DEP’s Sole defends water bill signed by governor

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole is defending Senate Bill 2080 following harsh criticism of Gov. Charlie Crist for signing the measure.

Environmental groups including Audubon of Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida had called on Crist to veto the bill because it was amended in the waning days of the legislation to direct the chiefs of the state’s five water management districts to approve development and water-use permits without public hearings.

In signing the bill, Crist said he is asking the districts to continue approving permits at public meetings. Even so, the governor was criticized in editorials by the St. Petersburg Times and Orlando Sentinel.

In an opinion column submitted today to the news media, Sole said he told the governor the bill should be signed for the many benefits Sole said it provides to the environment and people of Florida.

They include providing for the use of “Florida-friendly” landscaping, allowing the South Florida Water Management District to compensate local governments that could be affected by the purchase of U.S. Sugar Corp. lands and allowing long-term permits. Environmental groups also have criticized a portion of the bill that allowed 50-year permits for alternative water supply projects.

Sole also wrote that he is committed to preserving the public process throughout the next year.

“I will continue working with the executive directors of the state’s five water management districts to ensure openness and transparency,” Sole said. “In addition, I look forward to working with the 2010 Legislature to develop a process that sustains transparency and stakeholder participation.”