Controversy Continues With Mr. Miklos

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John Miklos, Chairman of the Governing Board, and Center of Controversy

Mr. Miklos In The Headlines Again

The St. Johns River Water Management District made the papers again.  More specifically, the board chairman Mr. John Miklos, who seems to be continually on the defensive, was the object of criticism.  Water environmentalist Karen Chadwick, given just one minute to speak, bravely questioned his credibilty at a recent district meeting.

Other newspapers have written that Miklos’ business of obtaining water use permits for customers has increased greatly since he became chairman of the governing board.  Even though he may recuse himself from a vote, his status as chairman of the board puts him in a position of power and influence many would consider unfair.

Recent findings suggest, as seen below, that Miklos may have received special treatment from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

At any rate, of late, the SJRWMD continues to operate under a cloud of questions  with no satisfactory answers.

Continue reading here for Kevin Spear’s original in the Orlando Sentinel.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life:  once taken, it cannot be brought back-


Tensions rise over water supply, regional authority

Kevin Spear
Orlando Sentinel, Aug. 11, 2016

When the authority responsible for aquifers, wetlands and rivers of Central and North Florida meets Tuesday in Orlando for the first time in nearly a quarter-century, it will be amid rising distrust for the agency and resurging conflict between the two regions.

Not on the meeting agenda of the St. Johns River Water Management District is North Florida’s fear that Orlando and its neighbors again are maneuvering to pump heavily from the St. Johns River, which flows north and is Jacksonville’s defining feature.

Tied to that concern is environmentalists’ sting over a recent district decision to let a ranch pump aquifer water from near the revered and ailing Silver Springs. Their resentment has centered on John Miklos of Orlando, the agency’s chairman who also is a private consultant for developers.

“He didn’t give a damn what we said,” said Karen Ahlers, a member of Putnam County Environmental Council, a grass-roots group that bore costs of fighting the ranch permit. “He was so dismissive of the people who were there. ”

Miklos said Monday that any perception his private business inappropriately affects his public role is “unfounded and without merit.”

Asked to comment about criticism toward the district coupled with tensions over river water, agency spokesman Hank Largin said, “As always, the district’s governing board welcomes citizen input.”

John Miklos

(St. Johns River Water Management District)

The gathering in City Hall of the district board, which has met nearly exclusively 100 miles away in remote Palatka, is meant to bolster relations with the biggest metro area under its far-reaching control.

Of overriding concern in Central Florida is that its water source, the Floridan Aquifer, doesn’t have enough for predicted population growth.

The St. Johns district and the South and Southwest Florida districts have met with utilities for several years as part of in the Central Florida Water Initiative.

That project’s recent conclusions include one that already has triggered a water war between Central and North Florida: The St. Johns River must be a source of water.

Many Central Floridians may not know the river flows through the region. In North Florida, the river draws more awareness, as does Central Florida’s thirst for it.

“We’ve been blatantly ignored,” said Lisa Rinaman of Jacksonville-based St. Johns Riverkeeper, protesting that the Central Florida Water Initiative outreach largely skipped her region. “We will vigorously oppose river withdrawals.”

Also unfolding is an objection by the Putnam County Environmental Council over use of public money to pump from the river.

A state appeals court has ordered the governor and Cabinet to consider the objection, which is being fought by Central Florida utilities “trying to lock down availability of that water,” council lawyer John Thomas said.

Along with tensions over river water is environmentalists’ suspicions that development interests are driving decisions at the district.

Under Gov. Rick Scott, the agency’s nine-member board no longer includes any who are active in environmental groups, breaking with decades of tradition.

At the contentious district meeting last month, an environmentalist stood to question Miklos’ credibility, something rarely heard at meetings.

Karen Chadwick said then, and elaborated on last week, that she is concerned Miklos would use his public role to the advantage of his clients in the development industry.

She cited the section of the website of his company, Bio-Tech Consulting Inc., that states “we have cultivated strong working relationships” with environmental agencies.

Miklos responded in an email last week: “I don’t believe being on the board in any capacity provides me with any unfair access to anyone.”

A glimpse at Miklos’ relationships with environmental agencies emerged from an investigation into the cutting down of an eagle’s nest in 2012 on development property near Vero Beach.

Bio-Tech had obtained a state permit to remove a tree with an osprey nest, which turned out to be an eagle nest.

Redacted records from the investigation, which brought no prosecution, include a comment that there was “financial connection between Bio-Tech and chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.” Federal authorities declined to address the remark’s source or significance.

Kenneth Wright, the chairman then of the state wildlife commission, had joined with Miklos in 2010 to form Gulf Mitigation Solutions Inc. In May 2014, they formed China Grove LLC, according to state records.

At the water district since 2010, Miklos said the first company has never been active, and the second is for a “small hunting property in Polk County.”

Other board members have professions that overlap district matters.

Carla Vetter is vice president with Rayonier, which has a pulp mill in Fernandina Beach. Its water permit, among the district’s largest, expires this year.

Board member Chuck Drake is an Orlando vice president with Tetra Tech, an engineering firm that seeks permits for water utilities.

Board members must declare conflicts of interest in votes tied to their private pursuits, but lawmakers revamped the district in 2009 so only the biggest permits go to the board and the rest to the executive director.

As chairman, Miklos interacts regularly with the executive director, Ann Shortelle, who was hired this summer with prinicipal backing from Miklos.

Though Miklos as a consultant has regularly signed permit application documents reviewed by staff, Miklos said he does not seek to influence permit outcomes. But there is no provision that says he can’t.

“I am not aware of any rules, policies, laws or opinions that prohibit a board member from discussing with staff a permit or other matter of district business that is related to that board member’s private business matters,” district lawyer Bill Congdon said.

[email protected], 407-420-5062 or facebook.com/envirospear

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