Thursday, November 15, 2012

PEER blasts DEP manager's "shockingly draconian" actions

The following news release was published by the organization, Public Employees for EnvironmentalResponsibility (PEER).  It is reprinted here in the interest of taking advantage of every opportunity to make the public aware of the moronic and inept management decisions being made by the non-professional politicos of the Rick Scott administration.  The dismantling of Florida’s mantle of protection for its unique and fragile natural environmental continues unabated.  We should be asking ourselves, how much more damage might he and his minions reap in the remaining two years of his first disastrous term in office and will the state ever be able to recover?
Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Staff Told to “Demonstrate Job Creation” as Colleagues Escorted Out of Building
Tallahassee —The Scott administration has begun laying off environmental employees in a shockingly draconian fashion, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Besides mass firings, state officials are abolishing scores of vacant positions, making it impossible to counter accumulated attrition at a time when environmental performance is already plummeting.
During the past few weeks, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) –
·       Fired 25 employees in the Southwest District Office in Tampa and eliminated 14 vacant positions, thus shrinking the workforce by more than a quarter;

·       Axed 15 employees in the Tallahassee Division of Water Resources while abolishing another 24 vacancies. One manager was fired because he refused to terminate an employee who was ill; and

·       Has told other districts to brace for further “changes.”
The harsh manner of the firings is also striking. In the Tampa office, all 150 district employees were told to pack up their personal belongings and put them in their cars because 25 of them would be fired the next day. They were then told to return to their stations and work the rest of the day. The next day 25 of them were summarily fired and immediately escorted from the building. The surviving employees were then told to retrieve their personal belongings and return to work as if nothing had happened.
DEP deputy secretary
Jeff Littlejohn
“This is no way to treat employees, let alone career public servants,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “These callous and needlessly cruel tactics suggest a staggering level of managerial incompetence.”
These moves are being orchestrated by Jeff Littlejohn, the DEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs, who has also issued new personnel “criteria” which, among other things –
·       Link any pay raise to a cost savings, thus giving DEP supervisors a bonus only if they fire staff;

·       Require any DEP vacancies first be outsourced to private industry before considering refilling;
·       And Forbid any hiring at all unless deemed “Mission Critical.”
While supervisors are being rewarded for finding creative ways to fire employees, those DEP employees who survive the purge are being directed to drum up instances of how they have achieved “job creation” and cost savings for regulated industries.
“This is supposed to be an environmental agency, not a satellite office for Bain Capital,” Phillips added, noting that basic enforcement of anti-pollution laws in Florida has nose-dived during Governor Rick Scott’s tenure, according to an analysis of agency figures. “DEP has been through some tough times before but employees are saying that this is the absolute pits.”
PEER is also pursuing complaints against both DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard and Littlejohn for violating federal conflict of interest prohibitions due to their prior corporate environmental work. At DEP, corporations that run into environmental trouble have been able to go to both men to obtain “resolution” of their situations.

Contact: Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337


Saturday, November 10, 2012

"When you hear hoofbeats behind you, expect to see a horse, not a zebra.”

In an earlier SWFWMDmatters blog post, I wrote about the dilemma surrounding the status of an ailing, iconic Silver Springs and a water use permit being sought by a proposed 10,000 acre, 30,000 cattle, feeding operation that would take another 13.2 million gallons every day (annual daily average) from the same aquifer “springshed” that feeds the main spring.
The status of the spring system at that time was historic.  In the many years records have been kept of the spring’s flow, there is no record that documents the spring flow as ever to have fallen to the level it was at that time, approximately 50% of its historic long term average.  It seemed sharply plain to most that taking more water from its source, especially an amount that is even greater than that which City of Ocala now takes, would surely have an undesirable impact upon the springs’ already dangerously low flow.
Since then, the St. Johns River Water Management District has scrambled to put together a position that would legally, scientifically and politically justify the issuance or denial of the requested permit.  Wanting to avoid being accused of thinking only inside that proverbial box, the staff came upon a theory that at best can only be described as novel because it flies in the face of what most would consider reasonable thinking. 
Hal Wilkening, P. E.
In a recent report to his governing board, district staff engineer, Hal Wilkening, suggested that the reduced flow was possibly due to plant growth which, acting as a dam, was backing water up over the springs’ vents and slowing their collective discharge.  He also surmised that the accumulating slimy algae that’s killing the natural eel grass in Silver River was not due to the tons of nitrates leeching into the subterranean spring water from a host of manmade sources but due to low rainfall.

Rather than me trying to explain just how bizarre this concept is, you will likely have greater interest reading the thoughts of Charles Lee.  As most of you know Charles is the widely known and a highly respected voice on many issues for Florida Audubon, especially on legislative matters.  He’s the organization’s Director of Advocacy/Regional Director.  With his permission, here’s what he wrote recently in an email:
Interestingly, this (concept) was presented in much more tentative terms to the board, but is trumpeted here in SJRWMD propaganda as the “Ah, Ha” answer to the decrease in flow at Silver Springs.
Wilkening advanced the theory that vegetation growing in Silver Springs Run and the Ocklawaha River have created a backwater effect, raising water levels in the spring run and therefore creating a hydrostatic head that they claim is suppressing the amount of water coming out of the spring. The amount of water level increase they claim is about .9 foot. The amount of decline in springflow claimed because of this is 100 to 120 CFS. (Note, even if a 100 to 120 CFS decline resulted from increased water levels, Silver Springs is still flowing about 300 CFS less than what would be expected after this summer of extraordinary rains. Flow figures from the 1960s and 1970s would have this spring producing over 1000 CFS after the rainfall we have had recently, and it is only flowing around 600 CFS).
The theory is not without some scientific basis. However, to have publically advanced it at the board meeting, and then trumpeting it here without some peer review and more detailed analysis is, frankly, irresponsible. Had some environmental group presented conclusions like this, Ed de la Parte would have been screaming “JUNK SCIENCE”! Instead, he was sitting in the audience smiling.  For example, one of the tests that they could have performed would have been a statistical analysis of variance in flows from historic norms at times when the water levels in the Silver Run and the Ocklawaha have been distinctly BELOW normal during the past 12 years. That data is readily available, but (conveniently) is not provided.
 The observations about aquatic vegetation growth in Silver Run and the Ocklawaha were tied to drought conditions and not attributed to nitrates. The story according to Wilkening is that lower flows from the chain of lakes down the Ocklawaha produced less brown colored water moving downstream and that in turn allowed greater aquatic vegetation growth because of  increased light penetration. The weeds hold water back in his view, raising the water level therefore pressing down on the spring and reducing flow.
Along with that analysis, Wilkening produced a chart with three monitoring wells near Silver Springs. Two of the wells showed about a .5 foot average decline over the last 12 years, and one showed a water level that did not change. From that, Wilkening told the board that there had been no decline in aquifer levels, therefore a decline in aquifer levels could not have caused spring reductions over the past 12 years…HMM  two wells show a distinct decline, one does not, and that means no change…. Interesting way of looking at math.
I was able to take the graph that other members of the SJRWMD staff had used during the morning session to give the aquifer level readings in the monthly hydrological report to show that even with the huge rainfall amounts since June, the aquifer levels throughout the Silver Springs springshed and in N.E. Florida generally remain at distinctly abnormal low levels. I also questioned picking out just three wells and drawing broad conclusions from them rather than looking at a much bigger data set about aquifer levels which was readily available.  Finally, Guy Marwick of the Felburn Foundation pointed out to the board that the high water levels claimed by Wilkening were really not historically high. The gift shop and walkways at Silver Springs flooded on numerous occasions when springflow at its peak produced very high water levels in decades gone by.  
I characterized Wilkening’s presentation, with an old medical adage, as a “zebra diagnosis”.   ("When you hear hoofbeats behind you, expect to see a horse, not a zebra). 

Well said, Charles.  Thanks.
It’ll be interesting to see where the district technical staff go with this.  As mentioned, they have a task that will require them to make the science legally defensible in the face of an ill political wind that is saying, “Issue a permit or you may find your job in jeopardy.” 

Not likely?  Ask Connie Bersok.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Anonymous insider's report on what's happening at DEP, Tallahassee

This post provides an anonymous, insider’s look at what’s happening at the DEP headquarters in Tallahassee.  What’s taking place and how it is happening is pathetic.  There are so many more professional and humane ways to carry out a reduction in force than the vicious, unthinking Neanderthal tactics of this administration.  It is a dreadful reflection of their lack of management experience and sole focus on getting rid of institutional memory, dedicated and seasoned staffers and professional competence in favor of friends, politics and cementing their control of a public agency through fear and intimidation.
Typically, such anonymous comments are appended to the post to which they refer but this comment seemed more insightful and relevant than usual and so I am taking the liberty of publishing it as an actual post.  The unknown writer was obviously present when the events he/she describes took place and wants you, the reader, to know about it.  Here it is:
How the firings occurred in the Tallahassee HQ office is also a matter of discussion. The entire division of Water Resource Management was called into a meeting by the deputy Secretary, who gave a Powerpoint presentation of the "reorganization". During the presentation, firing numbers for the individual sections were given out, and the drinking water administrator - who had two more years left in DROP - was told he was removed in front of the whole division. One fired employee was involved at the time in the Emergency Operations Center for Hurricane Sandy, and was no longer able to access his computer for important emergency operations, since the mindless Nazis locked him out. The Drinking Water Administrator was replaced by a recent hiree of his from the private sector, who managed to cozy up the Deputy Secretary. The hatchet person was another hiree from the private sector only about three months earlier. It is clear the original people who worked for less pay than their private sector counterparts for years because they cared for Florida's degrading environment were replaced, including Secretary Mimi Drew when Scott assumed the throne, for his and his cronies selfish interests.
Like I said … pathetic.  
How long and how deep is this unmitigated effort to destroy responsible environmental management in the State of Florida going to be allowed to continue? 
Where is the outrage of our elected officials? Among all the people they are charged to represent, public service employees should not be excluded. 
Someone needs to step up and start asking pointed questions like: How is this kind of behavior going to improve the efficiency of the organization? Have they gone too far for some very wrong purposes? Is Florida's natural environment, and thus its economy, being placed at risk by the systematic destruction of the agency’s ability to carry out its duties as prescribed by law? Is this what the voting public of Florida truly wants and expects?