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Georgia governor creates water wars office while Florida names outspoken environmental chief

Fri, Dec 12, 2014

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced Thursday he is establishing a new office to coordinate the state’s efforts on two fronts in water wars with Alabama and Florida.

Also on Thursday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott named Jon Steverson, the outspoken executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, to lead the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

12-12-14 ACT ACF map via ARC

Map courtesy of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Georgia has been fighting its neighboring states in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. In November, the U. S. Supreme Court appointed Maine lawyer Robert I. Lancaster to oversee a lawsuit filed by Florida in 2013 requesting that the court divide the water among the states.

And Georgia has been battling Alabama over water from the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river system, which does not flow through Florida. On Nov. 7, Georgia sued the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers over a proposed water plan for Lake Allatoona, a reservoir on a tributary of the Coosa River.

Deal announced Thursday that he was appointing Jud Turner, director of the Environmental Protection Division, to head a new office for interagency coordination and management of water resources. Turner has been division director since 2012 and previously served as executive counsel to Gov. Sonny Perdue before he left office in 2011.

Deal said Turner will work closely with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and that John Allen, of the law firm Kazmarek, Mowrey, Cloud & Laseter LLP, will join the office as deputy director. He said the work is “incredibly important to the well-being of our state’s people and its economy.”

12-12-14 Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Governor’s Office.

Florida’s lawsuit “has placed significant new demands on state agencies involved in these matters,” Deal said. “Add to this the renewed litigation against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over additional water supply from Lake Allatoona, and the workload requires the state to take additional steps to assure we have the right staff in place.”

There was no response to a request for comment from Scott’s office or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Steverson has been an outspoken critic of Georgia’s water use while telling U. S. senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida in 2013 that protection of the Apalachicola River is a “big deal.”

Jon Steverson. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

Jon Steverson. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

“The people of Georgia can do a little bit less with their water,” Steverson said during an 2013 hearing in Apalachicola before an audience of seafood workers.

“If their water is low up there,” he added, “it means they can’t drive their favorite jet ski into their favorite little cove and they can’t tie up their boat to the dock. Here, it means these guys can’t make a living.”

Steverson replaces Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., who resigned Dec. 1 as expected following Scott’s first term.

In response to the Georgia governor’s announcement, Dan Tonsmeire of Apalachicola Riverkeeper said, “I hope Florida will match them man to man with a full court press.”

Laura Hartt, staff scientists and water policy director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper environmental group in Georgia, said the move was not surprising.

In Georgia, environmental groups have criticized Deal’s proposals to build new dams and reservoirs. Hartt said Lake Lanier, the federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River that has been the focus of the fight between Florida and Georgia, remains the most cost-effective and sustainable water supply for which there is no substitute for the Atlanta region.

“Therefore, we hope that (Georgia) will focus its efforts to resolve the tri-state controversy on implementation of additional water conservation measures in order to demonstrate good stewardship to our downstream neighbors, rather than focusing on new, expensive, and unsustainable water supply projects that could take decades to build,” she said.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or forward without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com .)

Senate president says five-year land-buying work plan needed

Wed, Dec 17, 2014

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Sen. President Andy Gardiner said Thursday that a five-year planning process for land purchases and water projects may be a good idea following voter approval last month of Amendment 1.

The amendment provides one-third of revenue from an excise tax on real estate to water and land conservation. Amendment 1 was approved by 75 percent of voters statewide.

Senate President Andy Gardiner met with reporters.

Senate President Andy Gardiner meeting with reporters.

This week, fiscal analysts estimated the tax would generate $1.9 billion in the coming fiscal year, meaning that $645.6 million could be earmarked for conservation. The Revenue Estimating Conference said legislative action is required.

Amendment 1 already has generated debate about whether voters wanted to buy land with the money as opposed to spending to improve sewage treatment.

Meanwhile, supporters of greenways are asking that 10 percent of Amendment 1 revenue go towards a statewide trail network that could cost $2.6 billion.

“I would imagine everybody’s got a carve-out they’re going to want,” Gardiner, R-Orlando, said Thursday.

He said the Senate is reviewing the state budget to determine what spending now qualifies under Amendment 1.

“We’re already spending more than what the 33 percent (Amendment 1) would force you to do,” Gardiner said.

And he said he expects Amendment 1 to be the focus of Senate committee meetings in January.

“It’s important we hear from the supporters of Amendment 1,” Gardiner told reporters. “What did they anticipate when they drafted it? If you had 10 attorneys in a room, you’d get 10 different opinions on what you could do with Amendment 1.”

As a former Senate transportation committee chairman, Gardiner said the five-year work programs used in transportation planning may be a good idea for land acquisition and water projects.

“It allows local communities to plan,” he said. “It gives you some flexibility that if there is some land that needs to be acquired, you could do it in a partnership. Because everybody knows what that five-year plan is.”

Now, legislators decide funding for water projects while the Florida Department of Environmental Protection awards funding for springs improvement. The state’s land acquisition priority list and work plan is approved by the governor and Cabinet.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy, forward or reproduce without permission, which can be received from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)

Vinyard announces he’s leaving DEP, interim replacement named

Wed, Nov 26, 2014

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DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. discusses water issues during a forum earlier this year with Rep. Steve Crisafulli and attorney David Childs, who represents utilities. Photo by Bruce Ritchie

DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. discusses water issues during a forum earlier this year with Rep. Steve Crisafulli and attorney David Childs, who represents utilities. Photo by Bruce Ritchie

By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. told Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday that he is leaving the department on Dec. 1.

Vinyard, who has lived in Tallahassee while commuting to his Jacksonville home on weekends since being appointed in 2011, was expected to leave following Scott’s re-election on Nov. 4. The governor named DEP Deputy Secretary Clifford Wilson as interim secretary.

DEP and Gov. Rick Scott faced criticism from environmentalists during Vinyard’s tenure, although the department has been at odds with some environmental groups for many years.

In his resignation letter, Vinyard congratulated Scott on his re-election and praised the governor’s “solutions-based leadership style.” Vinyard was a Jacksonville ship-building executive who served on Scott’s transition committee in 2010.

Possible replacements for Vinyard include Wilson, DEP General Counsel Matt Leipold and Jon Steverson, who Scott appointed as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District in 2012.

Vinyard told Scott that during his four years at DEP, the department had improved Everglades water quality while ending a legal dispute with the federal government and also had adopted the most comprehensive nutrient reduction program in the country. Most environmentalists support the Everglades agreement but some groups still say the nutrient program includes too many loopholes for polluters.

Vinyard also told Scott the state had invested more on springs than any other administration in history. But Politifact Florida has rated similar claims by Scott about environmental spending as false.

And Vinyard said the state had expanded opportunities for visitors to Florida’s state parks and trails. But he didn’t mention failed proposals during the past four years to build RV campgrounds in parks or to sell state land to buy new land.

Scott cut $700 million from the budgets of Florida’s five water management districts beginning in 2011. Conservation land-buying also has slowed as Scott requested less than the annual $300 million that the Florida Forever program had received from 1990 until 2008.

In 2013, Christopher T. Byrd said he and other attorneys were forced out of the department for enforcing pollution laws, a claim that DEP officials denied.

Also in 2013, the department lost a challenge to a wetlands mitigation bank permit at Highlands Ranch in Clay County after a judge sided with DEP employee Connie Bersok, who recommended against the permit and was briefly suspended from her job.

DEP in 2013 issued a series of responses to news stories and editorials with criticism that portrayed the department as being run by industry.

“DEP is going to continue focusing on science, the facts and the data that we developed,” Vinyard said in response to the criticism during a 2013 interview.

Vinyard also said he wants to see the nutrient pollution rules, which environmentalists opposed, go into effect as soon as possible. A federal judge earlier this year sided with the state and U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in support of the rules.

“I live near the St. Johns River in Jacksonville,” Vinyard said in 2013. “That’s where my family recreates. So water quality is a personal issue for me.”

(Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com).

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