By Karma Norjin Lhamo
August 30, 2018
I’ve known Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson for more than 10 years and she continually amazes me with her knowledge, her caring communications skills and her ability to get things done for her family, her business and her community.
I talked to Merrillee about what she’s done in just the past week and I was amazed!
Issue #1: Merrillee heeded a call for help about flooding from people in Buzzard Roost Prairie, between O’Leno Sink and I-75. That area began to flood when bad culvert placement combined with rain-caused high water events on the Lower Santa Fe River.
“This is the exact location of last year’s major news when the state nearly shut down I-75, one of the few major traffic arteries used for the evacuations from Hurricane Irma,” she said. “I’ve been working with neighbors to get them relief. We’ve analyzed maps and discussed involvement with county government. When no agency or local government could help them, I helped the neighbors to secure a fire hose that they needed for the pump that they just purchased to drain the standing water into a historical low-lying area toward the river. I brought in representatives of the Suwannee River Water Management District, including their executive director, to see the flooding firsthand and to help the neighbors deal with rising water levels.”
Issue #2: A neighbor called Merrillee about a toxic herbicide that was being used to spray weeds and bugs along roadways and in a hay field near residential neighborhoods and the Santa Fe River.
“I connected her to officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or FDEP,” Merrillee related. “Those officials then connected us to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), the agency that regulates spraying on farms. I put the neighbors in touch with a botany expert to help them end the spraying of 2,4-D herbicide in their area. And I’m working on ending spraying under power lines in favor of mechanical mowing. This project is ongoing and at this point, FDEP, DACS, and Columbia County are all engaged.”
Issue #3: Rum Island Park is a free public park on the south end of Columbia County that gets a lot of use and not much county attention; I know because I live about five minutes from the park by car and go there frequently. Merrillee’s family business, Rum 138, is even closer to the park, and she is a close observer of what goes on there.
“I created a group called ‘Friends of Rum Island Park’ because the park is a tremendous asset to southern Columbia County, which is an economically depressed area without many resources,” Merrillee said. “Keeping the park open with free admission and in good shape is invaluable to this community. I’ve scheduled a park cleanup with the nonprofit organization Current Problems, we are logging volunteer hours as members of the Friends group help to clean the park, and we’re planning a family-friendly event, the Rum Runner Tube Race, for Spring 2019.”
Issue #4: Last but not least, Merrillee told me that “I’ve been communicating with citizens about how to get their water tested after weeks of steady afternoon rains have caused flooding and pollution spills along our waterways, with the result that river water has infiltrated inland well systems.”
Having to deal with any one of these problems would make my head spin! And yet, “Issues like these are why I’m running for office,” Merrillee concluded. “I wonder what the other candidates have done recently?”