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Apopka Environment

Experts: Apopka Blue Sink would be imperiled if development goes in nearby

Transitioning gopher tortoise lands into townhouse development could also harm Rock Springs and the Floridan Aquifer


The Apopka Blue Sink is an intriguing and mysterious natural wonder. Yes, it's technically a sinkhole, but it's also a glimpse into the depths of the Earth and a window to the Floridan Aquifer system. Its vivid blue water is a result of the limestone bedrock filtering out impurities, leaving behind crystal-clear waters. 

Beyond its aesthetic appeal, the Apopka Blue Sink plays a crucial role in the local ecosystem. It's directly connected to Rock Springs and serves as a recharge point for the Floridan Aquifer, a massive underground reservoir that supplies water to much of Florida. This delicate balance between human exploration and environmental preservation adds an extra layer of significance to the site.

But if a proposed townhouse development replaces a nearby 51-acre gopher tortoise conservation area, the Apopka Blue Sink and the entire local springs system could face ecological jeopardy.

At the September 6th Apopka City Council meeting, Gary McSweeney, the director of the Rock Springs Ridge Homeowners Association, announced an update on its progress with The Golf Group - owners of the RSR golf course lands.

"The HOA Board presented a unique and compelling Land Exchange Agreement to our membership last week that was both informative and well received before it was unanimously approved by the Board," Mc Sweeney told the Council during the public comments section of the meeting. "This Agreement allows for a 51-acre Kelly Park Road parcel owned by the HOA to be exchanged for a 319-A¢re Golf Course Tract owned by the RSR Golf Club. This debt-free exchange of lands will help restore our integrity and benefits lost over the 25-year development of our community."

The 51-acre Kelly Park Road parcel is also known as the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Area, and although the HOA owns it, there is also an environmental easement attached to it that is perpetual and has not been released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

In fact, they wrote a letter to the RSR HOA warning them to stop trying to sell the parcel.

The property proposed for development sits next door to the Apopka Blue Sink. And according to Dr. Todd Kincaid, a groundwater scientist, underwater explorer, and advocate for science-based conservation of water resources and aquatic environments, it cannot handle the transition to a townhouse development.

"From my perspective, the biggest concern regarding these types of features is contamination," said Kincaid, who is the Executive Director of Project Baseline. "Places like Blue Sink are literally windows into the Floridan Aquifer. Anything that flows into these features is, therefore, conveyed directly into the aquifer. When they’re isolated out in the woods, the probability of contamination goes down. When they’re within or adjacent to developments, though, the probability of contamination is considerably higher. Of particular concern would be runoff, which can look very different during/after large rainfall events than it does under normal or dry conditions. Steps should, therefore, be taken to ensure that the sink doesn’t receive runoff from paved surfaces or from fertilized lawns, fields, etc."

Jack Martin, the administrator of The Apopka Critic Facebook page, has advocated for the Blue Sink for years now. In 2021, he posted this warning:

"It appears that the Rock Springs Ridge HOA is moving forward on selling off fifty acres of conservation land that borders the Blue Sink on city property. That spring connects and feeds the Rock Springs run at Kelly Park, which connects with the Wekiva River system. Should the city allow more homes to be built so close to this fragile natural resource?"

Tom Morris holds degrees in Wildlife Biology and Botany (Ecology) from the University of Florida. He has worked as a biologist, primarily in Florida, for almost fifty years. Tom has had a particular interest in studies related to the Floridan Aquifer, including the distribution, abundance, and ecology of Florida's endemic cave fauna. Morris has explored the Blue Sink many times. He's also concerned about a rare species that has only been found in the Apopka Blue Sink.

"The Orlando Spider Cave Crayfish is one of sixteen species of cave-adapted crayfish that live in the water-filled springs, sinkholes, and caverns of the Floridan Aquifer," Morris said. "It is known from only one site... Apopka Blue Sink and biological surveys of nearby groundwater habitats in the Wekiwa watershed have failed to locate this animal.  Blue Sink is therefore considered to be a critical habitat for this species, and anything that alters or degrades its groundwater environment, such as pollution, local overpumping, or erosion and siltation in the sink, could result in the extinction of this exquisite little crayfish. Why should we care? For the religiously inclined, this animal is part of God's creation, which we have been charged to protect. For others, it is the existence of these fine examples of biodiversity that make life so interesting."

The Apopka Voice emailed McSweeney about concerns related to the gopher tortoise refuge being transitioned into a townhouse development, but he did not respond. 

Rock Springs Ridge, Rock Springs, Apopka Blue Sink, Floridan Aquifer, Gopher Tortoise Refuge