Local News

Sebring rejects participating in Lake Jackson study

SEBRING - Despite the city of Sebring's initial refusal to help pay for a study of Lake Jackson, the project should continue, Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell said Wednesday.

"I don't think it's a good idea at this point to scrap it," Elwell said the day after the Sebring City Council failed on a tie vote to approve the funding request.

But the council may vote on the issue again. Council John Griffin, who was absent and could have provided a third vote either way, has asked that the issue be put on the May 6 meeting agenda.

The ultimate goal of the study is to find a way to reduce the drop in lake's water level during dry years, said Clell Ford, lakes manager for Highlands County.

Ford and Elwell said a lot of residents who become upset when the water level dropped have expressed interest in finding solutions to the problem. Part of the reason for that besides the lack of rain some years is seepage of the water into a canal, he said.

Some council members questioned why the study doesn't directly focus on a solution to the seepage.

But Ford said that 75 percent of the study is being funded by the South Florida Water Management District, which mandates a hyrdrology study before agreeing to the 75 percent funding.

Highlands County will benefit from a study that would ultimately recommend solutions to keeping the lake level more constant during dry periods, Elwell said.

"We now have the opportunity to do so at a very discounted price," Elwell said. He added that the county may seek additional communication with Sebring on the issue.

He said Sebring would pay no more than $52,000 between this year and 2019. The total cost would be about $320,000.

"I would rather spend money to stop seepage rather than to fund another study," Councilman Scott Stanley said. He questioned whether the study would show that when it rains the water level is higher and when it doesn't rain the water level is lower.

But Ford said the study would ultimately deal with the issue of the seepage.

The water level has been studied for years, he said.

Ford said the water level remained above 100 feet between 1945 and 1972. But, he said, during the early 1970s, a watershed project was completed in response to flooding problems at Lake Josephine.

But after the project was completed, people began complaining about lower lake levels, he said.

In 1995, he said, a study measured the seepage problem and recommended six possible solutions. But none of those choices became reality because of the costs, Ford said.

Despite that, he said, people have maintained interest in finding solutions to the seepage problem, Ford said.

Although above normal rainfall last year has resulted in water levels above 100 feet, future dry spells would reduce that, he said.

Between this year and 2018, the study would look at the water flow and monitor groundwater, the lake level, seepage and rainfall, Ford said.

Despite Ford's presentation, the request for Sebring to participate was refused on a tie vote. Council members Stanley and Mark Stewart opposed the request. Council members Bud Whitlock and Lenard Carlisle Jr. favored it. Councilman John Griffin was absent.

Mayor John Shoop said he favored the city helping to fund the study. But under the city's charter, Shoop doesn't get a vote.

In another matter, it was announced that the city has come up with the estimated $15,000 to fund the fireworks display on July 4. Sebring and the Community Redevelopment Agency each provided $5,000. Shoop was instrumental in raising the remaining $5,000.


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