In one swoopy signature, Gov. Charlie Crist muddied his environmental and open-government credentials last Tuesday by signing a bill that endangers Florida’s fragile water supply and shuts the public out of crucial growth-management decisions.
Crist can’t claim ignorance. His office received 4,243 e-mails and letters asking for a veto, and only 70 in support of the legislation. And he hinted at a veto for weeks, saying he was “troubled” by provisions that will lead to crucial water-supply decisions being made by executive directors of water-management boards, rather than the districts’ appointed governing boards.
Under the new law, executive directors will have sole authority to negotiate and issue consumptive-use permits, which allocate water usage, and environmental resource permits, which allow destruction of wetlands and pollution of water bodies. The legislation gives the public no recourse to appeal decisions — but allows developers to contest denials. That tilts the balance even further toward irresponsible decisions that strain Florida’s natural resources.
The governor attempted a weak compromise, asking district governing boards to continue putting the permits on their agendas to allow for public comment. But the law specifically prohibits governing boards from “interfering” in permitting decisions. So hearings will be little more than lip service — and Kirby Green, executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District (which covers Volusia and Flagler counties) is playing coy on whether he will comply — telling a reporter he’s “determining how to most effectively address the governor’s request” for public hearings.
Crist correctly points out that the legislation had redeeming features, including protections for people who use low-water native vegetation in defiance of homeowner-association rules that require uniform, emerald-green lawns. But those benefits pale beside the harm this new law could cause. Crist should have vetoed it, and told legislators to pass a clean version of the bill’s other provisions.
This article originally appeared in the “News Journal” online, and is no longer available.