorney and is seeking an agreement with the county regarding a dirt pit planned at the same location where C&D facility was planned earlier this year.

The C&D facility was originally permitted in January 2008 but the owners failed to renew the permit. The county commission stepped forward after the permit expired and extended a well field protection area in East Milton, to include the original area planned for the facility. The C&D company, Bluewater Holdings, SRC, Inc. - has filed a complaint with the county regarding their actions.

Special Magistrate James Wilson acted as a mediator between citizens, pertaining to property owners and county ordinances under the Florida Land Use and Environmental Act on Tuesday. Wilson said the two parties were present to discuss the issues, as well as give the general public an opportunity to speak. This provided an opportunity to discuss an issue in depth before pursuing a lawsuit.

In February of this year, the Board of County Commissioners denied Bluewater Holdings, SRC, Inc., a permit to build after the annual federal permit with the Department of Environmental Protection was not renewed, according to county officials.  

They also say Bluewater Holdings, SRC, Inc. did not secure an $871,000 bond that would cover closure and cleanup of the first disposal area.

In March, the county expanded a well field protection area in East Milton, which included the area of the proposed C&D site. Now the owner of Santa Rosa Soils, LLC, Jim Young, is seeking compensation for 18 million cubic yards of dirt that was at stake by digging the areas out and selling the dirt, soil and sand. Young estimated the loss at $18 million. He holds the rights for the subsurface ground, according to county officials.

"I'm here for resolution," Young said during the hearing. "One hundred percent of the value of my rights was taken by the ordinance."

One argument made in the mediation is that Santa Rosa County essentially overreached its legislative authority by expanding a well field protection area in East Milton, stating the county was lacking scientific evidence of any negative impact on the water table. The other complaint is referred to as "inverse condemnation," or the taking of property rights.

"I had certain financial expectations that I should have been able to retain," Young said. "Now I'm seeking whatever relief is available to me is part two of the Bert J. Harris act."

The Bert J. Harris act is Florida statue 70.001, pertaining to private property right protection. The law recognizes that "some laws, regulations, and ordinances of the state and political entities in the state, as applied, may inordinately burden, restrict or limit private property rights without amounting to taking under the State Constitution or the United States Constitution."

Jones countered stating the expansion of the East Milton well field has been researched and going through a draft process for a number of years. The ordinance in question was established to protect citizens. The county did research and weigh the affect that the well field expansion would have on a number of factors, one being economic impact.

"The science we looked at and reviewed during the hearing was the same science that was before the county commissioners before enacting the ordinance," Jones said. "That underscores the validity of the action the board took."

Concerns were raised by the public in a prior forum about drinking water issues with a C&D facility. 

After an all-day meeting, the two sides reached a resolution via a development order. If approved by the Board of County Commissioners, Young would be able to excavate at the site. The two legal teams will be meeting to stamp out the specifics of the potential deal that would relieve the county of pending litigation.

Santa Rosa Soils, LLC was originally permitted to dig the holes out to a maximum depth of 70-feet-deep. If the water table is found to be higher, they are required by law to keep a certain number of feet above the water table. The maximum depth is up for revision.

But ultimately, the decision to allow or deny excavation of the property by the soil company is made by the Board of County Commissioners.

There was no timeframe set in stone on the deal during the meeting, but it was suggested that they strive for the sole county commission meeting in November. The two parties, however, did agree that they would reconvene Nov. 25 at 9 a.m. if they reach an impasse, according to Jones.

The proposed C&D facility would have been located on a roughly 160 acre plot of land, which is currently landlocked, off of Highway 90 and Jeff Ates Road in East Milton. The pit itself would consist of three "cells," according to Young's attorney, that would be constructed over time. Essentially one pit would be dug and filled over time, until the next pit is needed, then it would be dug out and lined.