swcd.jpg

KelleeJo Ferrari, John Nelson, and Wesley Wayne Wilson Jr. are running for Seat 2 on the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District.

The Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Seat 2 race has three Volusia County residents vying for the relatively obscure, and unpaid, position in the upcoming August primary.

The Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District — a board consisting of five members — has long been relegated to an advisory role and an educational role. Once an influential and well-funded committee (first established by the U.S. Congress in 1935 in response to the Great Dust Bowl), the board has been unfunded since 2007, when Volusia County ceased its roughly $150,000-a-year contribution.

In theory, the board was established to oversee federal and state funding for conservation efforts, and to be a liaison between farmers and local government. Now, the conservation district is funded entirely through a once-a-year tree sale, and its major event is the annual Envirothon, a national academic competition that partners with local high schools.

The future of the board was thrown into the limelight, albeit briefly, in 2018 when local William Bliss ran for Seat 1 — and put a whopping $44,000 into his campaign account — with the goal of reinvigorating the board and its historical role.

The three candidates in this year's primary election (Seat 4 has two candidates, and will be decided in the general election in November) have positions that range between increasing funding to the board, to seeing the board defunded and dismantled completely.

To incumbent KelleeJo Ferrari, a DeLandite who has been on the board since 2016, “Unfortunately, it has become a stale board, due to the fact we are not funded. There’s not a lot we can do if you don't have money.”

Ferrari and the board had been working on plans for composting programs, for example, but the coronavirus pandemic put a hold on their plans, she said.

“We have a tree sale — that’s it,” she said of their funding. “I’ve been working on ways to make it a tree festival. Usually the tree sale is the same time as ME STRONG, and so I’d really like it to be a bigger event.”

To 30-year-old Edgewater resident Wesley Wayne Wilson (who previously ran for Seat 3 in 2018, and lost to incumbent Beth James), the board is beyond saving.

“There is a threat of having that board eventually funded,” Wilson said. “We shouldn’t give the county any opportunity or excuse to waste our taxes.”

Before working to dissolve the board, Wilson would reach out to voluntary organizations to coalition-build, he said. “I want to do as much good as I can, until we get it dissolved,” he said. The fact that the board is defunded and “defunct,” Wilson said, “proves my point that the board is unnecessary.”

“We don’t need government for everything,” he concluded.

John Nelson, of Port Orange, sees the conservation district as an educational tool.

A retired engineer with an environmental engineering company, Nelson said his experiences there — and as a former member of the Volusia ECHO Advisory Board — give him a leg up on the others.

“The Soil and Water Board offers an opportunity to utilize my chemical engineering and environmental background balanced with my fiscal eye to educate our citizens and protect our resources,” Nelson said.

What follows is an edited version of the candidates’ responses to two questions.


KelleeJo Ferrari

Q: Why are you running, and what do you see as the role of Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District?

I use this as my opportunity to learn and educate. I’ve always found the easiest way to get people involved is to get kids involved — if it’s simple enough for kids, it’s simple enough for me.

I home-school a 9-year-old, and we’re a hands and fingers in the dirt kind of family. As someone connected with local co-ops and other local mothers, I act as a networker, a kind of connector, to facilitate outreach and education. Teaching kids about stewardship of the Earth: that’s how we can change the future.

Look how much the Earth healed since the pandemic — it shows we can undo some of the pain. It’s a non-paid seat, but I have a lot of fun.

There are people who want to do away with the board altogether — the Earth is not in the position where we can afford to do that.


Wesley Wayne Wilson Jr.

Q: Why are you running, and what do you see as the role of Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District?

I’m running to give voters a new opportunity — a different perspective than what is on the board currently. I understand that the board should be dissolved.

There is a threat of having that board funding, and we need to be weaned off of that dole. I’d like to focus more on voluntary organization, coalition-building, and working with like-minded organizations.

Since the board was defunded, they’ve continually begged the County Council for funding. I want to make sure we don’t add any more to our unfunded liabilities.

The board is largely defunct, and there’s not a lot they can do.

They have pretty much one little tree sale — that’s why I want to partner with voluntary organizations, to build it better, before we end it.

The ultimate way to environmental protection is through private entities, who can hold people liable in our courts.


John Nelson

Q: Why are you running, and what do you see as the role of Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District?

I’m running to ensure the mission of the District is being met and is consistent with the statutory requirements from the state, and to educate the citizens of Volusia County regarding the district’s role and developing a long-term vision for the ongoing growth expected in the county.

I have had the opportunity to serve Volusia County citizens previously as a member of the Volusia County ECHO Board.

I enjoy donating my time to public causes and believe I bring a strong skill set to the positions I fill; not only educationally and via professional experience, but to simplify complex issues.

The function of the board is to educate the citizens of Volusia County regarding the areas of natural resource management.

This may include protecting our water resources, managing stormwater, and managing the conflict between growth and conservation.