Mill Creek - AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

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Mill Creek - AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

Postby ken hill » May 29, 2006 5:11 pm

The NSS needs to step up to the plate and pitch in and help save Mill Creek Sink. As a life member I have my financial interest in the NSS even though I am almost exclusively a cave diver. At the CDS workshop this past weekend I spoke with Pete Butt, an NSS-CDS Instructor and member who has conducted dye traces at various locations and has tied the waters of our sink to Hornsby Spring. It is Pete's opinion that the north west portion of the land to be developed by WalMart needs to be sparsely developed by them and the adjoining property owners.
Pete has submitted the results of his study and hopefully it will have positive impact on the hearings in June.

While this is great news and while Buford is diligently keeping abreast of the issue the NSS has failed to make our job any easier. Mill Creek Sink is located on 8.58 acres in Alachua County and despite several years of asking the NSS to take action the property is still zoned COMMERCIAL and valued at $392,400. From a liability standpoint and conservation statement this is foolish.

Our neighbor to the west is Megahee Associates and they are the owners of about half the water filled sink and exit. Mike Poucher and I personally appealed to them, asking them to consider having the CDS manage the sinkhole side of their land in the interest of conservation. Their land is zoned forestry rather than commercial and about the same size as ours and tax valued at $900.00. Our neighbor to the east, is owned by a group called Patel and Patel with the rumor that they will develop their land as a hotel. It remains zoned commercial and valued at $224,600.

Several years ago the CDS had the benefit of one of its members who is a practicing Florida real estate lawyer tell us that the SMART thing to do is to rezone our land and create a conservation easement. It would make the land value drop to near nothing, preserve the lands future use as a cave and natural preserve area. This would reduce liability issues in the event the NSS is sued and would make a positive conservation statement. This is what needs to be done now.

Now I realize some holding NSS office may not like the idea since this will diminish the asset side of the NSS ledger but it needs to be done. I would urge every conservation minded member to contact the AVP, who oversees the NSS land holdings and asking him to get the procedure rolling.

It is up to the NSS to support those that are meeting with the representatives of the developer, WalMart and the city, state and local government officials.

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The highest valued owner of commercial land in the area is the NSS.
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Postby Cheryl Jones » May 29, 2006 7:00 pm

Ken,

This sounds like a worthwhile idea to pursue, and is one that is pretty straightforward to undertake within our management system.

As you know, the CDS manages Mill Creek sink for the NSS. If the CDS/cave preserve manager, in conjunction with the NSS Nature Preserves Committee Chairman, believes it is important to pursue re-zoning the property, they may do so. "Just do it." The AVP should be kept in the loop, and his assistance requested as needed. He will keep the Board advised. We look to our preserve managers and management committees to initiate whatever they believe will be best for the property we have entrusted to them. We expect them to ask for "official" assistance, funding, or other support when they need it.

From what you've written, I don't believe that trying to get the preserve property re-zoned to assist our conservation goals would be a contentious issue for the Society. And it appears to comply with one of the general goals of the Mill Creek Sink management plan:
"Equally important is the protection of the surrounding property and connected water resources due to development in the region. Mill Creek Sink is located within the City of Alachua and is adjacent to I-75. As with most of Florida, development is occurring at a rapid rate. By educating and working with local officials, we hope to minimize the impact of growth in the area on the cave system."

When the preserve manager or Preserves Committee Chairman need official letters, statements, documents, etc, from the NSS they simply need to request them. If action by the Board is needed then the CDS may ask the AVP or any Board member to place the action on the agenda for a Board meeting.

Ken wrote:
Now I realize some holding NSS office may not like the idea since this will diminish the asset side of the NSS ledger but it needs to be done.


No worries. The value of NSS preserves for our net worth is not a concern to the officers or Board.

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Postby Cindy Butler » May 29, 2006 7:03 pm

I hate to add to the bad news but there is a For Sale sign on the land next to the sink on the other side. We have been using the driveway on that piece of land and following the power lines to the sink parking area. If the land sells we will be "cut off" from access to the preserve. Cindy :(
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Postby Cheryl Jones » May 29, 2006 7:09 pm

Is it this piece of land mentioned in the management plan?
"The property to the west of Mill Creek Sink should be considered for acquisition by the NSS or NSS-CDS to preclude development of the property adjacent to the sink. Contact with the property owner has been initiated, but there is no immediate interest on their part in transferring ownership. The owner suggested yearly contact be made, in writing, expressing continued interest in the property."

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Postby ken hill » May 29, 2006 7:40 pm

Cheryl,
That is correct. The property owned by Megahee is the property that would be an important acquisition. It was recently logged and I have no idea if there are future development plans by the owner. They are extremely limited to the areas on which they can build because of the flood plain and the geological features of their property.

Cindy's "access road" post is referring to the Patel and Patel property that I heard unsubstantiated rumor, was being looked at for a hotel/motel. Restricting access to a preserved land may go a long way to grant us an easement ... but that's something we have to keep in mind for later.

The dye trace completed by Pete Butt is the most important tool we have to insure a sound development plan for the area. If what I observe elsewhere is the same for Alachua, the construction of the WalMart will guarantee a complete commercial envelopment of the area.

With the preparation of a complete scientific and geological report we may stand a chance in convincing the local and state officials how important their decision is. I would not like to have the fact the the NSS owns the highest valued commercial property in the area pointed out to them. That may lead to speculation or an allegation made that the diminution of our property value is our "real motivation" rather than our conservation ethic.

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Postby Cindy Butler » May 30, 2006 6:04 am

I don't know about the rumer of a hotel. I do know that there is a For Sale sign on the land where we enter the Preserve. The NSS will be dealing with that soon. Either to spend the money to get an access road put in or arrange entry with land owners. Which will be difficult or impossible since it is a limited access area or buy land next to the preserve with access. I am not however going to put myself once again in the possition of trying to convince individuals or agencies that there is a problem that needs to be delt with. I bet I spent a good deal more time and effort helping Pete Butt and I can assure you that he and I both agree the land around the preserve needs to be purchased by some agency to protect not only the cave but the wellbeing of the citys of Alachua and High Springs. Suwannee River Management, the State of Florida or someone else needs to get involved. That means that someone needs to get them involved since I have found very few public agencies are Psychic. Ken it might be better served if you approach the situation from that line of thinking. There are also several conservation agencies working on getting enviornmental easements in that area. Normally I would jump into the fray but I have spend a good deal of time on this in the last two years and I simply have to move on to other projects. Buford Pruit has taken the cause of trying to protect the cave and I have no idea what direction his efforts have led him. I know it was time to pass the effort on to others. I do have a great deal of working knowledge in the area and the preserve that I will continue to share when I can. Cindy Butler
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Postby Buford Pruitt » May 30, 2006 8:47 am

If I were a county property appraiser, I wouldn't devalue the Mill Creek Sink property either until a conservation easement was placed over it. Likewise, if I were on a county re-zoning board, I wouldn't re-zone the property until a conservation easement was placed over it. Anyone with half a brain can figure out why.

Conservation easements are fairly simple legal documents (I have seen my client's lawyers use them). After the easement is filed with the county clerk, there is paperwork associated with reducing the annual taxes. The preserve manager could initiate that process, as could the NSS Treasurer. It would be far more helpful if Ken and Cindy would talk to the NSS property management team or the BOG members rather than posting alarmist missives here. :boxing:

That's my style, anyway, and it's the way I have been working on the Alachua Wal-Mart issue. If I don't post as often as Cindy or Ken demand, too bad. I am also the chairman of the 2008 Florida NSS convention committee, chairman of the NSS nature preserves committee, Pres of the FSS, Sec'y/treas of the Florida Cave Survey, and because I am closer to Mill Creek than the property manager I have been tapped to lead the Wal-Mart issue. Cindy has her museum and no other speleo-jobs. Ken has no speleo-jobs, and he is retired like me. You'd think that they would offer to help since they are so obviously concerned and, at least in Ken's case, have so much time on their hands.

Because I have 30 years of experience in exactly the kind of permitting that Wal-Mart is undergoing, I think I am far more qualified to do this work than any back seat quarterback with zero similar experience. I have two choices: I can do my speleo-jobs or I can post weekly notes here solely to satisfy Ken and Cindy. What would the rest of you do in my position? Don't answer that - I already know your feelings as abundantly evidenced by the kind and considerate postings that heavily dominate the NSS Discussion Board.

Ken and Cindy need to chill out. If Ken and Cindy want to know what I'm up to, they can phone or PM me rather than accuse me and the rest of the hard-working NSS leadership, every one of which is a volunteer and has a life, rather than taking potshots here.

Now I'm going to do something else behind the scenes, and anyone with half a brain will be able to figure out what that is, too.
Last edited by Buford Pruitt on May 30, 2006 10:37 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Phil Winkler » May 30, 2006 10:20 am

Well, it sounds like matters down there are well in hand by the NSS property team as they should be. Keep on truckin', Buford.
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Postby ken hill » May 30, 2006 2:59 pm

Buford,
In my initial post I complimented you, "While this is great news and while Buford is diligently keeping abreast of the issue the NSS has failed to make our job any easier." therefore I do not understand your last post.

The fact of the matter is that at the time of NCKMS, when the BoG was in Florida, the conservation easement was discussed and proposed to the NSS at the advice of the CDS attorney.

Since that time I have made numerous attempts to have CDS and NSS officials get busy on this topic. What or who the impediment is, I do not know. I do know the current decision makers have had first hand briefings in their capacity as CDS and as NSS officers.

Regarding my retirement, I teach diving and firearms and have a busy week doing what I like to do and what pays for my hobbies. I served the NSS-CDS BoD for nearly four years and never took a cent of reimbursement. I am currently the Director of the IUCRR which I have just finished incorporating last week.

Again I applaud your efforts and would like to see those in a position of power DO rather than talk. If this forum served as a wake up call and makes your efforts easier so be it. I do believe you have been appointed by the AVP to take the lead on this there is an obligation to post either periodical or timely updates regarding this matter in an effort to control rumor and eliminate redundant effort.

Regards
Ken
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Postby Buford Pruitt » May 30, 2006 8:34 pm

Ken,

Indeed, I owe you an explanation. Yes, you have consistently tried to avoid offending me by frequently saying nice things about me and giving me the benefit of the doubt, and I owe it to you to acknowledge that. But there’s a bigger picture here than just you and me.

Your complaints on this discussion board about NSS nature preserves, and especially about Mill Creek Sink NP, mention some nebulous team of “CDS and NSS officials.â€
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Postby ken hill » May 30, 2006 9:07 pm

Buford,
I understand the frustration completely and the feeling that there is never enough time to get things done for our personal and professional lives let alone volunteerism.

I deliberately posted this thread as a wake up call to those in the NSS that have oversight on the conservation easement issue and the change of zoning on the property. I have been an advocate of doing this and have discussed it in person, sent emails, telephones discussions etc. The result is that nothing was done.

This is particularly frustrating because it appears I have wasted my time because I have spent hours and days with the attorneys that presented this idea to the CDS and later to the NSS. I have met with the neighbors of Mill Creek and discussed long term plans and management issues for the sink. I have involved other members along the way and petitioned for this to be done with the appropriate parties within the NSS.

In your capacity with the NSS, do you have the authority to make these changes or does it lie with the AVP who oversees your position? That party is well aware of the benefits of a conservation easement, yet it still has not been done.

I truly hope that I have not embarrassed you in any way, if so my apologies. Above all lets get this done before the June meeting rather than give anyone the opportunity to present the fact that we hold the largest valued commercial property right over the sink and the cave.

Regards /Ken
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Postby Cheryl Jones » May 30, 2006 9:54 pm

In your capacity with the NSS, do you have the authority to make these changes or does it lie with the AVP who oversees your position?

Ken, as I wrote up there a few posts back, the CDS, as managers of the Mill Creek Preserve and Buford (remember, Buford has only held the Preserves Committee Chairman's position for a few months) have the authority to initiate whatever programs, projects, and ideas that they think are best for the preserve, and keep the AVP informed. And the Board would expect them to do so. When official NSS documents, signatures, action, approval, etc, are needed then the preserve manager or Buford ask the NSS Treasurer and/AVP to provide them.

I deliberately posted this thread as a wake up call to those in the NSS that have oversight on the conservation easement issue and the change of zoning on the property.

The best way to do this is first to contact people directly! Even work within the CDS -- volunteer to take on the project for the management committee, or offer to find someone else to follow up. Often it is a lack of volunteer help that holds committees back from following through on their great ideas. Contact Buford directly to fill him in on the history and your ideas, and copy the AVP on your correspondence if you wish.

Hey, if you want to raise the issue with the NSS Board, then write us directly. However the Board most likely would ask the AVP to send it back to the CDS to investigate, act, and report. Things happen in the NSS on the committee level. Albeit sometimes happen slowly.....

I really do appreciate your concern and your desire to do what is best for Mill Creek Sink Preserve and the aquifer. And I hope we're able to come up with a solution that protects as much as the drainage area and the cave as possible. But it doesn't help the cause to stir up hard feelings in the process, or try to light a fire where it will do little good! :waving: The place to get involved and make things happen is right down there in FL. I hope you will!

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Postby ken hill » May 31, 2006 9:08 am

Cheryl,

I have the utmost respect for those that volunteer and freely give up their valuable time. Having been there, I do not underestimate the time and attention that Buford has and is putting into this effort, and I do understand that he is a recent appointee and must feel as if he just walked into a propeller.

The effort to have Mill Creek benefit from a conservation easement started in February 2004, through channels and communication from people within the CDS. This began as a grass root effort. In 2004 the CDS enjoyed the volunteer services of a Florida real estate attorney that suggested and was willing to prepare the conservation easement with volunteers doing the leg work.

Throughout 2005 repeated effort was to those in the NSS to have the plan approved and implemented. I was reminded this past weekend that nothing regarding the easement has been done. I have to admit, as said in an earlier post, my motivation now is to have it done so it is not an issue that can hurt us with the WalMart zoning hearings. I apologize if lighting a fire under those responsible created some bad feelings. I'll also agree that while posting the issue publicly is not the best of ideas, I have not received a single personal email, phone call from any person in the chain of command since 2004, asking what can be done to expedite the process or asking for help doing it.

I hope everyone agrees that the goal is the formulation of an adequate plan to preserve Mill Creek Sink, nothing more or less. I thank you publicly for your interest and explanation of the NSS system of doing things.

Regards,
/Ken
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Postby Cheryl Jones » May 31, 2006 12:16 pm

Ken,

It isn't clear to me why the CDS the Mill Creek Sink Management Committee didn't purse the conservation easement in 2004, especially since you had the services of an attorney lined up. Or why you didn't work through them.

Throughout 2005 repeated effort was to those in the NSS to have the plan approved and implemented.


Who are "those in the NSS"? We're all in the NSS. What was the repeated effort in 2005 "to those in the NSS"? And by whom? Such oblique statements and innuendos aren't helpful. Had the paperwork been prepared by the management committee and the attorney? Did the preserve management committee ask for specific support from the AVP but didn't receive it? What did you expect from "those in the NSS" that the CDS/preserve management committee couldn't undertake?

The reports from the Mill Creek Sink preserve manager in the 2003-2005 AVP reports do not mention any work being done to obtain a conservation easement, or a lack of support for the concept. The revised management plan was presented in October 2003, and did not include anything about pursuing a conservation easement.

There definitely is a disconnect somewhere.

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Postby ken hill » May 31, 2006 12:43 pm

Cheryl,

In the early stages everything was supposed to be a "go." The foot work was done and ready to be implemented. The sole issue was who would the easement go to if there was the demise of the NSS. Why it didn't happen is not known to me. Remember, this matter took life in Feb/March 2004 when I was Vice Chair of the CDS. As Vice Chair, my job description included a function as the official liaison to the NSS. When the CDS BoD re-aligned in May 2004, I was told not to have further direct communication with the NSS and the job was left to the new VC. We also had a member of our sitting BoD sharing the duties as the new NSS AVP, a position with oversight of the conservation easement issue.

The important factor is Buford's post that the Governing Board of the Suwannee River Water Management District is scheduled to approve or deny the City of Alachua (FL) Wal-Mart store permit application on Tuesday, June 13, ............... Wouldn't it be great if he could announce the conservation easement there!

There really is not much more to say. Maybe a Larry the Cable guy "git er done" is in order.

Regards
/Ken
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