Monday, January 25, 2016

An editorial published Sunday, January 24, 2016, by the Ocala Star Banner .  Please see the entire original article here:

Editorial: Water policy fails Floridians

If we didn’t know better, we would have thought the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott had achieved a major milestone for our state this week with the governor’s signing of Florida’s new water policy on Thursday. Because the celebration that took place in Tallahassee suggested this was a game-changer, the long-awaited “policy” that Florida desperately needs to clean up and preserve its water supply.

But Senate Bill 552 falls far short of any semblance of serious water policy. It is so flawed that former Gov. Bob Graham, in a letter to Scott, said the water bill “represents a purposeful effort to weaken protection and management of Florida’s water resources.”

Four years in the making, it took two legislative sessions to pass this policy failure. Graham is right — the bill does nothing to curb water consumption and little to slow the flow of pollutants into our rivers, lakes and springs.

Maybe worse, it is a outright gift to big business, especially agriculture. Not only does it loosen pollution enforcement standards, it actually allows Big Ag to monitor itself. The bill relies on so-called “best management practices” that set goals for large water users — but they have decades to meet the goals, there are no penalties or fines written into the law and no provisions are in place to add inspectors to make sure farmers and industry are adhering to the best practices.

To add insult to injury, our lawmakers included a “cost sharing” program that actually requires water management districts to subsidize Big Ag’s pollution control efforts. Yes, the taxpayers of Florida will pay so Big Ag can clean up the mess it created.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sen. Bob Graham: SB 552 fails Florida and its unique natural systems; has "egregious" problems"

In a letter dated today, January 20, 2016, the Florida Conservation Coalition, composed of over 50 charter member and affiliate organizations and a thousand concerned individuals, urged Governor Rick Scott to veto Senate Bill 552 saying there are "egregious" problems with the bill:

 "... provisions blatantly favoring special interests, tying the hands of the Water Management Districts by further weakening current water protections, and largely ignoring the two most important requirements to protect these resources: conservation and stopping pollution at its source. Frankly stated, this bill leaves the people and businesses of Florida unprepared to meet the water challenges of the 21st century." 
The letter was signed by former Florida Governor and United States Senator, Bob Graham, and endorsed by over thirty highly respected environmental organizations that have been unsuccessfully trying to get the legislature amend the bill. 
In his letter, Senator Graham urged Governor Scott to,
“… demand that the legislature send you a bill that focuses on conserving our finite water resources to meet the demands of Florida’s people, industry and agriculture for generations to come. Insist that the legislature send you a bill that controls pollution at its source now, instead of allowing new sources of pollution to continue to degrade our aquifers, lakes, rivers, springs, and estuaries.
Here is the letter in full: 

January 20, 2016
Governor Rick Scott
Plaza Level 05, The Capitol
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0001
Dear Governor Scott:
The Florida Conservation Coalition is composed of over 50 charter member and affiliate organizations and a thousand concerned individuals devoted to protecting and conserving Florida’s water, land, and wildlife. We are writing you today to ask for your veto of SB 552.
This 134 page bill represents a purposeful effort to weaken protection and management of Florida’s water resources. It will result in further corrosion of what was once hailed as the water management standard of the Nation. The extraordinary procedural requirements will not advance, but hinder protection and restoration of our water resources, and the negative results will outweigh the benefits of the bill.  
Water, Florida’s most precious natural resource, is threatened by over-withdrawals, waste and pollution. Although there are good elements in this bill, they come at too high a cost: provisions blatantly favoring special interests, tying the hands of the Water Management Districts by further weakening current water protections, and largely ignoring the two most important requirements to protect these resources: conservation and stopping pollution at its source. Frankly stated, this bill leaves the people and businesses of Florida unprepared to meet the water challenges of the 21st century.
There are egregious problems with SB 552. For example:
· All significant users of the citizens’ water should be required to monitor their use. This bill contains a loophole that will exempt many consumptive water users from monitoring.
· The bill inhibits water management districts from denying consumptive use permits. When statute or rule requires districts to deny a permit, they should not be subjected to new and additional oversight by the Department of Environmental Protection. The bill’s potential requirement for multiple complete rewrites of the Regional Water Supply Plan imposes an inordinate administrative and financial burden on districts.
· The bill weakens the concept that every district in Florida should aim to be water self-sufficient by easing inter-district transfers. Water Management Districts should not be allowed to unilaterally plunder water from already stressed water bodies in other districts.
· Public private partnerships are lauded throughout the bill, with unclear mandates that such partnerships be cost-effective and in the public interest. Citizens’ tax dollars should not be given to private entities without a clear determination that the citizens will benefit.
· Several Florida regions are running out of water. This legislation relies on alternative water supply projects, such as surface water withdrawals, which are unsustainable and damaging to other regions of the state. The only sure and safe source of additional water for environmental protection and economic growth is water conservation.
The current state of Florida’s waters is proof that we need stronger controls on pollution now - not decades from now. There is still time. The legislature has barely finished its first week of session. We ask you to stand up for the water bodies and aquifers that provide Florida’s drinking water and make industries like Florida’s tourism, agriculture and seafood industries possible by sending this bill back to the legislature today.
Governor Scott, demand that the legislature send you a bill that focuses on conserving our finite water resources to meet the demands of Florida’s people, industry and agriculture for generations to come. Insist that the legislature send you a bill that controls pollution at its source now, instead of allowing new sources of pollution to continue to degrade our aquifers, lakes, rivers, springs, and estuaries.
Furthermore, we must realize that any effort to restore and protect Florida’s waters will require significant investments in scientific research, remediation, infrastructure, agency staffing, and land acquisition. The provisions in this bill are meaningless if they’re not adequately funded. For example, sufficient staff will have to be hired to effectively monitor the use of best management practices around the state. Governor Scott, signing this bill will require a review and revision of your budget proposal as it relates to the direct state responsibilities under this legislation and an assurance to Florida’s water management districts that they will be allowed to set ad valorem tax rates as needed to fulfill their obligations.
As the annual progress reports required under this bill are sent to the Governor, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, it will become slowly and painfully apparent that this bill has failed to abate Florida’s water quantity and quality problems, which are already severe. The legislators responsible for SB 552 will be out of office long before Florida officially fails to meet the deadlines for success set in this bill. Do not let short-sighted plans be your legacy. Florida, its citizens, and its future deserve more for our most valuable natural resource, water.
Bob Graham, Chairman of the Florida Conservation Coalition
The following organizations, including FCC affiliates, have officially endorsed this letter:  
Alachua Audubon Society, Anne Casella, President
Anglers for Conservation, Rodney Smith, President
Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Dan Tonsmeire, President
Audubon Society of the Everglades, Paton White, President
Brevard NOW, Vicki Impoco, President, Kenny Hinkle Jr., President
Center for Earth Jurisprudence, Sister Pat Siemen, OP, Esq., Director
City of Seminole Community Garden, Mary Ann Kirk, Garden Secretary
Clean Water Action, Kathleen E. Aterno, National Managing Director and Florida Director
Concerned Citizens of Bayshore Community, Steve Brodkin, President
"Ding" Darling Wildlife Society, Doris D. Hardy, President
E. Allen Steward III P.E. Environmental and Engineering Consultant, E. Allen Stewart II P.E., Owner
Earth Ethics, Mary Gutierrez, Executive Director
EarthWeb Foundation, Josephine Balzac, Chief Environmental Officer
Environment Florida, Jennifer Rubiello, State Director
Estero Council of Community Leaders, Pete Cangialosi, Environmental Director
Florida Consumer Action Network, Susan McGrath, Executive Director
Florida Defenders of the Environment, Inc., Thomas Hawkins, Executive Director
Florida Native Plant Society, Suzanne Valencia, President of the Conradina Chapter
Florida Springs Council, Dan Hilliard, President
Florida Water Conservation Trust, Terry Brant, Legislative Chairman
Friends of the Everglades, Alan Farago, President
Friends of St. Sebastian River, Tim Glover, President
Friends of Warm Mineral Springs, Juliette Jones, Director
Ichetucknee Alliance, John Jopling, President
Indian River Democratic Executive Committee, Debra Messer, Environmental Chair
Indian Riverkeeper, Marty Baum, Riverkeeper
Izaak Walton League of America, Michael F. Chenoweth, President of the Florida Division
John Kumiski Fishing Charters, John Kumisiki, Captain
Lake Area Water Alliance, Jackie Host, President
Lake Rosa Lake Swan Homeowner Association, Bev Ritter, President
Lobby for Animals, Thomas Ponce, Founder
Matanzas Riverkeeper, Neil Armingeon, Riverkeeper
Miami Waterkeeper, Rachel Silverstein, Ph.D., Executive Director & Waterkeeper
Our Santa Fe River Inc., Pamela I. Smith, President
Preserve Brevard, Vince Lamb, Chairman
Progress Florida, Mark Ferrulo, Executive Director
Putnam County Environmental Council, Timothy Keyser, President
Rainbow River Conservation, Inc., Burt Eno, Ph.D., President
Reef Relief, Millard McCleary, Executive Program Director
Rehab Farm, Carol Ahearn, Owner
Santa Fe Lake Dwellers Association, Jill McGuire, President
Save the Manatee Club, Katie Tripp, Ph.D., Director of Science and Conservation
Seminole United Methodist Church Community Garden, Robert Huttick, Garden Coordinator
Solutions to Avoid Red Tide, Sandy Gilbert, Chairman
Southwest Florida Watershed Council, John Cassani, Chairman
Space Coast Progressive Alliance, Philip E. Stasik, President
Speak Up Wekiva, Inc., Chuck O’Neal, Director
Springs Eternal Project, John Moran and Lesley Gamble, Co-directors
Stonecrab Alliance, Karen Dwyer, Ph.D., Co-founder
Treasure Coast Progressive Alliance, Sharon Lux, President
Tropical Audubon Society, Laura Reynolds, Executive Director

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Gravestone epitaph of Florida's dismantled natural resource management - "Science-based"

 I am giving a little talk  in The Villages Monday.  Here’s what I'm inclined to say about SSB 552. 

a.    The Legislature is poised to make major changes to state water policy

                               i.    They want to move the needle more toward fulfilling residential and commercial water needs and away from sustaining natural systems, which in their hearts is just a waste of good tax money that could be better spent to grow the interests of special interests who will pay for their re-elections and make them President of the Senate.

                              ii.    SB 552

1.    It is a bill that will create the expectation that conservation lands and efforts to protect natural systems should have a cost benefit ratio where the benefits must outweigh the cost.  Environmental protection and preservation always has a positive bottom line, but not always in dollars.  The extreme fiscal conservative will never acknowledge this.

2.    It is being written by those who proffer no monetary value for natural systems and who will use the resultant poor economic value to further extinguish legitimate environmental management in Florida.

3.    It is counter intuitive that giving the Ag Commissioner role as overseer of agricultural pollution and freeing farmers from regulatory accountability does not give them a free ride.  It is no different from giving a coyote keys to the coop and asking him to protect the chickens from other coyotes … and saying, “We trust you and all your friends will do the right thing.”   ......  BMP’s

4.    Requires self-reporting and data by environmental agencies at all levels that is clearly intended to load the political guns of special interests and make extreme fiscal conservatives like Alan Hayes drool.

5.    It is a bill written by those who see the dismantling of Florida’s natural resource protections as clearing the way for an ever upward-spiraling state gross domestic product, and who could not careless that the resultant environmental losses may be for all time.

6.    It is filled with condescension and empty platitudes for a public starving to hear something positive from a dysfunctional state Government.

7.    Liking anything in this bill is like saying you like a pie filled with arsenic because you like the Oreo Cookie crust.  It will do a great deal more harm than good.

8.    It will write the final epitaph on the gravestone of natural resource management in Florida as we once knew it … "Science-based"

-        Sandspur

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Senator Alan Hayes, R- Umatilla, vying to become president of Lake-Sumter State College. WHAT?

Senator Alan Hayes, R- Umatilla, soon to be out of a legislative job it appears (thank goodness) is vying to become president of Lake-Sumter State College.   

“I have the legislative experience and contacts through the legislature and the entire business community, and I really think I could guide the college to a bright future,” he said. “I feel confident I can win the trust and the appreciation of the faculty.” 
This is a load of you-know-what. 
He or she who feels inclined to believe this load is a fool.  Hayes just wants to do what every ex-elected official of T-Town hopes to do one day as they’re termed out, land a job as president of a community college because they find it "rewarding."  
Yes, very rewarding, as in hundreds of thousands of dollars rewarding
 The Tampa Bay Business Journal: "A recent report from the Florida Office of the Chief Inspector General found that the president of St. Petersburg College had the largest total compensation package, $449,031, out of the five colleges in the Tampa Bay area.  In fact, the base salary, $330,000, is about the same as average total compensation at $350,403."
 What?  How can that be?  How about other community colleges?
 Look at this: 
 Reported by the

Florida college presidents' base salary vs. total compensation

Total compensation
2012-2013 Base Salary
St. Petersburg College
State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (former president)
Hillsborough Community College
Pasco-Hernando Community College

Alan Hayes is no different from probably dozens of other legislator hacks who have jumped into one of these positions as a reward from acollege board for having “helped” them while in the legislature. 
What will be interesting is how the board treats his application.   The position requires at least a modicum of academic experience.  If they waive it and choose him over other much more qualified candidates, we’ll know the story.
It’s a pathetic story and if it happens, both he and the institution should be ashamed.


Sleepy Creek - just another bait and switch for Frank Stronach?

This op-ed comment was published Sunday, September 13, 2015, by the Gainesville Sun, and here with permission of the author.  Steve Robitaille, is Chairman of the Florida Defenders of the Environment Board of Directors.
Here’s the link to the Sun’s article:
Sleepy Creek is the project formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch which you’ll recall first proposed to pump some 27 million gallons per day directly from the springshed of Silver Springs.   It appears this not-so-community oriented Canadian auto parts billionaire is beginning to show his true stripes.

Sleepy Creek - just another bait and switch for Frank Stronach?

Page all of 3Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach is the master of the bait and switch. Let us learn from his swindle of a $15 million sports stadium from the children of Marion County, so he doesn't use his dishonest tricks to make off with our drinking water too.

When Stronach came to Marion County to raise cattle, and to request 14.6 million gallons of water a day to nourish his cattle, he offered to build a multi-million dollar stadium and athletic complex for North Marion High School. Due to a “misunderstanding,” explained the Stronach Group, the offer is now off the table. The many disappointed persons left in the wake of this development are likely unaware that Stronach’s biography reveals a history of such business shenanigans.

Indeed, this bait-and-switch tactic should be a wake-up call to the Marion County residents whose precious water supply has now been permitted 1.46 million gallons a day, for Stronach’s Sleepy Creek cattle operation. They may also be unaware that his “exclusive” golf club has been permitted 278,000 gallons a day, 3,300 times more than his neighbors.

Stronach’s Florida cattle operation is not his first “hobby” investment, nor is it the first one that promises to make him wealthier, while leaving those in his path holding the bag. A 2009 Washington Post story recounts how hobbyist entrepreneur Stronach managed to scuttle his investor’s money while living the life of Riley. Wanting to add horse-racing to his personal entertainment dossier, Stronach “bought Gulfstream Park in Florida for $90 million, demolished it and spent $240 million to build a new facility that most fans regard as inferior to the old one.”

Not to be out “Trumped” by other members of the billionaires club, the Post adds that in order to add more stabling, “Stronach decided to build the Taj Mahal of stable areas, Palm Meadows, at a cost in the vicinity of $100 million — an investment that returns no revenue.”

Shareholders were infuriated. One of those investors, Farallon Capital Management of San Francisco, protested that MI Development was “pursuing an investment [to please] Frank Stronach.” As reported in the Post story, using a metaphor that should sound a note of caution to Floridians whose water Stronach wants to suck up at historic rates, Magna Entertainment was a “giant sinkhole.”

And down into what sinkhole were Stronach’s personal profits disappearing? According to investigators looking into the matter who were quoted in a Swiss newspaper, they resurfaced, like a bubbling Florida spring, into the tax sheltered vaults of Zug, Switzerland, where other folks with deep pockets and clever accountants, say like tennis star Boris Becker, manage to avoid paying taxes back home. The story referred to Stronach as a “pseudo resident.”

Magna, the auto parts giant he founded, decided its CEO was costing them more than he was worth. As reported by the Canadian weekly news magazine Maclean's in May 2014, Magna outfitted its boss in a $52 million dollar parachute of consultant fees and bonuses, “772 times the median household income.”

Florida Defenders’ record of protecting the Ocklawaha from ecological disaster is well known. The infamous Cross Florida Barge Canal, a boondoggle of colossal proportions, was aided and abetted by a pantheon of pork-chop politicians and President Lyndon B. Johnson, who broke ground for the canal in Palatka with a blast of dynamite. Two ugly stubs remain of the canal, as well as the Rodman “pool” of water coveted by bass fishermen.

FDE finds it unacceptable that one of the nation’s most exotic and pristine rivers has not run free for over 40 years. If Richard Nixon, a Republican president, had the good sense to decommission the canal and conserve both the river and taxpayer dollars, there is some hope the Scott administration will remove the Rodman dam before it requires expensive repair and free the river in the process.

Silver Springs, Florida
 Photo by Emilio Vergara, Skyshadow Photography

Even if we accept there was a time when barge canals and dams resulted from a lack of solid science and ecological awareness, there is little excuse for the recent decision by administrative law judge, Gary Early, to permit Stronach’s Sleepy Creek cattle operation 1.46 million gallons of water a day, when aquifer recharge of Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha watershed is 30 percent below normal. How can it be in the “public interest,” to use Judge Early’s convoluted interpretation of this term, to provide water to 9,500 cattle who will defecate 158 million pounds of manure, produce 11 million gallons of urine, thus adding 700,000 pounds of nitrogen to a watershed already reeling from nitrates that have increased 20-fold over healthy levels?

So we now know what the Stronach Group is not going to leave behind. There will be no athletic complex for North Marion High School, and a whole lot less water in the ground and fewer fish in the Ocklawaha. We also know what Stronach and his Sleepy Creek operation will leave behind.

Thanks to Gov. Rick Scott’s business-friendly administration and the mass firing of veteran water district personnel, we will have cow patties galore. Like the poor investors in Scott and Stronach’s business enterprises, we’ll all be forced, in a manner of speaking, to “step in it.”

We can only hope that Stronach’s pending water permit is denied and that Gov. Scott joins Richard Nixon by supporting a free Ocklawaha as a lasting legacy to the people of North Florida.

— Steve Robitaille is board president of Florida Defenders of the Environment. He lives in Gainesville.