Liz Crowthers reclines on a metal chair amid potted plants and trees and sips on a thermos full of water she’d pulled from a well.
Azalea shrubs, drift roses and cold hardy palms grow under the bright sunlight in the plant nursery behind her Geneva landscaping business, Focal Point Nursery and Supplies. Beneath Focal Point and the adjacent road, the water source that keeps Crowthers and her plants alive may be at risk.
A proposed road-widening project for State Road 46 has Geneva residents concerned for the integrity of the Geneva Bubble, an underground aquifer and the community’s sole source of water found below the road.
Many Geneva residents fear that construction would prevent rainfall from properly recharging the water source and risk the possibility of contamination.
“It would be awful. I’m sure we’d have to look at buying city water. Who wants to do that?” Crowthers said. “I’m sure it would hugely affect this community. The logistics on what would happen if they did encroach into the bubble. … I can’t imagine what would have to happen.”
The State Road 46 project would widen the road from two lanes to four from State Road 415 to County Road 426 to improve traffic flow for a potential hurricane evacuation route. The $40 million to $50 million project may also require a second bridge over Lake Jesup to manage the extra lanes.
Contracted by Seminole County, engineering firm URS Corp. began a $500,000 Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study in the summer of 2011 to survey the area and speak with the community. The study was put on hold in August due to an overwhelmingly negative reaction from Geneva residents at an information meeting with URS and the county’s engineering department.
Geneva Citizens Association President Richard Creedon said that 80 percent of the Geneva community is against the widening of the road due to the threat it poses to the Geneva Bubble and the rural character of the area.
“We have a lot of people that just love this community,” said Creedon, sitting in front of an art display of horse and nature paintings in the Geneva Rural Heritage Center. “We’re just grateful that we were able to find this community, and we want to try to pass it on to the next generation at least as good as the way it was passed on to us.”
Professional geologist and Valencia College Professor Jim Adamski said that the risk of water contamination is always a concern during any kind of development and that the pollution of this water source would mean more cost for Geneva residents, who would have to ship in water from other parts of the county.
Accessible through individual and community wells, the Geneva Bubble has provided Geneva with water since the village was first founded in 1860. To find out more about the State Road 46 project, visit www.sr46geneva.co...>
Read columnist Karen McEnany-Phillips’ 2008 column about the Geneva Bubble and the island of Geneva here: http://bit.ly/UIM...>
“There’s always potential when you have development to damage the water supply, both the ground water and the surface water,” Adamski said. “Whatever water you do get down in the aquifer, you certainly want it to be high quality, because once it gets down there, it’s basically there to stay.”
On the other hand, Seminole County Storm Water Project Manager Mark Flomerfelt assured that new retention ponds installed along the proposed widened road would improve the water quality by better filtering the rainwater down into the aquifer.
Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari said that a traffic safety study is now being done while the PD&E Study is on hold. That study will take three months to complete and will assess the need to continue forward with the project.
Dallari agreed that the Geneva Bubble is crucial.
“It’s something that we understand that needs to be not just preserved, but protected,” Dallari said. “The reason I say that is because it helps protect other water supplies with the saltwater coming in from the coast.”
“Protecting the rural area is extremely important to Seminole County,” he added.
In September, 518 Genevans signed a petition against the widening of State Road 46 and sent it to URS Corp., the Florida Department of Transportation, Seminole County Commissioner John Horan and the Federal Highway Administration.
A public hearing is also scheduled to take place in mid-2013, where an alternative road project will be presented to the people of Geneva for more opinions and input.
“As far as the road, I haven’t really viewed the plans, but it certainly raises some questions, and I’d like to see what protections they’re going to put into place before they widen this road,” Adamski said. “Once the damage is done, it’s done. It’s very difficult once you get contamination down in the aquifer, or once you start paving it over and you’re not getting the recharge like you used to have and the freshwater starts going away.
“You can’t undo that. You can’t fix it.”