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DEP says no “critical” funding would force state parks to close

Tue, May 19, 2015

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The view of Panama City Beach from St. Andrews State Park. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

The view of Panama City Beach from St. Andrews State Park. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

By BRUCE RITCHIE

Florida would be forced to close state parks without approval of a new state budget that provides for at least “critical” spending, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP on Monday issued a list of critical funding needs as requested last week by Gov. Rick Scott in advance of a June 1-20 legislative special session.

The Legislature failed to pass a 2015-16 state budget during the regular session that ended May 1 because of a disagreement between House and Senate leaders over health care spending. In response, Scott said his office was preparing a budget that continues funding for “critical programs” only and excludes controversial and divisive issues such as Medicaid expansion or hospital funding.

DEP said without funding for critical services, it would be unable to provide emergency response and cleanups for hazardous materials spills. And permits for construction could not be issued by the department to businesses and individual.

“All future development would halt,” the department said.

And state parks would be shut down, hurting local economies and forcing the cancellation of vacation reservations at the peak of tourism season. There are 161 state parks.

A Scott spokeswoman said the governor’s focus is to keep state government running.

“Governor Scott is glad the Legislature issued a call for a special session and remains cautiously optimistic that we will have a budget that will help our economy grow and create more jobs,” said Jackie Schutz, Scott’s communications director.

In a May 14 memo to agency heads, Scott’s budget director, Cynthia Kelly, identified critical service needs as those including “environmental initiatives consistent with Amendment 1.”

Amendment 1 is the water and land conservation iniative approved by 75 percent of voters last November. It would provide about $740 million for those programs in the 2015-16 state budget.

Will Abberger, chairman of the Florida’s Water & Land Legacy political committee that sponsored Amendment 1, said he agrees with DEP on the importance of the state park system.

“Certainly … we know how important our state park system is — and generally water and land conservation — to Florida’s tourism-based economy,” Abberger said. “There is no doubt about that.”

He is director of conservation finance at the Trust for Public Land.

The agency documents can be viewed at this link. Note that DEP’s submission, on page 25, is not identified as a DEP document but its authenticity was confirmed Tuesday with the governor’s office.

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

Cabinet approves search for DEP secretary and first oyster leases near Pensacola

Tue, May 5, 2015

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By BRUCE RITCHIE
FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

The Florida Cabinet will conduct a nationwide search for the Department of Environmental Protection secretary following the Senate’s refusal to confirm appointments during the 2015 legislative session.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet on Tuesday voted to reappoin DEP Secretary Jon Steverson and Rick Swearingen as director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Both require Cabinet support.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“If you have ideas bring them,” Scott told Cabinet members. “We’ll do this search and then come back at the June 23 Cabinet meeting with the goal that we will have qualified candidates and we’ll make a decision to permanently fill these two roles.”

Scott reappointed Steverson and Swearingen along with another 14 agency chiefs who are not Cabinet appointees and also were not confirmed by the Senate.

The Cabinet on Tuesday also approved the first aquaculture leases in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

Regarding the confirmations, Senate President Andy Gardiner issued a statement on Monday saying that the confirmation process should “be more than a simple rubber stamp.”

“Towards the end of session, I heard from many senators who were not satisfied with some of the answers provided or still had some outstanding questions for several agency heads,” Gardiner said.

On Tuesday, the Cabinet set a May 31 deadline for applications for the DEP and FDLE posts. The search will follow Cabinet governance guidelines adopted earlier this year after the controversial ouster of FDLE Director Gerald Bailey.

Any resumes will be shared among Cabinet members with the goal of filling the positions at the June 23 meeting, Scott said.

Asked through a DEP spokeswoman whether he plans to apply for the permanent position, Steverson didn’t answer directly but said he will respect the process laid out by the Cabinet.

“My focus has not changed, which is to protect Florida’s natural treasures and serve the people of this great state,” Steverson said.

Scott said it would be up to individual Cabinet members to decide whether they want interview applicants individually.

Also Tuesday, the Cabinet approved without comment 10-year leases for floating oyster cultivation in two five-acre parcels in Escambia Bay and East Bay near Pensacola.

Tommy Leggett of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation shows floating oyster used in Virginia waterways. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

Tommy Leggett of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation shows floating oyster used in Virginia waterways. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has determined the leases will not harm sea grass or other sensitive habitats.

Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. LLC, which won the leases, also must get a permit from the U. S. Coast Guard, which reviews the request for factors related to navigation and boater safety, state agriculture officials said.

“This marks the first one in Pensacola Bay — the beginning of the potential new industry in Northwest Florida making the most of our fantastic natural resources,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said.

“It’s new, it’s innovative,” Attorney General Pam Bondi said. “It’s a great way to use waters that aren’t navigable.”

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

Alabama isn’t joining Florida in this water fight with Georgia

Tue, May 5, 2015

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By BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Alabama says it doesn’t need to be involved in a legal fight between Florida and Georgia over water, unlike earlier disputes when Alabama usually fought alongside Florida in cases involving the three states.

Florida filed a lawsuit in 2013 asking the U. S. Supreme Court to allocate water in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers between Florida and Georgia and to cap Georgia’s water use. Florida says Georgia is sucking up more water from the rivers, harming oysters in Apalachicola Bay and the seafood industry there.

10-23-14 ACF damsGeorgia says Florida’s lawsuit should be dismissed because the federal government wasn’t named as a party in the case. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers operates hydropower dams and reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River that regulate water flowing into Florida.

But Georgia’s motion also prompted Ralph I. Lancaster, the court-appointed special master in the case, to question during an April 7 conference call whether Alabama also should be included in the court case. Although lawyers representing Florida and Georgia both said the case could be resolved without Alabama, Lancaster requested that briefs be filed.

Alabama and Florida often were allies in federal litigation after 1990 as they battled the Corps of Engineers in court over operation of its reservoirs and sought to curb Georgia’s water use. But Florida, in its 2013 lawsuit, said it’s dispute is with Georgia and Alabama didn’t need to be involved.

In an amicus curiae brief filed Friday, Alabama’s lawyers wrote that original actions before the Supreme Court, such as Florida’s lawsuit, take considerable time and consume “scarce” state resources.

“The two states that already are parties do not believe that a third needs to take part, and Alabama itself has made the careful decision not to enter this particular fray at this particular time,” Alabama’s lawyers wrote. “It (Alabama) instead is focusing on other fora (forums) where it believes it can protect its interests.”

Alabama’s brief did not say what other forums the state is focusing on. Spokespersons for Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange did not respond to queries requesting details.

Only 15 percent of the area drained by the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers lies within Alabama — and most of the 2.6 million population is in the river basin is in the metro Atlanta area. Florida occupies slightly less of the river basin than Alabama.

But Alabama also says it has made investments in shipping facilities along the Chattahoochee River that depend on water and that decreased water flows also could hurt tourism and recreation on reservoirs. The Farley nuclear plant near Dothan and the MeadWestvaco paper packaging plant along in Cottonton, Ala. and cities along the Chattahoochee River also could be hurt, Alabama said.

“Alabama has substantial interests” in the river basin and reserves its right to get involved later if “Alabama’s relationship to this action is different from what it currently perceives,” the state’s lawyers said.

Alabama’s lawyers also said Florida’s case appears to hinge on whether the federal government must be a party in the case.

In earlier filed Supreme Court documents, Georgia said Florida’s own mismanagement of water allowed oysters to be over-harvested and caused the collapse, although University of Florida scientists disagree.

And Georgia argues that the case cannot proceed because the federal government, as manager of reservoirs and dams that control water flow, is a “required party” that was excluded from Florida from the case.

Florida says it is not seeking minimum flows, rather a cap on Georgia’s water use. Therefore, Florida says, the federal government is not a required party in the case.

(Story and photo 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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