96-Acre Property Dispute in Washington County

By: Vanessa Nguyen Email
By: Vanessa Nguyen Email

The Washington County School District is feuding with the Northwest Florida Water Management District over a 96 acre piece of property in southern Washington County.

Water Management District officials had originally told the school district it could use the land for a new school.

But now the water district wants the property back, claiming the school district failed to get approval from the state Department of Education.
School officials say they don't need approval, and this is really pay-back for the County Commission's lawsuit against Water Management over 10 controversial water wells in that general area.

Northwest Florida Water Management District officials donated this 96 acre piece of land along Duma Jack Road to the Washington County School District several years ago, giving the district 25 years to build a new school. But now they want it back.

On July 28th, the Water Management District sent this letter to the Washington County Commission stating the Commission failed to get Department of Education approval for the plan.

"The Board of County Commissioners was not involved at any point in time with this transaction between Northwest Florida Water Management and the Washington County School District. We really don't understand exactly why this letter was sent to the Board of County Commissioners and copied to me."

Washington County School Superintendent Dr. Sandra Cook wrote the Water Management District last week, including DOE documentation explaining there's no need for state approval.

She also says the school district has been paying maintenance fees on the property and has submitted plans to DOE.

But both Cook and County Commissioner Bill Howell believe there's more to this change of heart.

They believe Water Management District officials are trying to punish the County Commission for challenging a plan to build 10 emergency water wells for Bay County, just below the Washington County line.
The Commission has joined a lawsuit, claiming the wells will threaten the lakes and water supply in south Washington County.

"Absolutely nothing to do with the School Board, totally retaliatory it sounds like to me. I see no reason why the Water Management District would be doing this other than it has something to do with the lawsuit that Washington County has against Northwest Florida Water Management District concerning the water wells."

Cook says she refuses to take this without a fight.

"They're not taking things away from me as a Superintendent, they're taking a piece of property that will impact our students in the future."
"We're certainly not going to stand by and let this happen."

The Executive Director of the Northwest Florida Water Management refused to comment on the issue saying he had not seen Dr. Cook's response.


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