Environmental people needed for boards

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srwmd Sept 19board In: Environmental people needed for boards | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
SRWMD lacks board members. Photo by Jim Tatum.

Politics:  apparently no other reason exists to explain the absence of environmentalists on water management boards.  Don’t expect any reasonable explanation from DeSantis– or don’t expect any answer at all.  This writer has written him twice supporting candidates for the Suwannee River Water Management District Board of Directors and received no acknowledgement either time.

DeSantis is also guilty of neglecting to place sufficient numbers of board members so they can have a quorum.  His spokesperson who once actually replied to a question said something to the effect that the delay was because he was so very careful in choosing good candidates.  This needless inaction has cost the taxpays money when the board members meet for their required monthly meeting and find they cannot conduct business because they have no quorum.

Both Knight and Palmer are highly qualified and likely know as much or more water science than the best water district staff, but what is more important, they recognize the pathetic and declining state of our water resources and are sincere in wanting to protect them.

ADMerrillee In: Environmental people needed for boards | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson

Another applicant equally highly qualified is OSFR’s Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, who, although not a scientist, has spent years defending the rivers and springs traveling all over the state working with agencies, lawmakers and municipalities.  Her experience and knowledge of advocacy for the environment makes her a unique and invaluable candidate for a water management board of directors.

The preponderance of water users with no balancing water protectors reflects the sad state of affairs in Florida where  lobbyists for industry, agriculture and development rule.  Packing water boards with people who have vested interests in water permit distribution also breaches ethics and has resulted in questionable and controversial situations.  The most egregious case was recently in the St. Johns River Water Management District with ex-chair John Miklos, and continues  in the South Florida Water Management District with Ron Bergeron.

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

Wed. Feb. 10, 2021

Environmental people needed for boards

Just five months ago, some of Florida’s water management districts were barely hanging on, their governing boards so decimated that a couple of them couldn’t muster a quorum.

We’re happy to report that all five districts now have enough board members to hold meetings and take votes. Gov. Ron DeSantis went on an appointment tear toward the end of 2020, naming more than a dozen people to positions that wield enormous influence over how Florida protects and uses its water resources. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the boards remain packed with development and agricultural interests. A review of DeSantis’ 33 appointments since he took office shows nearly half were people either in the real estate and development game or who make their living in agriculture or forestry.

Bob Palmer

Those industries often create a demand for water. In many cases they also generate pollution that has a direct impact on water quality. If that’s how the people on district boards make their living, it’s fair to ask what they priorities are. Among the appointments to the St. Johns River Water Management board was Ron Howse, a Cocoa developer whose primary qualification is his generosity to the Friends of Ron DeSantis political committee….  Missing in action, though, are environmentalists with the technical expertise to present arguments that might counter those of developers.

They’re not hard to find. Florida is populated with residents who have made a life’s work of understanding how environmental systems work and what’s needed to ensure those systems continue to function.

symbob In: Environmental people needed for boards | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Bob Knight

One of them, Robert Knight, heads the nonprofit Florida Springs Institute near Gainesville, where experts

study springs and ways to protect them. Knight is a scientist with some four decades of aquatics knowledge in his head.

But when Knight applied for a position on the St. Johns board in 2019, he was passed over. Instead, DeSantis chose Daniel Davis, who ran Jacksonville’s chamber of commerce. Oddly, Davis was never confirmed by the state Senate and stepped down in May.

He was replaced a few months later by attorney Rob Bradley, a powerful former state senator with a poor record on the environment over the last couple of years, according to the Sierra Club.

Robert Palmer was passed over for the St. Johns appointment, too. Palmer serves on the Florida Springs Institute board and his credentials include a doctorate in marine biology and serving more than a decade as staff director for the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Either of them would have brought genuine expertise to the table, particularly about Florida’s springs, which haven’t captured the governor’s imagination in the same way the Everglades has. We’d like to have people like Knight or Palmer at the table when bottled water companies come asking for a permit to use Florida’s spring water. Each of the state’s water districts ought to have at least one member with impeccable environmental credentials. DeSantis still has nine open positions to fill on water boards across Florida — nine chances to do right by Florida’s environment and burnish his green credentials.

Orlando Sentinel

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