From staff reports

The Seminole Source ran an election series in August highlighting several key 2020 candidates prior to the Primary, including candidates running for Representative in Congress District 7, Florida Senate District 9, Sheriff, Property Appraiser, Tax Collector, Supervisor of Elections, Commission District 3, Commission District 5, and School Board Member District 3. The profiles of candidates who responded to the interview questions will be made available again at the end of this week in our “In case you missed it” article.

There is one additional race we decided to cover prior to the General Election, and that is for the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation Group 2. There are two candidates competing for this supervisor position on this county board: the incumbent, David Mahnken, and candidate Jennifer Webb.

What does the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation District do?

According to the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation District (SSWCD) website, the SSWCD “helps:

  • Implement farm, ranch community and forestland conservation practices to protect soil productivity, water quality and quantity and wildlife habitat.
  • Aid land owners in their efforts to secure financial assistance to implement conservation practices.
  • Assist communities and homeowners in planting trees and other land owners to address impacts of too much or too little water.
  • Reach out to schools and communities to teach the value of protecting our natural resources.
  • Organize waterway cleanups.”

In addition they “offer educational programs on water conservation and pollution, works with community groups, homeowners associations and even local governments to help educate them in the areas of conservation and in the best practices for the preservation of our natural resources… offer advice and can provide materials that help residents make good choices in landscaping that are both water-wise and beautiful… and also offer information about ways to conserve water inside and outside the home.”

The SSWCD is “made up of 5 elected officials who volunteer their time to provide the best land and water use management practices that will conserve, improve, and sustain the natural environment of Seminole County.”

They are “an independent state agency which is responsible for carrying out a variety of natural resource stewardship programs here in Seminole County. The SSWCD serves all of Seminole County in the area of the conservation and stewardship of our natural resources. Board supervisors are elected and run county wide, they serve staggered four years terms.”

Meet the Candidates

The order for publishing these candidate profiles was determined by random drawing, resulting in Jennifer Webb being profiled first, followed by David Mahnken.

Who is David Mahnken?

David Mahnken, incumbent Supervisor of the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation Group 2

David Mahnken’s roots go deep in Central Florida, having lived and worked here now for over 30 years. First earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Botany / Plant Biology from the University of Central Florida, he continued deeper into this area of interest by pursuing a Master’s degree as well, in Environmental Soil Science from the same university.

With fresh degrees in hand, Mahnken dove into his first job as a laboratory analyst for a geotechnical soil laboratory, further developing his interest in soil science. From there, he went on to work in the regulatory field as an environmental scientist, with experience conducting water quality sampling and analysis, lake and stream management, and evaluation of environmental resource permits. More recently, Mahnken has worked as a consultant, focusing on wetland mitigation and restoration projects.

Honing his expertise in a variety of environmental arenas, including

  • geotechnical and environmental soil evaluation and classification,
  • wetland mitigation bank design and permitting,
  • environmental permitting and PD&E/NEPA evaluation for linear transportation design and design-build projects,
  • CWA Section 404 permitting,
  • ESA Section 7 & 10 Consultations, and
  • surveying state and federal threatened and endangered species, including gopher tortoise, sand skinks, scrub jay, and Audubon’s crested caracara,

Mahnken’s current position as Senior Scientist at E Sciences Inc. is no surprise. This Orlando-based company, formed in 2000, serves as an environmental, engineering and ecological consulting firm for both the public and private sectors throughout Florida and the southeastern United States.

The dedication for the environment that Mahnken shows is evident, not only through his degree and career choices, but through his over eight years of volunteerism with the county as well. Having volunteered with the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation District (SSWCD) since 2012, Mahnken has served as the board’s secretary, two times as vice chair (including currently), and as chair of the board. Mahnken’s current role as the SSWCD Group 2 Supervisor is a role he won in the 2016 election, and is also a volunteer position. It’s a role he enjoys and says he looks “forward to continuing” if re-elected.

In considering qualifications, Mahnken shared that he is “the only Certified Professional Soil Scientist listed within Seminole, Orange or Osceola counties as recognized by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)”.

Mahnken’s history of diverse technical experience in transportation ecology, wetland and upland habitat ecology, biological evaluation of water resources, and environmental soil science seemed to help this past summer when Chamber of Commerce members overwhelmingly cast their straw-poll votes for Mahnken over Webb at the local Chambers’ Hob Nob events. Mahnken won 61% of the straw-poll vote over Webb’s 39% in the Casselberry Chamber, 63% to 27% in Sanford’s, and 73% to 27% in the Hispanic Metro Orlando Chamber.

Mahnken and his wife, Alyson, enjoy family life with their three children, Lauren, Lainey and Jace.

Interview questions and Mahnken’s responses


(1) In what ways can the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation District (SSWCD) serve residents in regard to environmental concerns within their community?

As an organization of elected volunteers, the SSWCD supervisors serve the citizens of Seminole County in an “at-large” capacity such that residents can draw from the knowledge and experience of any supervisor regardless of geographic location or municipality in the county.

Supervisors regularly attend events such as the annual Casselberry Earthfest, Orlando Wetlands Festival, lakeshore restoration events, and other community events where we provide outreach and distribute educational materials and speak to residents regarding concerns they may have and ways to address them.

The SSWCD reviews proposed development plans under evaluation by the county, municipalities, and state regulatory agencies, and in some cases, may provide comments to the reviewing agencies for consideration. The SSWCD also serves as a clearinghouse for citizens concerns; many citizens come to the SSWCD looking for the appropriate regulatory agencies to address their concern. The SSWCD works to help citizens by connecting them with those agencies and the appropriate county and municipal departments and staff.  In some cases, the SSWCD advocates for citizens concerns by connecting citizens with local leaders at the county and municipalities to help address questions and concerns.

Finally, the Board can serve community organizations by identifying grant funding opportunities through NRCS and other agencies and assist in identifying projects that promote conservation.

(2) What are some examples of common pollutants that affect our waterways? How can the SSWCD serve to notify and inform the public of such pollution concerns?

The most common pollutants affecting our waterways are nitrogen and phosphorus.  In a normally functioning ecosystem these nutrients are kept in check through natural processes; excess nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and in the case of septic systems, excess nitrogen, impacts the natural cycling of these nutrients and results in degradation of water quality and habitat suitability.

The SSWCD provides information supporting the county fertilizer ordinance and works to educate the public on the importance of native vegetation, lakeshore and wetland restoration, proper use of sediment and erosion controls during construction. The SSWCD also provides educational items at outreach events and hosts guest speakers at our monthly meetings to promote public awareness and identify public concerns.

(3) In what ways as an elected supervisor of the SSWCD would you use your position to further promote the board and inform the public of the purpose it serves?

Continuing to attend public events hosted by the county, municipalities and stakeholders is one of the most effective ways to promote the board as it provides one-on-one interaction and allows the public to meet and speak directly with supervisors. Today, social media also plays an important role in keeping the public informed of SSWCD activities and events.

One way to further promote the board includes direct outreach to specific communities.  We have discussed at recent board meetings an initiative to attend local HOA board meetings to provide information and presentations regarding local conservation issues, regulatory matters, and ways to help promote conservation.  I plan to provide my expertise and knowledge of ecological functions and wetland and surface water regulatory programs to help HOA’s and their community better understand their role in managing conservation easements and their restrictions.

(4) In what ways can the SSWCD serve other branches of local government? Examples?

Whether as a volunteer or elected supervisor, I have always seen the SSWCD as an extension of county and municipal government staff and as a tool that local governments should come to rely upon for assistance. I review local development review applications that go before the County Development Review Committee, and in some instances, provide comments for county consideration. I have encouraged other board members to attend Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) sediment and erosion control training. I, and other supervisors, have obtained that certification and intend to begin a program of random inspection of active construction area to assist the county in promoting best management practices that reduce turbid runoff into waterbodies. Some municipalities have no environmental specialist on staff; the SSWCD can provide certain services to support those municipalities without staff expertise. In doing so, the board relies on the expertise of supervisors themselves, or our relationships with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), other county soil boards, or regulatory agencies.

(5) What are the pros and cons to a SSWCD board that offers no monetary compensation to its board members?

As an elected supervisor with no monetary compensation, I can speak from experience that helping people through volunteerism by providing outreach, education and support go a long way in making service on the board a rewarding experience. The challenge has always been to hope for like-minded individuals interested in serving on the board. It takes a long term and consistent execution of a mission to begin to achieve the goals of that mission, which can sometimes be discouraging.

(6) What roles can SSWCD play in influencing decision‐making in respect to environmental policy, zoning, natural resource management, etc.?

In addition to attending local development review meetings and providing review and comment on proposed developments, there is a need for the board to play a role in coordination with the county and other municipalities during cyclical revisions of comprehensive growth management plans, specifically the conservation element of those plans. I am currently working on an evaluation of wetland resources and restoration opportunities in Seminole County that I hope to bring before the county and municipalities to help in identifying conservation needs and opportunities improvement where county ordinances or growth management policy may be outdated.

(7) What would your priorities be for the SSWCD, should you be re-elected?

  • Working more closely, and routinely, with local leaders by being present at regular commission and council meetings.
  • Help to develop more interest and attendance in our meetings by providing more guest expert speakers on various conservation topics of interest.
  • Conduct more outreach with local communities and HOA’s.
  • Help the county and municipalities save time and money by assisting in answering citizen inquiries and concerns.

(8) How would you advise local municipalities and county governments to deal with water quality issues that would yield the highest amount of water at the lowest cost for taxpayers?

  • Protect natural recharge areas including lands within the Rural Boundary and the Geneva Bubble.
  • Focus on opportunities to enhance floodplain storage.
  • Provide wetland restoration and regional stormwater management on county and municipal lands.

Notable Endorsements

Ed Young, SSWCD Chair and Supervisor; Amy Volpe, SSWCD Supervisor; Jason Kirby, SSWCD Supervisor; Karen Hariot, SSWCD Supervisor; Brett Upthagrove, Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor; Mayor David Henson, City of Casselberry; Commissioner Anthony Aramendia, City of Casselberry; Commissioner Justin York, City of Lake Mary; Mayor Charles Lacey, City of Winter Springs; Commissioner Abby Shoemaker, City of Longwood; Abby Sanchez, District 3, Seminole County Public School Board; and Kris Cole, AP Science Teacher, Seminole High School



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