Saturday, June 30, 2012

Speak Up and Sign Up for Silver Springs and Florida's Waters

Dear Friends,
One of the luxuries of writing a blog and not a newspaper article is that, while timeliness is important, one’s economic life doesn’t depend upon it.  Thus, it's time to share some thoughts and photos about the event, “Speak up for Silver Springs and Florida Waters,” sponsored by the Florida Conservation Coalition this past weekend (2012.06.23) at Silver River State Park, but before doing so, I hope you’ll do one very meaningful and very important thing. 
Please be sure you’ve signed the petition.
If you didn’t get the chance to sign it at the event, please do so now.
Here’s what the petition is asking Governor Rick Scott to do:

“We urge you to do everything within your power and ability as the Governor of Florida to protect and restore Florida's aquatic resources, beginning with a plan to address and resolve the dire conditions of Silver Springs, Silver River, Rainbow Springs and Rainbow River. Please, consider the establishment of a Resource Planning and Management Committee, under Section 380.045, F.S, or the implementation of a stakeholder task force process similar to those that led to the protection of the Wekiva River.

There are two ways you can sign the petition: 
1.  One is by doing it online.  Tap the following link to go to FCC’s webpage:
2.  The other is to print the petition, sign it and mail it in, or, print it out and take it to meetings for others to sign along with you.  You can find it here:
Thank you for taking this important action.  Even if the Govenor doesn’t heed our request, he will know there are a lot of folks who are watching out for natural Florida and he would be wise to do so as well.
So you’ll have an idea as to what Chapter 380.045 actually says, the following is the statute you’re asking the Governor to consider.  All it does is set forth a public process by which a geographic area with a resource problem can be assessed by all the interested players, including local governments, and a plan of action developed to address any problem identified.  It is a reasonable and thorough process that should give the public ample opportunity to understand the evidence and develop an informed opinion as whether a problem exists, what’s causing it, and how it should be addressed.

380.045 Resource planning and management committees; objectives; procedures.
(1) Prior to recommending an area as an area of critical state concern pursuant to s. 380.05, the Governor, acting as the chief planning officer of the state, shall appoint a resource planning and management committee for the area under study by the state land planning agency. The objective of the committee shall be to organize a voluntary, cooperative resource planning and management program to resolve existing, and prevent future, problems which may endanger those resources, facilities, and areas described in s. 380.05(2) within the area under study by the state land planning agency.
(2) The committee shall include, but shall not be limited to, representation from each of the following: elected officials from the local governments within the area under study; the planning office of each of the local governments within the area under study; the state land planning agency; any other state agency under chapter 20 a representative of which the Governor feels is relevant to the compilation of the committee; and a water management district, if appropriate, and regional planning council all or part of whose jurisdiction lies within the area under study. After the appointment of the members, the Governor shall select a chair and vice chair. A staff member of the state land planning agency shall be appointed by the director of such agency to serve as the secretary of the committee. The state land planning agency shall, to the greatest extent possible, provide technical assistance and administrative support to the committee. Meetings will be called as needed by the chair or on the demand of three or more members of the committee. The committee will act on a simple majority of a quorum present and shall make a report within 6 months to the head of the state land planning agency. The committee shall, from the time of appointment, remain in existence for no less than 6 months.
(3) Not later than 12 months after its appointment by the Governor, the committee shall either adopt a proposed voluntary resource planning and management program for the area under study or recommend that a voluntary resource planning and management program not be adopted. The proposed voluntary resource planning and management program shall contain the committee findings with respect to problems that endanger those resources, facilities, and areas described in s. 380.05(2) and shall contain detailed recommendations for state, regional, and local governmental actions necessary to resolve current and prevent future problems identified by the committee. A major objective of the proposed voluntary resource planning and management program shall be the effective coordination of state, regional, and local planning; program implementation; and regulatory activities for comprehensive resource management. The committee shall submit the proposed voluntary resource planning and management program to the head of the state land planning agency, who shall transmit the program along with the recommendations of the agency for monitoring and enforcing the program, as well as any other recommendations deemed appropriate, to the Administration Commission.
(4) The Administration Commission shall by resolution approve, approve as modified, or reject the proposed voluntary resource planning and management program and state land planning agency recommendations; and the Administration Commission shall request each state or regional agency that is responsible for implementing a portion of an approved program to conduct its programs and regulatory activities in a manner consistent with the approved program. Each state and regional agency involved in implementing the program shall cooperate to the maximum extent possible in ensuring that the program is given full effect.
(5) The state land planning agency shall report to the Administration Commission within 12 months of the approval of the program by the commission concerning the implementation and the effects of the approved voluntary resource planning and management program. The report shall include, but shall not be limited to:
(a) An assessment of state agency compliance with the program, including the degree to which the program recommendations have been integrated into agency planning, program implementation, regulatory activities, and rules;
(b) An assessment of the compliance by each affected local government with the program;
(c) An evaluation of state, regional, and local monitoring and enforcement activities and recommendations for improving such activities; and
(d) A recommendation as to whether or not all or any portion of the study area should be designated an area of critical state concern pursuant to s. 380.05.
The state land planning agency may make such other reports to the commission as it deems necessary, including recommending that all or any portion of the study area be designated an area of critical state concern because of special circumstances in the study area or in the implementation of the approved voluntary resource planning and management program.
History.—s. 2, ch. 79-73; s. 1, ch. 84-281; s. 640, ch. 95-148.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham makes urgent appeal for help for Florida’s world renowned Silver and Rainbow Springs

In conjunction with the Florida Conservation Coalition, former Governor Bob Graham has asked Governor Rick Scott to take action that will begin the process of protecting and restoring Silver Springs, Silver River, Rainbow Springs and Rainbow River.   

Pointing out the apparent continued decline of these storied Florida treasures, he asked the Florida Governor to consider setting up a Resource Planning and Management Committee to identify the causes and generate options for reversing the problems. 

Saying time is of the essence, he asked Scott to, “… take the lead in preventing further damage to Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs by ensuring the implementation of effective restoration plans and strategies that can be replicated in other areas of the state.” 

The letter is the culmination of growing public concern for the water resources of Florida and its unique natural features characterized by the world’s greatest concentration of first magnitude springs.   
In addition to Governor Graham, the letter was signed a number of charter members of the Florida Conservation Coalition including Nathaniel Pryor Reed, Former Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Former Chairman SFWMD, Founder and Chairman Emeritus 1000 Friends of Florida, and Lee Constantine, Former State Senator, Former State Representative, Former City Commissioner and Mayor of Altamonte Springs. 

Here's the letter in full:

June 18, 2012
Governor Rick Scott
Plaza Level 05, The Capitol
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0001

Re: Two Florida Signature Spring and River Systems – Silver Springs and River and Rainbow Springs in urgent need of your immediate attention
Dear Governor Scott,
             As members of the Florida Conservation Coalition, we are writing to ask for your leadership and assistance in protecting Florida’s freshwater resources.  Springs, rivers, lakes, and groundwater throughout the state are suffering from dangerously low levels and unhealthy water quality conditions. As Floridians, all of us have the responsibility to do everything within our power and ability to protect and restore these natural resources that are so critical and inextricably linked to our health, quality of life and economy.
            Two of Florida’s signature spring and river systems – Silver Springs and River and Rainbow Springs and River -- are in urgent need of your immediate attention and decisive action.  Dramatic declines in the water flow and quality of these two first-magnitude spring systems in Marion County have been scientifically documented, confirming that current programs administered by state, regional, and local government are simply inadequate to protect and restore the health of these valuable aquatic resources.  We believe these two springs and rivers can be saved, and by focusing now on their restoration, effective tools and strategies can be developed to address and resolve the pollution and flow problems impacting springs and other waterways throughout the state.
            Accordingly, we are requesting that you direct the Department of Economic Opportunity, with assistance from other appropriate state agencies, to assess and report to you within the next six months on the feasibility of establishing a Resource Planning and Management Committee, under Section 380.045, F.S., which could harness the power of public and private stakeholders to develop a plan to correct the problems.  Another alternative is to use the model of the stakeholder task force process that led to the passage of the Wekiva River Protection Act, Section 369.301-369.309 F.S., in 1988, and the Wekiva Parkway and Protection Act 369.314-369.324 F.S., in 2004.  These approaches succeeded in protecting a river while accommodating expanding urban development in the Orlando area and formulation of a plan for a needed new highway. The Executive Orders issued by Governors Martinez and Bush establishing these task forces are worthy of examination by your staff.
The State, St. Johns River and Southwest Florida Water Management Districts, and Marion County have expended considerable effort and resources in the Silver and Rainbow Springs and Rivers watersheds.  Yet these efforts have failed to protect or restore these valuable resources.  “Minimum flows and levels” and “total maximum daily loads” have not been established, and recommendations of DEP’s Florida Springs Task Force have not been implemented.
Silver Springs is a registered National Natural Landmark and the Silver River is a designated Outstanding Florida Water.  Iconic Silver Springs is Florida’s largest and best known spring.  Despite its importance, the flow of water from the spring has dropped dramatically and nitrates have increased 20-fold, clouding its water and triggering excessive algal growth.  Native fish species are declining, and exotic invasive fish species are multiplying.  The changes are well documented in the “Fifty-Year Retrospective Study of the Ecology of Silver Springs, Florida,” published by the St. Johns River Water Management District.  For your convenience, attached is a reference list of literature and a letter.
Rainbow Springs is the state’s fourth largest and one of its most picturesque springs, and the source of Rainbow River, which flows 5.6 miles before joining the Withlacoochee River at Dunnellon.  The spring is a registered National Natural Landmark and the river is a designated Outstanding Florida Water and an Aquatic Preserve.  Yet, like Silver Springs and River, water flow has declined dramatically while nitrate pollution has increased significantly.
The economic impact of these springs and rivers and the recreational opportunities they provide is significant for Marion County and downstream communities in adjacent Lake and Sumter counties.  More than 800,000 visitors (many from out of state) visit Silver Springs annually.  These aquatic assets also enhance property values, adding wealth and increasing ad valorem revenue for local governments. 
While it is unthinkable that Florida’s springs might get pumped dry or lost to pollution, there is precedent.  Kissengen Spring in Polk County went dry in 1950, and White Sulphur Springs in Hamilton County has become a trickle. Given continued neglect, the damage to Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs, too, could become irreversible.
Governor, you have previously stated your support for protecting Florida’s natural resources.  We are asking that you and your administration take the lead in preventing further damage to Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs by ensuring the implementation of effective restoration plans and strategies that can be replicated in other areas of the state.  Time is of the essence.
We thank you for your consideration.
Bob Graham
Lee Constantine
Charles Pattison
Victoria Tschinkel
Eric Draper
Allan Milledge
Jimmy Orth
Lisa Rinaman
Manley Fuller
Martha Musgrove Craig Diamond
John Robert Middlemas
Deirdre Macnab
Sonny Vergara
Gary Kuhl
Bill Kerr
Auley Rowell
Roy Rogers
Estus Whitfield

Andrew McElwaine                   Vivian Young

Attachments (2)

Robert L. Knight letter and presentation

Rainbow and Silver Springs literature

Monday, June 18, 2012

“Speak Up for Silver Springs & Florida's Waters”

Here’s the itinerary for this weekend’s FCC signature event at Silver River State Park.  Show your concern for this state “Waters”.  Be there!  
The Florida Conservation Coalition is pleased to present the “Speak Up for Silver Springs & Florida's Waters” event itinerary and speaker line up. We hope that everyone will join the FCC and our local partners on June 23 from 10-4, at Silver River State Park, for a fantastic day of education, outreach, entertainment and action in support of protecting Silver Springs and all of Florida's imperiled waterways.
This event will include public addresses by former Senator Bob Graham and State Senator Lee Constantine, Silver Springs expert Dr. Robert Knight, renowned photographer and environmental advocate John Moran, and FCC leaders from across Florida.
Please forward this announcement to any and all who are concerned with protecting Florida’s waters. For any questions about the event please contact Ryan Smart at
10:00 a.m. – Event Area Opens to Public – Free To Public for first 500 cars
-        Park entry fees donated by Marion County Springs Festival and Felburn Foundation     
10:00 – 3:30 – Activities to Enjoy Throughout the Day
-        Silver River Museum
-        Outstanding Presentations by Jim Stevenson, Dr. Bob Knight, & John Moran
-        Cracker Village
-        Tram rides to the Silver River
-        Conservation themed Exhibits
-        Great Food
10:15 a.m. – Welcoming Address by M.C. Andy Kesselring
10:30 – 11:10 – Talks by John Moran & Conservation Trust in Museum classrooms
11:25 – 12:25 – Addresses by fmr. Sen. Bob Graham & Sen. Lee Constantine
-        Plus Statements from Florida Conservation Coalition Leaders
1:00 – 1:45 – Presentations by Dr. Knight & Jim Stevenson in Museum classrooms
1:10 – 3:10 –Live Music by Whitey Markle and the Swamprooters (Main Stage)
2:00 – 2:45 – Presentations by Dr. Knight & Jim Stevenson in Museum classrooms
3:20 -3:30 –Address by Dr. Knight (Main Stage)
3:30 – 3:45 – Closing Address by John Moran (Main Stage)
Speaker List & Event Itinerary - Speak Up for Silver Springs& Florida's Waters            

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Highlands Ranch Mit Bank permit; Has Bersok Kicked the Lid Off?

Thank goodness professional journalists have to be objective and report only facts. Sometimes, however, it’s important to look behind facts and ask what smells.
Craig Pittman who first broke the story about the awful treatment of Connie Bersok by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection has given us a follow up in yesterday’s (2012.06.06) Tampa Bay Times. Bersok is the state’s chief wetland expert who was suspended by her supervisors at DEP for not giving in to pressure to approve a mitigation bank application near Jacksonville that was against her professional judgment. (See her memo HERE).
Now, it seems, it must have all been a dream. DEP has lifted Bersok’s suspension but makes no mention of the Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank fiasco in the recently released inspector general’s investigation and report of findings, according to Pittman.
Strange? Yes.
There’s clearly something going on at DEP that the minions don’t want exposed.
Perhaps, it’s the convoluted background to this story:
·       First, Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank applies for a mitigation bank permit from the SJRWMD. They want some 600 wetland credits which they propose to justify by modifying a former 1500-acre pine tree plantation. 

·       Staff gags at the incredulous nature of the request and instead recommends to the district’s governing board that the applicant be granted less than 200 wetland credits. 

·       Apparently upset at the staff’s recommendation, the applicant files a petition in opposition to its own permit when it is presented to the governing board. 

·       The governing board then forwards the application to an administrative law judge who holds a hearing, finds in favor of the staff’s position and issues a recommended order. When no exceptions were filed by the parties within the prescribed time, the judge issues the permit subject to the permit conditions set forth in the district’s technical staff report.  

·       Meanwhile, newly elected Florida CEO-governor Rick Scott arrives on the scene. A new CEO at DEP, Herschel Vinyard, is appointed (from Jacksonville) who begins replacing the department’s existing supervisors and managers. 

·       Subsequently, the SJRWMD undergoes major organizational and staffing changes brought by the new governor. These changes were, at least indirectly, the result of recommendations pushed by his “transition team” regulatory reform subcommittee chairman, Doug Manson, a Tampa lawyer. 

·       First, the district’s general counsel is fired and governing board member Hans Tanzler (son of a former Jacksonville mayor of the same name) applies for and is appointed to the position by the governing board. Then the executive director is forced out and, again, Tanzler applies for the position and is once more given the position by the governing board which, this time, comes with the approval of the governor. Scott apparently says it’s good. 

·       Sequentially, Tanzler, supported by Scott-appointed, anti-environment, professional consultant, board members like Chuck Drake and others, goes about firing the old permit reviewers at the district and replacing them with new permit reviewers. After this political “cleansing” of dozens of staff members, the rest just hunker down hoping to avoid becoming collateral damage. 

·       Despite the fact that it already has a permit issued by the SJRWMD for the same project, Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank files for a new permit for the same project, this time to DEP rather than the SJRWMD, and this time they have a new consultant, Breedlove, Dennis and Associates. Breedlove now recommends about 400 wetland credits, down 200 credits from the original 600 requested from SJRWMD. No one seems worried about which permit will be in effect if DEP issues a second permit that is different from the one the administrative hearing judge has already issued for the same project. 

·       A new deputy secretary at DEP, Jeff Littlejohn, who happens to be long time buds with Breedlove (the new consultant for Highlands Ranch) becomes convinced after a conversation with Breedlove that there’s a better way to consider mitigation bank applications, but it will take a policy change to get it done. 

·       Littlejohn quickly admits he is not a wetlands expert. So up steps well known Tallahassee lawyer, Eric Olson, who somehow ends up drafting the new policy for him. Olsen, a former assistant general counsel at SJRWMD, is currently a lawyer with one of the most powerful and connected law firms in Tallahassee, Hopping, Green & Sams. He has published articles on mitigation banking in the Florida Bar Journal. By a not so surprising coincidence, Olson is also the attorney for Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank. No one notices the odor. 

·       Apparently, no one questions the obvious and gross impropriety of having an applicant’s lawyer draft a policy memo that will not only tremendously benefit his client but could have far reaching implications well beyond the Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank application. And, everyone apparently ignores the fact that any new regulatory policies which have significant, program-wide ramifications should be thoroughly vetted first and even required to undergo rigorous adoption procedures similar to those mandated for administrative rules before implementation. 

·       So the Olson Policy is handed to Connie Bersok who not only cringes at the new edict but puts into writing her unwillingness to recommend the permit because the project is not consistent with current law and the proposal fails to show how 400 wetlands credits can be justified. 

·       Of course, it is not considered relevant that wetland mitigation credits can be worth anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 each. At the latter price, if only 200 credits were authorized the revenue would barely cover the cost of the project’s land, engineering and legal costs. (The property was reportedly purchased by the investment group for nearly $15,000,000). Getting the additional 200 credits, on the other hand, could bring Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank and its investors, including the Carlyle Group, a tidy profit of perhaps $20,000,000. 

·       Also absent in the conversation is the fact that the legislature passed a new law this year (HB 599) that greatly limits the availability of credits DOT can obtain from water management districts. If I read the new statute correctly (and I don’t guarantee that I have because it’s confusing to say the least), on the one hand, water management districts seem to be prohibited from using land they purchased for conservation purposes to create mitigation credits. If so, they’re essentially out of the game. On the other, this limitation may not apply to DOT road transportation projects which means the districts could still be in the game. In any case, DOT will now be able to get the credits it needs for transportation projects from private mitigation bankers. One can only speculate if and how much the price-rise might be now with the private sector guys involved. Previously DOT was required to get its credits exclusively from the water management districts. 

·        According to the House Summary of CS/CS/CS/HB 599 (CS/CS/SB 824), from 2007 to 2011, DOT‘s mitigation expenditures totaled $169,921,562. Of that amount, WMDs received $116,456,080 (68.54%), while other public and private mitigation banks received only $38,107,600 (22.43%) of the total expenditures. 

·       Clearly, if DOT is denied access to WMD credits, the new law will intentionally force DOT to purchase mitigation credits from private mitigation bankers. And, if that is the case, the financial fortunes of private mitigation bankers will become hugely improved. But even if the WMD’s remain in the game, the private guys will still enjoy a tremendously expanded market for their credits created by the sheer volume needed by DOT each year. HB 599 was introduced by Representative Ray Pilon, was joined with SB 824 and others to become a transportation omnibus bill and was signed into law by the governor on April 29, 2012. 

·       In any case, given the evolving situation where public money coming from DOT will by law now be available to the investors and owners of private mitigation banks, here’s a related matter to watch. Remember how CEO Scott stopped all environmental land acquisition efforts by the water management districts and ordered the districts to surplus any lands found to be “unnecessary”? Those so-called surplus lands could become targeted by aggressive corporate mitigation bankers. Conservation lands are purchased, you'll recall, because of their environmental value. Much of that value is based upon a parcel’s relationship to wetlands. Creating new wetlands adjacent to existing wetlands is much more effective and less costly than attempting it elsewhere. How public lands become defined as “unnecessary” will become crucial and extremely political. Hundreds of millions of public dollars are on the table. And, with land prices as low as they are, it’s a buyer’s market. Buy it cheap from the WMDs, ask DEP for wetland credits based upon a plan known only to you and sell the credits to a government agency that must buy tens of millions worth every year. It’s a sweet deal.
So what’s really happening with Connie Bersok? Is the story about her, or is it really about private sector politics and manipulating government programs to finagle the transfer of public tax dollars to private pockets? And, is this just one isolated scenario or is it systemic under Scott's administration?
Connie Bersok’s career with DEP for all practical purposes is probably over. She has crossed a DEP manager's line, it seems. Organizations rarely forgive and forget. But her courageous refusal to kowtow to political pressure has jarred loose some very smelly detritus from Tallahassee that is generating a more refined scrutiny toward the way Rick Scott is running our state government and ruining our natural Florida. Bersok’s legacy will be how she stood up and while under a clear threat to her long, successful and respected career, said what needed to be said, “This isn’t right and I’m not going to do it.”

Additional Information
From Highlands Ranch website:
“Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank is a privately-owned wetland mitigation banking firm, headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. A joint venture of Hassan & Lear Acquisitions Ltd., , and The Carlyle Group,,” 

Wetlands Mitigation
"A wetland enhancement, restoration, creation and/or preservation project that serves to offset unavoidable wetland impacts is known as wetland mitigation or compensatory mitigation. The ecological benefits of a mitigation project should compensate for the functional loss resulting from the permitted wetland impact. Compensatory mitigation activities may include, but are not limited to, onsite mitigation, offsite mitigation, offsite regional mitigation, and the purchase of mitigation credits from permitted mitigation banks."         (Florida Department of Environmental Protection)