Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Florida is in for a dark, destructive time

This is a two part post.  Both are compelling instances that suggest Florida is in for a very dark destructive time if the tactics of this governor and his minions continue.


DEP stepped into something icky when Deputy Secretary Jeff Littlejohn (that’s Chuck’s son), suspended Connie Bersok for doing the right thing, didn’t it?  I mean, here’s an agency that proposes to “get the water right” and then suspends its own chief wetland scientist for not wanting to bend rules and give a non-deserved pass to a well-financed developer from Jacksonville.  Any bets on if and how much this guy or his company has given to the Scott campaign or the RPOF?
And what’s worse, Littlejohn, her supervisor, announced that his decision was based upon a policy he issued which originally came from the applicant’s lawyer, Eric T. Olson.  Olson works for the law firm Hopping Green & Sams, which has one of if not the biggest freaking law office buildings in Tallahassee.  The applicant is Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank. 
Doesn’t it seem to smell a little when the lawyer for a permit applicant writes a policy memo that, 1) without much, if any, internal or external vetting is suddenly adopted by the jurisdictional agency, and, 2) establishes a whole new direction for permit issuance under Florida Law?  Littlejohn claims, according to Craig Pittman who broke the story Monday in the Tampa Bay Times, the new policy was also blessed by his boss Scott-appointed, captain of Jacksonville industry and CEO of DEP, Herschel Vineyard. 
What in the world were they thinking?  Requiring “Reasonable Assurance” is the regulatory basis for issuance of permits that is pervasive throughout Florida’s comprehensive body of water law and water regulations. Saying it’s no longer necessary has the potential for loosening Florida's environmental laws like a bunker busting bomb would loosen up Hoover Dam.
To obtain a permit under the old policy, the applicant would have to provide “reasonable assurance” which typically involved a detailed plan to show how an applicant’s project will perform as required. This would be like requiring a contractor who’s going to build you a house to follow a set of blueprints you’ve seen and approved.  You want to know as realistically as possible how the building is actually going to meet your expectations, right?  Houses cost a lot of work and money.
The new Olson policy, on the other hand, requires only that the applicant agree to a performance outcome.  The Department then presumably will have to wait years and simply trust that however the applicant constructs the project it will deliver the promised performance.  That’s like asking that contractor building your house to just make sure it has a roof and running water when he’s finished and you’ll pay him the $200,000 price because he’s the contractor.  If it only lasts 6 months, well, c’est la vie.  Olson apparently thinks you should be perfectly comfortable with that.  Wonder what lawyer-Olson wrote in the contract for his house.
But listen to this. Deputy CEO Littlejohn then suspends Bersok when she refused to recommend approval of the permit because she believed it was not in accord with the law and because she would not agree with the applicant’s consultant, Dennis Breedlove of Breedlove, Dennis and Associates, Inc., that more wetland credits should be granted.
The saga gets smellier.  Littlejohn, admitted he has no expertise in wetland science or the vagaries of establishing wetland credits, while Bersok is such an expert and widely recognized as such.  Nevertheless, he suspended her two days after she wrote, "I hereby state my objection to the intended agency action and refusal to recommend this permit for issuance."  He said he decided Bersok was wrong not because he knows anything about the issue but because he has known Breedlove “for a very long time”  and what he was saying made sense.
Breedlove must have made a very compelling argument to his long-time friend, Littlejohn, huh?  Without knowing the precise numbers, Breedlove was recommending the project be awarded about 400 wetland credits while Bersok was saying the site could justify not more than half that number.  The difference would be worth millions to Highlands Ranch investors.
Perhaps it is noteworthy that the name of the project is Highland Ranch Mitigation Bank, not Wetland Ranch Mitigation Bank? 
Seems CEO Scott can do no good when it comes to the protection and preservation of natural Florida.  He has practically defunded the water management districts to the point of becoming non-functional, even though I heard a spokesman for SWFWMD recently claim funding of projects will stay the same level as the past.  Fact is, SWFWMD plans to use up its reserve funds until they’re all gone and after that neither the district governing Board or staff has any viable plan for how it will be able to manage Florida’s complex water resources effectively.  Raise taxes?  You and I both know how likely that will happen. 
Fact is, the WMD’s are headed for becoming ineffective, do-nothing wastes of taxpayer money because they will not be protecting Florida’s water resources or the natural systems that depend upon it, and will only exist to serve the interests of the corporate elite.
Scott and his minions are systematically dismantling 40 years of evolved processes designed to bring a balanced approach to environmental protection in order to “get the water right” (a favorite propaganda line spewed endlessly from the governor’s office, DEP and offices of the “outreach” folks at the WMD’s).
Everyone I’ve talked to says the Connie Bersok controversy is just more of the same kool-aid that CEO Scott and his boy Vineyard at DEP is forcing any and all government employees to drink.  You either toe the party line or you’re dead meat on the Scott Hi-Roller Express to re-election.  You either do what “The Man” says or you’re road kill.
Part Two
News Alert Just Received 2012.05.30
At this point you should probably sit down.  The following is a News Release just received from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.  Take a deep breath and read.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility News Release (

For Immediate Release: May 29, 2012

Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

WACKY PLANS FROM FLORIDA’S TOP ENVIRONMENTAL OFFICIALS — Sell State Lands to Foreign Nations, Move Offices to Parks and Pelletize State Forests

Tallahassee — A strategic planning session encouraging Florida environmental officials to “demonstrate your commitment to the Governor’s [Rick Scott’s] vision” succeeded perhaps too well, according to meeting notes released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Managers from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposed selling Florida lands to European governments, moving state offices inside parks to save rent and grinding state forests into fuel pellets.

The DEP Strategic Planning Session took place July 12-13, 2011 and was devoted to the topics of “(1) regulatory efficiency and (2) cost reduction” according to the meeting notice (emphasis in original). DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard presided over and participated in the sessions, which produced some truly astonishing schemes according to meeting notes obtained by PEER under Florida’s Public Record Law. They included:

·        Marketing the sale of state owned land…to other countries. “* look @some land we simply own, but strategically don’t need…sell it…perhaps keep an env. easement.” One marginal note read ‘“we know Florida, we don’t know Germany’s needs for land”’;
·        Move state offices into state parks. In a note attributed to Vinyard “Secretary –we have a lot of land to use w/in state park. Satellite offices?”; and
·        “Work w/ Private Sector to build Biomass on State Lands…pellet mills/wood pellets to Eng., Belgium. We are losing business to Georgia. Yes, we have a resource.” The notes also suggested “link it [harvesting] to good stewardship.”

“These guys are supposed to be preserving and protecting Florida’s lands not unloading them to foreign interests,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP attorney, noting the similarity of DEP plans to scams of earlier eras in which Florida swampland was peddled to unsuspecting buyers. “The underlying theme of these planning sessions was that DEP is now supposed to be run like it is a business. The actual proposals indicate that DEP would be run like a business in liquidation.”

Meeting notes describe other ideas such as stricter dress codes to improve “customer service” and creating a “startup program for new business – support w/ staff to give prospective business suggestions.” Though, precisely what expertise DEP staff would provide to new business ventures was not specified.

“If these appalling ideas reflect the brain trust overseeing Florida’s natural resources, heaven help us,” Phillips added. “In two days of meetings, there was not a single suggestion as to how to improve Florida’s environment or better protect resources.”

Secretary Vinyard comes to DEP from a career in the ship-building industry and is currently under EPA investigation for violating conflict-of-interest rules required by the Clean Water Act following a complaint lodged by PEER and the Florida Clean Water Network.

Pertinent links:

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fla. Conservation Coalition Announces "Major Event" at Silver River State Park

Silver River State Park
(For park information:
If you’ve been looking for the opportunity to stand up and be counted, to send a powerful signal to the governor and legislature that you want natural Florida and its fragile water resources to be protected and preserved, this is it.
Tell your friends … and be there.
Dear FCC Members & Friends,
On June 23rd Governor Bob Graham and the Florida Conservation Coalition will host a major event to call for the protection of Florida’s springs, rivers, and lakes. The event will be held at Silver River State Park, a short drive south of Silver Springs, one of our state’s most treasured natural landmarks.
With the assistance of our incredible membership we have planned a fantastic day of education, speeches, and nature; all in support of Florida's waters. The FCC would like to invite all of our members and friends from across the state to join Governor Graham and Senator Lee Constantine in showing support for protecting Central and North Florida's imperiled waters. In light of the dramatic decreases in water flow and increases in pollution being observed throughout our state the time to act is now. 
Further information, including the day’s itinerary, speakers, and events will be coming soon. Please a take moment to forward this invitation along to any and all that care about Florida’s natural lands, waters, and wildlife.

If you have any questions, or if your organization is interested in participating in this event, please contact Ryan Smart at
Ryan Smart
Florida Conservation Coalition

Monday, May 21, 2012

Is the Department of Environmental Protection Fiddling While Florida’s First Magnitude Springs Turn Green

The Greening of Wakulla Springs
If you’re monitoring the news these days, you’re hearing about the declining state of one of Florida’s most unique natural assets, its world-class concentration of first magnitude springs in northern Florida.  Everywhere, these deep chasms of water that once boiled furiously upward to the delight of generations of local swimmers and thrill-seeking tourists have now slowed to only a vestige of their past strength by drought and over-pumping.  Worse yet, many have also become clouded with sediment and slime fed by the nutrient-rich seepage of over-fertilized golf courses, lawns, farm fields and septic tanks.  The fish that at one time were as clear as you might see them in an aquarium are nearly gone. 

Are you concerned, agitated, and fearful about what’s happening?  Worried about what’s being done about it? Or have you just become numb to the thought, kind of like the Israelis have become numb to the fact that the Palestinians have rockets aimed at their homes from three directions? (Okay, so the analogy’s a stretch, but stay with me.)
I just watched 60 Minutes on CBS and learned that despite having armed rockets pointed their way and suicide bombers threatening every public gathering with mass murder, Tel Aviv residents have become “numb,” as a reporter put it.  They go to the beach, to the restaurants and the bars, and carry on normal and apparently very happy lives as if there was nothing to worry about.  An observer noted that it seems they have become hopeless because they believe there is little they can do about it all, so why worry. 
Importantly, he noted that ignoring the danger does nothing to lessen the genuine danger that exists for them.  Point being, ignoring a threat to one’s way of life will not make the threat go away.
The problem with Florida’s springs, while certainly not as immediately lethal, has a somewhat similar ring.  While one can hear the wailing of those with a particular emotional appreciation for Florida’s natural environment, the silence from the majority of Floridians is deafening.  Have they become numb to the reality that Florida’s springs are being taken from them and have simply given up hope that anything can be done to stop it? Like the Tel Avivians, have they simply decided to go to the mall?
It’s a valid question. Those in a position to do something about the obvious deterioration are ignoring the problem and most of us are just shrugging our shoulders.  Just as Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear nation seems so unstoppable by our elected leaders, so is the continuing deterioration of Florida’s springs.  State legislators continue to pander to the moneyed elite and ignore the insidious decay beneath their feet.  Florida’s world reknowned environmental legacy is at risk while they haggle over how best to cut the cost of protecting some of the state’s greatest natural assets because "regulation kills jobs.”
This studied denial of the importance of natural Florida has pervaded even the self-aggrandizing publication of the Department of Environmental Protection.  If you visit their “Florida State Parks” website (, you’ll find this warning about the historic and once incredibly beautiful Wakulla Springs:
“Glass-Bottom Boat Tours over the spring basin have become the exception rather than the rule in recent years. Tea-stained or green water impedes the penetration of light needed to view the impressive features of the 120 foot deep chasm of Wakulla Spring. Heavy rains, combined with other unknown factors, are thought to be the cause of decreased visibility.”
”To avoid disappointment, it is strongly suggested that the park be contacted prior to expected visitation to ascertain the feasibility of glass-bottom boat operation. Water quality conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly.
It is unfathomable that the state agency responsible for “getting the water right” has become so blasé about such a disaster that they blandly warn visitors to check first because the spring has become prone to green scum and cloudy water instead of the crystal clear natural wonder it used to be.  Have we all become so calloused by the indifference of our elected leaders that to read this on the primary website where all of Florida’s parks are marketed to the world we are yet not appalled and offended as we should be?   
Well, I’m appalled, even if I’m only one of a few.  And I’m disgusted.  I’m going to start seeking out my elected representatives and asking why they aren’t as well.  You should, too.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Florida's ‘perfect storm' water crisis

The following op ed by Dr. Bob Knight (Howard T. Odum Springs Institute), is hereby circulated with his permission.  My reason for publishing it is because it reflects a new element of concern in terms of where management of the state’s finite natural resources is headed.  In the past, most battles were fought in the courts before administrative judges where impartiality was respected and, by and large, carefully followed.  The new factor is fear for one’s job within the very agencies charged with executing the system of science and law upon which Florida’s resource management system is founded.  The battle has been shifted to the office workplace. Impartiality has become a liability. 

Our state government has become a system fueled by a toxic brew of intimidation, threat and professional assassination. It is not the way our government should function.  If we cannot rely on agency scientists and administrators to objectively carry out the interests of the public as prescribed by the laws of the land because they fear losing their jobs, it is a dangerous thing that offers no future that will be good.  This is the fruit of an administration that does not know what it is doing, where it is going or the very real consequences this political folly will bring.  Its only focus is re-election driven by raw political ambition and catering to the false promises of an economy of corporate elitism.  Everything else is considered undesirable, unnecessary and expendable.  There are many who believe we’re headed for trouble, and the crowd is growing.                      -Sandspur

Wednesday, May 9, 2012
During an extended drought we tend to think a lot about water.
When we see local springs and rivers running dry (think Hornsby, Poe, and Gilchrist Blue Springs on the upper Santa Fe River) we start to wonder what is next. Our private wells? Our public water supplies?
Then we think: No, that can't happen, our government will take care of us. After all, we pay them taxes and give them jobs so they can look out for our collective good. They have official plans that say we have at least 20 more years before we need to worry about running out of plentiful and healthy groundwater supplies.
Still, a drought seems to sharpen our innate senses: when nature peels away the rainwater inputs during a drought, shouldn't there still be some water left in these springs? Did these springs run dry in the past?
The fact is our springs are not just being stressed by an historic drought. The groundwater aquifer that feeds these springs is being pumped at the highest rate in recorded history. And to add "insult to injury" these springs are being exposed to the highest groundwater nitrate nitrogen contamination ever observed.
These two stresses are creating a "perfect storm" of severe impacts to our precious springs that is appalling to witness. Go visit your favorite spring now and put on a face mask. Look carefully at the clarity of the water, examine the plant life and algae, and study the fish and turtles. I am afraid you will see a sick ecosystem.
That is exactly what I did last weekend, when I snorkeled the lower Ichetucknee River from Dampier's Landing to the U.S. 27 take out. Here is a summary of what I saw: Very low water levels and reduced flow rates, turbid water with less than 30 feet of visibility, eelgrass leaves coated with a thick encrustation of attached algae, long trailing filaments of green algae, areas of thinning vegetation, and largemouth bass with white fungus growing on their heads. It was not a pretty sight.
This shouldn't be happening.
How could the water management districts issue so many groundwater pumping permits that the flow in the Ichetucknee River continues to decline and flows in smaller springs like Poe have essentially stopped?
How could the Department of Environmental Protection set the groundwater nitrate standard so high that the springs that feed the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe rivers have been impaired by nutrient pollution for more than 30 years?
Who was in charge of protecting these state-designated Outstanding Florida Waters?
Is there a public agency that will take responsibility for this environmental negligence? Or will they continue their denial that there is a problem with our groundwater and continue to issue more groundwater withdrawal permits, rather than immediately mandating emergency water use restrictions?
Are the water managers who are tasked with protecting our water bodies and the public's best interests afraid to speak up because they fear losing their jobs?

Robert L. Knight is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.