High Springs plans for utility expansion to I-75 

Commissioner Katherine Weitz speaks during the High Springs July 28 regular meeting.
Photo by Seth Johnson

The city of High Springs clinched a “Hail Mary” grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in February, allowing expanded wastewater service into unincorporated areas but also prompting resident concern that the city has handled over the past two regular March meetings. 

Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said the $2.4 million grant would allow the city to develop a wastewater line that runs three miles along CR-236 from the city limits to exit 404 off I-75. Running the wastewater line would allow businesses to hook up at the interstate and hopefully spur economic growth, Gillingham said.  

With the wastewater grant in hand, the city has also applied for a $4.1 million grant through Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection to build a new well and water station at the interstate and run a parallel water line toward the city. To create the water line, the city would need to create a High Springs Utility District that covers the distance from the interstate to city limits.  

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Gillingham said the goal would be to eventually connect the interstate water lines with the current city lines to create a stronger overall system. If the city ran the water lines from the city, Gillingham said the cost would increase by $13 million because the interchange is more than 500 feet higher in elevation than the city.  

“Growth is heading that way whether we want it or not,” Gillingham said. “This is just getting us ahead of the game.”     

He said High Springs may be able to concentrate commercial growth closer to the interstate and keep the city core as it stands. 

City Manager Ashley Stathatos said High Springs has a strong application since it received the federal grant.    

Stathatos said the utility district, allowed under Florida statute, would create jobs from stimulated growth, provide services to residential and commercial owners, add additional revenue to the city, lower city wastewater rates for more customers and improve water quality. 

Courtesy city of High Springs High Springs CR 236 to I-75CR-236 interchange map

At the city’s March 9 meeting, the commission discussed a draft of the ordinance that would create the utility district. The wording required any residences within a certain distance of the proposed wastewater line to connect, but staff noted that wording can change.  

Stathatos said requiring hookups creates a stronger application for the state’s water grant, however, the city attorney said the commission could modify those requirements after receiving the grant since ultimate control of the new utility district would lie with the city.  

Commissioner Katherine Weitz spoke against mandating connections to the water or wastewater lines for current residents. She said those residents chose to live in the unincorporated and may not want city services.  

“If we could craft an ordinance such that its primary focus is serving that interchange to help fuel economic growth there and then allow for hookups to new construction, then I would be more amenable to something like that,” Weitz said at the March 9 meeting.

Gillingham said at the time that staff has focused on serving the interchange. The requirements for everyone living in-between, he said, are secondary—whether requiring a hookup or making it voluntary. 

But Gillingham noted that Alachua County is pushing residents away from septic with a potential inspection program. Commissioner Ross Ambrose and City Attorney Scott Walker said Tallahassee seems to be moving that way as well.  

Nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus quickly travel to the Florida aquifer because High Springs sits in a high recharge area. Converting residents from septic to sewer cuts down on those contaminants, Scott said. 

High Springs has also entered talks with Newberry and Archer to create a regional wastewater treatment facility. If that project continues to completion, Gillingham said the city would need to create another utility district that runs south toward Newberry. He said the commission’s decision about mandatory hookups would come anyway. 

The commission voted 4-1, with Weitz in dissent, to move forward with the language on the utility district that requires connections. Commissioners Tristan Grunder and Ross Ambrose said they support removing the mandatory connection later.   

Residents crowded City Hall at the March 23 meeting and protested any requirement to connect to the city utilities. Some said the financial cost, a $3,000 minimum for impact fees and a meter, would be too high for them to afford. Residents also said they received no notice of the decisions High Springs has considered that impact them.  

Courtesy city of High Springs High Springs residents filled the High Springs City Commission meeting on March 23.

City staff, based on comments from March 9, returned an ordinance that would allow voluntary connections to the new lines but not mandate them. Several commissioners supported the revision verbally, but the item isn’t scheduled for a vote until later, likely in April. 

Stathatos said the Alachua County Health Department and state statute also allow residents with septic to continue with septic despite having an available connection to the city sewer line.  

“Writing this ordinance was supposed to give people assurances that they would not have to hook up,” Stathatos said, noting that the changes came from commissioner and public comment at the last meeting. 

Grunder backed an idea to redraw the utility district map to only include CR-236 and commercial residents while leaving out residential lots. Ambrose and Weitz also supported the idea. 

Walker added that the city commission can impose more extensive notification requirements for the utility district, and he said the changes considered by the commission—to move from mandatory to voluntary connections—would likely require a revote on the first hearing.  

However, residents are still worried that once the water and wastewater lines are installed, a future commission could mandate connections. Also, nothing prevents the current commission from reconsidering in a year’s time either, public commenters said.  

The city of High Springs has its annual joint meeting with the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, the board over the unincorporated area in question, on April 20.  

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Scott Flanders

The article states that the I-75 proposed water well would be 500 feet higher than the city.
There is no point in Florida that is at 500 feet elevation. The highest point in Florida is Britton Hill in Walton County, 345 feet mean sea level.


I guess it’s a good thing he’s only the “assistant” city manager.
Math is just so hard…