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:


  1. Sonny – You might be interested to know that it is not unusual to pay $75,000 for a mitigation credit. Thus, an additional 400 credits could be worth around $30,000,000. I wonder who the beneficiaries are of the extra $30,000,000. I am sure that it is not the citizens of the State of Florida. Also, if the Governor Scott, Secretary Vinyard or Assistant Secretary Littlejohn want to change or amend the rules, why don’t they do it like their predecessors did - amend the current rules through the amendatory process under Chapter 120, Florida Statutes, as opposed to simply ignoring the current rules. We are going through a time where government is not following its own rules. In this case DEP is making up new rules as it goes along or when the current rules do not provide the desired results. DEP seems to have adopted a position that it can do no wrong.
    I worry that because of your frequent writings that you are losing some credibility. On the other hand, perhaps you are causing some people to think. We need a healthy economy, but we do not need it at the expense of the environment. The same rules that are in effect today, have been there for quite some time, including when our economy was booming, so the reason the economy is doing so poorly is not because of the existing rules. Enough said for today. Good luck and keep those stories coming.

  2. I am surprised that you are piling on the heap after Pittman’s dirty tackle. You know how loose he is with facts and fast with innuendo. For example, even though he has been corrected numerous times, he continues to say that the DEP reported in 2007 that fewer than half of the wetland mitigation banks had achieved their wetland goals. The innuendo is dark, but the reality is that it takes years to properly restore wetlands, and bankers don’t get credits until they do meet their goals. So he could say that, but instead stays with the half-truth that implies malfeasance.

    This gets to the reasonable assurance issue. Connie has always wanted to have DEP approve the methods that a mitigation banker would use to restore the property. This allows DEP to negotiate asymmetrically: they can tell us how to do our job, but if it doesn’t work, we are the ones who don’t get the credits to sell. You missed the whole point in your analogy.

    Properly stated, it is like contracting for a house to be built to your specs and having the option not to pay for it in whole or in part if it fails to meet your specs. So you can get the level and tape measure out and go about your new house deducting costs even though the house is perfectly functional. In reality, the DEP has more reasonable assurance when it specifies the result and stays out of specifying how the result can be obtained. (Of course, Connie and others at DEP and SWFWMD are programmed to approve mitigation concurrent with the development and having to have reasonable assurance that the mitigation they trust will be built will actually work.)

    As for picking on the brainstorming session: So much for the old saw: There are no dumb ideas. You have been through the routine. Blurt everything out, even dumb ideas may stimulate something good. Of course, when you are a public agency, you should never have a brainstorming session, or if you do, use an erasable board.

    I don’t know about all the other charges and innuendos, and I don’t know Herschel. I do know Littlejohn. I don’t think Connie is on administrative leave just for disagreeing, but that is a private matter between her and her employer that will eventually be aired. Meanwhile, everyone is piling on Littlejohn, who acted naively talking to Pittman so unguardedly, and I have no idea how he will assimilate this.

    But it is this rush to judgment in the public domain – even by those like you who have experienced the injustice of it – that discourages the right people from government service, and encourages the ones who do nothing but keep their heads down. Obviously, you weren’t like that, and I think that you and Littlejohn are the kind of good people we need in government.