By BRUCE RITCHIE
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).