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Group lobbies to turn on sprinklers around general
Probate Judge Patti Cornett has asked the Gainesville City Council to allow the Gen. James Longstreet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to use an irrigation system to keep the area around the statue watered.

The grass in Gen. James Longstreet’s front yard is dry and crunchy, and those who take care of it have asked for the city’s help.

On behalf of the Gen. James Longstreet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Probate Judge Patti Cornett asked the Gainesville City Council to consider allowing the nonprofit group to use its irrigation system to water the grass around the 8-year-old statue.

The grass around the statue, which stands on city park property, has not been watered since the state restricted using irrigation systems, Cornett said.

"We feel that this statue is a contribution to the city of Gainesville and has been a tourist attraction, and we try to keep it as neat and beautiful as possible," Cornett said. "However, due to the drought, we have been unable to water the general’s grass."

The chapter has a 50-year lease from the city on the property around the statue. The group pays about $3 per month to keep an irrigation account open with the city’s public utilities department even though the use of irrigation systems has been restricted for nearly one year, the chapter’s president Kimberly Wright said.

"I think just being that the statue is a tourist attraction that it needs to look a particular way, because if it looks bad, not only does it reflect badly on the general and the chapter, but it reflects badly on the city," Wright said.

The state’s current watering restrictions only allow for 25 minutes of outdoor hand-watering between the hours of midnight and 10 a.m. every other day, the city’s Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall said.

Randall said he often receives requests to allow outdoor watering for good causes, but no matter how good the cause, the matter simply is not up to him.

"The water restrictions are a state issue," Randall said. "The truth of the matter is the city of Gainesville has no authority to change those."

City Manager Bryan Shuler said he and Randall will take a look at what the group needs, and how to address those needs while following the state’s drought restrictions. City staff have promised to deliver an answer to the group’s concern by the time the group meets Thursday.

"We abide by the same rules that everybody else is (following). ... That doesn’t mean that we can’t address their concerns," Shuler said.

Wright said she does not think her chapter’s cause is more important than any other group who may be deprived of outdoor watering, but she asked anyway. "You don’t know until you ask," she said.