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 Jennifer Webb?
Jennifer Webb grew up in the Chicago Northwest Suburbs, and received her professional Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Illinois. This is a five year degree required in order to obtain an architecture license. Once her education was complete, as a licensed Architect Webb had the honor of joining teams in several large architectural firms across the country, from Washington DC to Nebraska and north to Wisconsin, building valuable experience and expertise in her field. In this role, Webb was privileged to work on projects focused on science and healthcare, as well as commercial projects with sustainable design requirements worldwide. In addition, Webb established her own architectural consulting firm which she ran as CEO/President for 20 years.
In 2005 Webb moved to Florida after receiving a job opportunity to work on aerospace and education projects, an offer she was excited to accept. Since making that move 15 years ago, Seminole County has been her home, while she has continued to serve as a Senior Architect for Lockheed Martin at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Some of the local projects Webb has been thrilled to work on include the Orlando International Airport South Airport Automated People Mover; the Intermodal Terminal Facility, which is the first LEED v4 New Construction Project in the State of Florida; overseeing the overall design compliance of Orange County Public School Design Guidelines, as well as managing their architectural and engineering contracts; and the University of Florida Biomedical Sciences Building, an LEED Gold Certified facility in Florida. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building types, LEED provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings”.
Webb believes her experience working on complex building projects at sensitive sites, such as Lockheed Martin, University of Florida, and the Orlando International Airport, as well as on LEED projects, will bring a fresh and well-rounded perspective to the Seminole County Soil and Water Conservation District (SSWCD), Group 2. She understands the important relationship between facility development and the environment as critical, and wants to be at the forefront of ensuring that the county protects the fragile Florida ecosystem in which Seminole County is directly centered.
If there was a motto or mission that capture’s Webb’s focus, it would be Preserve Nature Prevent Sprawl. She has shown her dedication to this vision not only through her career choices, but also in how she gives to the community in ways that further this mission. In her free time, Webb volunteers on the Seminole County Business Advisory Board, as well as the City of Oviedo Public Arts Committee. She has also collaborated with regional preservation groups such as the St. Johns Riverkeepers, the League of Women Voters Natural Resources Action Team, the 1000 Friends of Florida, and Smart Growth Florida to work on environmental protection. Webb shares that these groups are important to her and her family, and she is committed to bringing her professional experience, as well as her heart for the community and the environment, to the SSWCD.
As a single parent, Webb has been raising her son Alex, 16, and her daughter Vivian, 13, both of whom attend Seminole County Public Schools in Oviedo.
(1) In what ways can the Seminole Soil and Water Conservation District (SSWCD) serve residents in regard to environmental concerns within their community?
The Seminole Soil and Water Conservation District (SSWCD) needs to be the county authority for environmental and resiliency within Seminole County. This is part of the original mission of the SSWCD and it’s critical for the SSWCD to gain relevance within the county. The SSWCD is doing good work, but it’s mostly going unnoticed. There are a few ways which this can happen:
- Become a regular part of the County commission and provide regular reports to the county and to cities on environmental issues.
- Have the SSWCD website be a part of the County website that acts as the local resource for resiliency, environmental, and sustainability matters. This gives the SSWCD more presence as well as improves the authority of the SSWCD.
- Have SSWCD work with local environmental groups such as 4H, St. Johns Riverkeepers, the League of Women Voters, as well as local companies to educate and promote best practices. This can be done with events or collaborations on activities with these groups.
- Find residents who are willing to work with the SSWCD as volunteers to help with the many activities that would occur in our community and can serve as ambassadors.
(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?
Over the past several years the EPA standards have loosened and, as such, it is important that local governments take charge of their own water quality. The November 2020 Consumer Reports featured this issue and updated its Water Safety and Quality Guide (https://www.consumerreports.org/water‐quality/water‐safety‐and‐quality‐guide/) which
highlights some of the issues that local water systems face and what homeowners can do to find out what is in their water system.
Examples of common pollutants that affect our waterways include polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS) brought about from plastics which don’t break down easily and last a very long time in our waterways. This, in addition to the more commonly known pollutants such as lead, heavy metals, nitrates, bacteria, and arsenic, are required to be tested from our city water systems and is recommended to be tested at least every three years from private wells per the Florida Department of Health
- Because regular water testing can be easily overlooked, one thing that the SSWCD can do is to encourage a regular water testing program that the County and Cities can support so we have an understanding of the current state of water quality within Seminole County. We regularly test the source of public water systems, but how often do we test the water quality at the other end? With our aging infrastructure, knowing the quality of the tap water you have can help you understand issues and will also help the county and cities know if there are any underlying problems that must be prioritized. Testing on a regular basis can mitigate the extra costs with replacing aging infrastructure by understanding where problem areas occur. These county‐wide tests can even be funded by EPA grants that are available (https://www.epa.gov/research‐grants/water‐research‐grants).
- Work with community programs to educate citizens about the pollutants that are found in our waterways, as well as ways to mitigate these pollutants from entering our water systems. For example, we could work with Seminole County nurseries to educate people about the use of bioswales, and by using Florida native plants we can provide a natural filtration system, plus improve the quality of our soil.
- Grants can be applied for to help citizens receive the money they need to repair for septic tank repairs, especially for those who have tanks in watershed areas. With the Floridian Aquifer decreasing in volume as well as rising sea levels, the need for septic tank replacements and repairs could dramatically increase. Making the public aware of such opportunities would not only reduce the amount of wastewater entering our waterways, it would also save the public funds needed for these repairs.
(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?
As noted in Question 1, I would encourage the SSWCD to improve its current web page and develop a more professional presence with assistance with the county and local governments, or even with local web developers. Being the elected authority on environmental resiliency, the SSWCD is more akin to the Orlando Office of Sustainability and Resilience (https://www.orlando.gov/Our‐Government/Departments‐Offices/Executive‐Offices/CAO/Sustainability‐Resilience). This web page is directly part of the city’s website and is a starting point for all things related to sustainability and resiliency. Creating a more professional website and linking it to the county website would not be difficult to implement and can show that the SSWCD is the local resource for all things soil and water. This website would have links to an expanded social media presence through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.
Additionally, the SSWCD can further promote the board and the public by being a regular participant in planning and zoning hearings and stating the SSWCD response to local developments, and whether or not the board has comments or recommendations. It is not to usurp local authority; however, the SSWCD is encouraged to advise local jurisdictions on
recommendations on upcoming legislation and/or developmental issues. As a licensed Architect, I am familiar with the development practices which compliments the current expertise of the board.
Finally, the SSWCD can participate in events with local community organizations and businesses that compliment the purpose of the SSWCD. One example is to utilize the current resources from the county’s land use database and further identify food deserts within the county. Creating a map with IFAS that identifies vacant land with food deserts can develop opportunities within local communities to find plots of land and make recommendations for community gardens. The SSWCD can work with local HOA’s to develop a set of tools for Florida native landscapes to minimize the amount of grasses which utilize too much water. This can be further promoted via press releases and have the SSWCD be a regular contributor to the local press to gain further presence.
(4) In what ways can the SSWCD serve other branches of local government? Examples?
There are many opportunities where the SSWCD can serve local governments. As stated in Question 3, the SSWCD needs to be the county’s authority in soil and water management. By being a regular advisor, the SSWCD gains more presence and an understated authority in soil and water preservation.
The SSWCD needs to collaborate more with the local government’s staff and resources to provide recommendations and assist with policies which promotes soil and water conservation efforts, and help governments understand the impacts that policies have on the regional environment.
For example, a county‐wide water quality testing program would provide results that all jurisdictions can benefit from. Once it is discovered that water quality issues are present and where they are located, the jurisdictions can take that information and develop mitigation plans and/or protection measures which benefits everyone.
Additionally, the SSWCD currently has a camera program which shows the local wildlife in our county. Applying for grants, plus working with local wildlife organizations to increase this program, can help local governments identify where natural habitats are located. This in turn will help educate the local government to minimize development in those areas
or provide protective measures to protect natural resources and wildlife.
Regular reporting to the various jurisdictions within the county will develop a common relationship that will help bring awareness to soil and water conservation measures that are needed.
(5) What are the pros and cons to a SSWCD board that offers no monetary compensation to its board members?
The SSWCD does not set policy and has no regulatory authority, and no direct funding, even though it is sanctioned by the state. Since it is an independent state agency, it is important that the SSWCD maintain a neutral position within the county, and as such, it is a benefit that SSWCD members are not paid. However, not being paid can make some members not contribute as much to the work that is needed since it is truly a full volunteer position, even if you are elected. This is why applying for grants and other subsidized funding resources can be beneficial to the SSWCD to help take the burden off of the members and utilize the resources available to them.
(6) What roles can SSWCD play in influencing decision‐making in respect to environmental policy, zoning, natural resource management, etc.?
As noted in Questions 1 and 3, the SSWCD can be an advisor to local jurisdictions in many ways:
- Advise on upcoming development plans and provide input to help local jurisdictions make educated decisions about the impact that developments would have on soil and water quality.
- Be a resource for projects such as water testing and animal tracking to help jurisdictions and residents understand the environment in which they live and work.
- Become the authority in best resiliency and sustainability practices to preserve and protect our soil and water quality.
- Identify and apply for grants for residents and jurisdictions that would serve to protect the environment and save on natural resources.
(7) What would your priorities be for the SSWCD, should you be elected?
Some of the priorities would include the following:
- Have a work session with the current board to identify their upcoming issues and establish SSWCD priorities.
- Update the website, provide better links to social media, and make it easier for residents to find resources that they can use for soil and water quality improvement and natural environmental protection.
- Currently the budget for the SSWCD is $300. Other Soil and Water Conservation districts have budgets of several hundred thousand dollars. Apply for grants that compliment their current programs and then apply for grants that would support future programs. Having the extra resources will benefit the community better and provide more opportunities to serve.
- Work with the current SSWCD board to develop ways for board members to interact with local jurisdictions and identify soil and water conservation issues.
- Collaborate with the Seminole County Public Schools for ways to educate children on environmental issues plus enable volunteers to work with the SSWCD on a variety of programs.
(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?
Testing and understanding where our water quality issues are located and what types of water quality issues are occurring will be vital to allow jurisdictions to prioritize the mitigation needed. This will, in turn, reduce the taxpayer cost. The SSWCD would work with jurisdictions to apply for grants that can further mitigate costs.
Likewise, providing education to residents and jurisdictions on ways to save and reduce our water consumption will yield the highest amount of water saved with the lowest cost for taxpayers. This can be done through the SSWCD website, coordination events, and workshops with local jurisdictions and community groups.
The Democratic Party; and Young Democrats
Webb noted that, while not direct endorsements, she knows she has “the support of members of the St. Johns Riverkeepers, Environmental Professor Wendy Anderson from Stetson University, the 1000 Friends of Florida, the League of Women Voters Natural Resources Action Team, Smart Growth Florida, and the Florida Rights of Nature Network”.
Update as of October 28, 2020, The Seminole Source received the following comment from the League of Women’s Voters:
“JUST TO BE CLEAR: The League of Women Voters never endorses a candidate. Never! We do take position on issues, but never candidates, not since we were founded 100 years ago. A Seminole candidate has claimed to be supported by one of our many committees, but that is incorrect. We support NEITHER candidate in that race or in any other.”