Maggy Hurchalla - environmentalist; national, state, regional and local award winner for her volunteer work; 

Martin County Commissioner for 20 years; winner of the Everglades Coalition Hall of Fame -- speech June 21, 2017:


Yes.  Definitely.

If you are one of those residents who believe Martin County is a special place and you want to keep it that way, you need to get involved with this issue before July 25th.

This is the first domino in the unraveling of our comprehensive plan.

Commission Chairman Doug Smith has promised a new direction for the county where business interest are more important than the environment and the promise of jobs is more important than protecting taxpayers and their quality of life.

This is step one in that new direction.

The proposed amendment will increase the number of large high risk septic systems at a time we are trying to save our river and are spending millions converting septic to sewer.  It will change a basic concept that has worked for us for 35 years. That concept says high intensity use that needs urban services belongs inside the urban boundary. The amendment allows more intense development unrelated to agriculture outside the urban boundary.

The amendment supports providing urban services outside the urban boundary It will undo the idea that we all benefit from supplying urban services within a compact urban area where they can be provided in a cost effective way.

The final wording was sent off to the state without review by the commissioners or the public.

Click here to read the Septic Comp Plan Amendment changes with a Summary by Maggy Hurchalla.

Normally there are workshops and public input and then public hearings.

Fast tracking the process robs the public of an important opportunity to be part of the planning process.

You should be asking the commission to slow down and do it right.

The two big changes the commission asked staff to make back in February were:

  •  to get rid of the local policy that caps septic flows at 2000 gpd. That’s a lot of sewage to put in the ground. The new cap, 5000 gpd, allows two and a half times as much.

  • To extend sewer and water lines outside the urban boundary to bail out developments that have not met their commitment.

The septic issue is really important, but I’m going to summarize it and go on to an issue that is even more important in terms of Martin County’s future.

There are two handouts on the septic issue. One explains in general terms what the amendment does. The other is an annotated version of the actual amendment for those who want gory details.

In summary:

Does Martin County need more large high risk septic systems?

One developer who wants to put an urban restaurant miles from town next to his golf course does not prove we need more big septic systems. Existing data on the failure rate of such systems shows that there will be negative impacts.


Do the proposed limits on big septic systems protect us?

It could have been worse, but with the current wording, a commission that is so inclined can grant a waiver to allow a 5000gpd system to anyone anywhere outside the urban boundary as long as they meet the 200ft setback.

Do changes in septic policies help break the urban boundary?


And that, along with the new line extension policies, is the really scary part of the amendment.

If this amendment gets adopted in its current form on July 25th, we will lose the urban boundary policy that has been the key to making Martin County development patterns different from the rest of South Florida.

On the septic issue, the staff took the Board’s policy direction to allow larger septic systems and did so by changing urban boundary policies in a half dozen different places.

The urban boundary is NOT being moved by this amendment.  The line will be on the same place on the map.  It will simply be meaningless.

Our comp plan will have been changed to allow uses that need urban services to be allowed outside the urban boundary.

The current comp plan says the objective of our land use plan is to:

Concentrate higher densities and intensities of development in strategically located Primary Urban Service Districts, where all public facilities are available.

Plan policies include:

  • Prevention  of urban encroachment on agricultural lands AND

  • That development options outside urban service districts shall be restricted to low-intensity uses, including small-scale service establishments necessary to support rural and agricultural uses. AND

  • The Agricultural Land Use  designation is intended to protect and preserve agricultural soils for agriculturally related uses

The amendment will allow large septic systems for such uses as a packing house with 300 employees. That is not  “low intensity” or “small scale”. It would obviously require such urban services as fire, emergency services, and police.

Policies for the rural area that require low intensity small scale uses are deleted..

Wording was changed so that uses not related to agriculture and uses that were “non-residential and non-agricultural” can be allowed outside the urban boundary.

Staff argues that these changes don’t necessarily change anything. They simply let land uses currently allowed to develop more intensely.

It is a change.

High intensity uses are not the same as low intensity uses. They have different needs and different impacts. When you concentrate uses in one place, you need urban services.

The changes in wording clearly expand the intensity and scale of use allowed outside the urban boundary. It abandons the long standing policies that allow only agriculturally related use in the Ag area.

Does the decision to extend urban services outside the urban boundary make the boundary meaningless?

Justifying bigger septic systems for more intense uses required changes to allow more intense uses outside the urban boundary.

That is only part of the amendment’s assault on the urban boundary concept.

The proposal authorizes utility line extensions five miles west of Palm City to the I-95/ 714 intersection.

The developer of the property on I-95 promised to provide all urban services onsite including sewer and water package plants. They want the comp plan to authorize utility lines to their site. They have stated that IF the cost to them of the sewer and water line extension is less than the cost of the package plant they promised to build, they will hook up to the county utilities. They wanted “all options to be available.”

Keeping all options open makes planning impossible.

The same commissioners, who, in the recent past have defended the use of package plants, declared that package plants were a serious environmental hazard and we needed to do everything possible to prevent one more of them from being built.

No data and analysis was provided on the dangers of package plants. The lack of data and analysis makes it possible – like the Red Queen - to believe two impossible things before breakfast.

We can let them build a package plant, if they want to, and say it’s okay or we can provide utilities and say package plants are terrible. The estimated cost to provide sewer and water out to I 95 is $3.9 million.

Commissioner Jenkins rocked the boat when he announced that he would not vote for the amendment unless the beneficiaries were willing to commit to “NO MORE PACKAGE PLANTS”. He said he thought that was the reason they were authorizing the line extension.

Jenkins did vote to transmit the amendment, but the final wording developed by the staff does not include the guarantees he asked for. It says that the developer can retain the option to build package plants. It says that they will be required to hook up to utilities only if the County builds the line to within 500ft of their property.

A land use expert hired by the county some years ago told them “If you have sewer and water outside the urban boundary, you have no urban boundary.” He gave examples from all over the country where urban boundaries became meaningless lines on a map after sewer and water was made available in rural areas.

Had the changes to the Plan been limited to banning future package plants and requiring the beneficiaries to pay the full cost of the utility extension, the damage to the comp plan would be limited.

There are no other projects outside the urban boundary or inside the urban boundary that have a vested right to build a package plant. It would set a limited precedent.

In land use law, wording and precedent ar everything. In the final draft staff made small changes throughout the Plan that make it easier to extend ANY urban services outside the urban boundary.

Wording included in the amendment makes it very easy for future commissioners to ignore the urban boundary. Weakening the urban boundary policies in order to prevent the construction of any new package plants DIDN’T work. Future package plants will be allowed and the urban boundary will be permanently weakened.

Will  promises to protect ratepayers and taxpayers be kept?

Extending utilities into rural areas costs more to build per customer, because the customers are spread out. Such systems cost more to operate and maintain because there are more pipes and pumps per customer.

As the comp plan says:

Most agricultural lands are far removed from urban service districts and cannot be converted to urban use without substantial increases in the cost of providing, maintaining and operating dispersed services.

Since ratepayers in the rural area pay the same rate as those in the urban area, urban customers will continue to subsidize the operation and maintenance cost of a dispersed rural system.

The best that can be hoped for is that the beneficiaries of the proposed rural; extensions will pay the FULL cost of building the lines.

That was suggested as a condition that should be included in the amendment’s authorization of line extensions.

It was not included. The utility director said specific language wasn’t necessary because the Commission could decide what was fair.

The final language says that the users will have to pay a “proportionate share.” It does not define “proportionate share. It does not specify that existing rate payers and taxpayers will not subsidize the project.

Where did the water lines come into the discussion?

Oh, yeah. Turns out that 2/3s of the $3.9 million dollar cost of the proposed line extension is providing a 16 inch water main out to I-95.

All this started with suggestions about what two new package plants might do to the River.

Letting them build their own water plants won’t hurt the river, so why does the amendment include a whole bunch of changes to the Water Chapter of the Comp Plan?

What you see is a perfect example of why extending one urban service ends up requiring you to extend ALL urban services.

The excuse for the Water main is:

  1. They need fire protection.

  2. The water at their site might be polluted.

Fiscal conservatives might ask “Isn’t that their problem and weren’t they aware of it when they cask for development approval and committed to taking care of all their needs on site?”

The water issue brings up another unintended consequence of allowing more intense rural uses on larger septic systems. What happens if their on-site well is polluted? Will we then be asked to extend water lines (and while we are at it, sewer lines) to all those projects in the rural area that got waivers for 5000 gpd septic flows?

The basic inconsistency of the amendment keeps repeating itself.  We are spending millions and asking homeowners to spend tens of thousands of dollars to convert existing smaller septic systems to sewer.  At the same time we are going to allow more large high risk septic systems.  We are going to allow them dispersed widely through the rural area such that providing utility lines when their systems fail will be very expensive – for all of us.  It makes neither environmental nor fiscal sense.

What can you do about it?

Get involved. Get your friends and neighbors involved. Ask them if they believe Martin County should set out on a new aggressive strategy to grow faster and relieve businesses of environmental restrictions that limit growth.

If not, they should plan now to be at the July 25th meeting. You do make a difference.

Contact the state and tell them why you don’t like this amendment. There is a handout that will be posted on with information on where to send the email to the state. Send a copy of your email to .

RIGHT NOW the most important thing to do is to get an open public discussion going.

Commissioners Fielding and Heard are staunchly on the side of fiscal and environmental sanity.

See if you can get Commissioners Jenkins or Ciampi to set a date for a public workshop.

Ask them to get the staff to set up a hot topics site on the county web site for Chapter 10 amendments.

Ask the staff to provide ALL of the information they have available on septic and sewer.

Ask the staff to provide an annotated copy of the changes telling what they mean and why they are necessary. That is not too much to ask. It is exactly what was provided the last time the comp plan was amended.

If we wait until July 25th to ask questions and express concerns, we will end up in the same confused fast tracked process that the transmission amendment went through.

You can make it happen. You are the only ones who can.