FCC News Brief - June 22, 2018

Danny Mcauliffe reports for Florida Politics – “Environmental and activist groups are criticizing the state for drafting in secrecy the details of a new permitting process to build in Florida’s wetlands. In a letter Monday addressed to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, environmental groups Audubon Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida alongside the League of Women Voters called for a more transparent process in DEP’s workshopping of an application that would give the state almost exclusive discretion in doling out permits to build in wetlands… ‘There are a lot of details that will determine what the programs look like that are being determined between [DEP] and other agencies,’ Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell told Florida Politics. According to Wraithmell, agreements between DEP, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are being proposed without public input. As well, agreements over which waters will remain under the Corps’ watch and DEP staffing details of the permitting program are being planned between the agencies. Even a process for challenging the permits could be determined solely by agency staff. There would be time for public comment on the finalized application, but by then it might not be effective… When HB 7043 was making its way through Session, Audubon Florida wanted language that would’ve required legislative ratification of the application. That would’ve given the public ample opportunities to weigh in, Wraithmell said. But lawmakers didn’t deem it necessary.” Read The fate of Florida’s wetlands could be decided behind closed doors, groups say

Bruce Ritchie reports for Politico Florida – “State Circuit Judge Charles Dodson said… he agreed with the arguments by one environmental group that spending under the measure (the Water and Land Conservation Constitutional Amendment) is supposed to go towards land purchased after 2015… ‘This could be a historic moment for Florida,’ said Pepper Uchino, a former staff director of the state Senate environmental committee. He said the courts could decide how narrowly to restrict both spending under the 2014 amendment along with the Legislature’s ability to interpret such ballot measures in the future… [S]tate Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-North Fort Myers) said… the position taken by the judge is ‘absurd’ and threatens funding for a variety of legal conservation activities… Joseph W. Little, a law professor emeritus at the University of Florida, argued in court… that voters only intended for funding to go towards land acquisition and management of those lands acquired after 2014. He represented Florida Defenders of the Environment in the case. Circuit Judge Charles Dodson said he agreed with Little and he canceled a scheduled July evidentiary hearing. ‘I read the amendment in the manner interpreted by Mr. Little,’ Dodson said. ‘When I read it in its entirety – and I’ve read it well over 100 times – I come to the conclusion that it clearly refers to conservation lands purchased after the effective date of the amendment.’ Andy Bardos, a lawyer representing the Legislature, had argued that Little’s interpretation of the amendment was ‘narrow’ and could exclude Everglades restoration projects and other activities supported by environmentalists… Caldwell, a Republican candidate for state agriculture commissioner, said the ruling – and support for it from environmental groups – contradicts the broad interpretation of the amendment provided by supporters in 2014 to state analysts and the Florida Supreme Court… Henderson, the lawyer for amendment supporters in 2014 who now is executive director of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience at Stetson University, said he thinks Everglades restoration falls within the allowable spending because it is specifically mentioned in the amendment. But, without the written order, he said he couldn’t determine whether Little’s interpretation – the one the judge said he agreed with – conflicts with the purpose of the amendment. ‘We always saw this [Amendment 1] as land acquisition together with restoration and management,’ he said. ‘I always thought they [legislators] violated this by giving lip service to the acquisition part.’ Read the Florida Defenders of the Environment motion for summary judgment here. Read the 2013 brief filed by Amendment 1 supporters with the Florida Supreme Court here. Read information provided in 2013 to state analysts by amendment supporters here.” Read Questions loom over state environmental spending after surprise court ruling

The St. Augustine Record Editorial Board writes – “A Circuit Judge’s ruling June 16 has Florida’s environmental community cautiously elated and state legislators fuming. Good. In 2014, Florida’s voters passed Constitutional Amendment 1, which set aside an annually fixed percentage of real estate documentary stamps in order to fund conservation in the state – land acquisition in particular… It did not take long for the legislature to subvert the intent… There is little doubt that the legislature will appeal the decision. After all, it doesn’t cost it a penny – it costs us… The legislature, we predict, may have more reason to fight this ruling than the conservation dollars. The voters also OK’d the Sadowski Act in 1992. It added 10 cents to the real estate doc stamps, expressly to fund affordable housing initiatives… Since 2009, of the $2.3 billion raised by the amendment, $833 million has actually gone to affordable housing efforts statewide. Then there’s the lottery… that was meant to enhance education for our kids, but now only replaces the dollars the state cut from education funding.” Read Legislative looting: It’s bigger than conservation

Tyler Treadway reports for the TC Palm – “Don’t bother looking for any official signs warning about a highly toxic blue-green algae bloom in Blue Cypress Lake. The Florida Department of Health in Indian River County ‘has not been advised or instructed to place any signage at or around Blue Cypress Lake,’ Charles “CV” Vogt, an environmental specialist at the agency’s office in Vero Beach, said… A blue-green algae bloom in the western Indian River County lake contains the toxin microcystin at levels the World Health Organization considers ‘very highly hazardous’ in recreational contact, a Fort Pierce scientist who tested the water said…” Read Blue Cypress Lake’s toxic algae bloom doesn’t prompt Health Department warning signs

Barbara Behrendt and Craig Pittman report for the Tampa Bay Times – “U.S. District Judge James S. Moody, Jr. granted a temporary restraining order… to halt the work that has already begun on the extension of the Suncoast Parkway – aka the controversial “Suncoast 2.”… The federal lawsuit that prompted the injunction was filed… in Tampa’s U.S. District Court by a group called the Friends of Etna Camp. The group’s attorney, Heidi Mehaffey, said it was composed of historic preservation and environmental activists… The suit challenges the permit the federal government granted for the construction of the Suncoast 2. The lawsuit said crews will have to bulldoze through the Etna Turpentine Camp – which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – as well as wipe out habitat for gopher tortoises and indigo snakes, both imperiled species.” Read Federal judge halts work on Suncoast 2 toll road

Callie Schmidt reports for the Naples Daily News – “A Florida panther was found dead… in Hendry County. The male panther, thought to be 9 months old, was hit by a car on County Road 833 just north of County 832 near Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest. Of 16 Florida panther deaths this year, all were killed by a vehicle except for two that died of undetermined causes, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Nine panthers were male and seven were female.” Read Florida panther death in Hendry County is 16th this year

Robert Knight writes for The Gainesville Sun – “[I]t is painfully evident that Florida’s water laws have not been enforced… The Florida Springs Council reviewed [proposed Basin Management Action Plans] and concluded, ‘It is unrealistic to believe that the 20-year Outstanding Florida Springs water quality restoration goal will be achieved by voluntary measures and with minimal public expenditure.’ As a case history, the Santa Fe and Suwannee springs were listed as impaired by FDEP in 2008. The resulting Santa Fe Springs BMAP was finalized in 2012 to reduce nitrate nitrogen concentrations and achieve the numeric standard. Since intensive agricultural production was identified as the major source of groundwater and spring nitrate contamination, the primary method for reducing nitrogen loading was implementation of agricultural best management practices. FDEP’s 2016 Santa Fe Springs BMAP progress report concluded that even though most agricultural producers had enrolled in the required best management practices program, ‘no significant decreases in nitrate-N concentration were observed over the four-year period in the sampled springs or Santa Fe River sites.’ Despite this negative finding from the Santa Fe BMAP effort, the new and updated Outstanding Florida Springs BMAPs continue to rely on existing best management practices to reduce intensive agriculture’s nutrient pollution problem… [T]he Florida Springs Council has concluded that advanced best management practices must curtail fertilizer use in the most vulnerable karst areas by 80 to 90 percent… [A] hefty fee should be placed on sales of all nitrogen-containing fertilizer… to reduce demand for fertilizing non-essential “crops” such as urban turf.” Read Florida’s water laws have not been enforced

A.G. Gancarski reports for Florida Politics – “State Rep. Sean Shaw, the likely Democratic nominee for Attorney General… represents the Tampa-area House District 61… [O]n Amendment 1: [Shaw said,] ‘We’re supposed to use doc stamp money to purchase environmentally sound land, and we’re not really doing it.’ If elected, Shaw said he is willing to wage ‘some battles with the Legislature’ to get to the original intent of those amendments and related laws…” Read Poll shows Sean Shaw up, but can he be Attorney General?





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Upcoming Environmental Events    


June 28, 6:30 pm – Attend River Rising: Town Hall Series in Jacksonville to learn about rising waters in the St. Johns, how decades of dredging has increased water levels and storm surge, and what Jacksonville and coastal communities need to do to become more resilient. For more information, click here.

June 29, 12:00 pm – Attend River Rising: Town Hall Series in Jacksonville to learn about rising waters in the St. Johns, how decades of dredging has increased water levels and storm surge, and what Jacksonville and coastal communities need to do to become more resilient. For more information, click here.

July 11, 6:00 pm – Attend River Rising: Town Hall Series in Jacksonville to learn about rising waters in the St. Johns, how decades of dredging has increased water levels and storm surge, and what Jacksonville and coastal communities need to do to become more resilient. For more information, click here.


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