Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida

Be Informed.

Politics Before Protection

Nathan Crabbe of the Gainesville Sun has written an editorial Tuesday which shines some light on the dark and shadowy actions of Governor Scott, who continues to pursue his mission of rampant destruction of the water management districts.

The chain of command would seem to be the water management districts, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Governor Scott, the Florida Legislature and the moneyed interests who control the Legislature.  Scott’s actions bolster this theory, as he continues to remove good people from important positions.

The Santa Fe River basin lies partially in the St. Johns water district.  The Governing Board there on Tuesday all but agreed to hire Dr. Ann Shortelle, current Director of the Suwannee River district,  as their new Director.  Could it be that Mr. Scott has ordered them to do that?  One can only guess as to the Governor’s plan, but Dr. Shortelle will certainly slip easily into the cogs of the machinery at St. Johns and be a tremendous asset there, while the somewhat roughshod Suwannee River district will suffer her absence.

Some speculation exists that Scott’s plans may call for consolidation, following the lead of the Central Florida Water Initiative, which he may wish to expand.  Dr. Shortelle, working smoothly with two large districts, would serve his purpose well.

On Tuesday this writer stood before the St. Johns water board and stated the following:  “It is my belief that these firings were political in nature and reflect a dangerous trend of our Governor and Department of Environmental Protection to put politics before protection of our resources.”  It would seem that Mr. Crabbe has written about the same thing:

Editorial: Political purge

Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 12, 2015 at 4:03 p.m.

The idea that Florida’s water management districts should put science before politics is being washed down the drain.

Gov. Rick Scott is instead stacking the districts with employees who blindly adhere to his political beliefs rather than base decisions on what is best for the environment.

There have been two waves of senior staff departures at the St. Johns River Water Management District since Scott took office in 2011. In the latest round, the district’s executive director and four other key staff members resigned this month.

One of the staff members told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that the resignations were submitted at the request of Jon Steverson, interim secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Former district board member Richard Hamann told the News-Journal that it was part of a pattern by the Scott administration.

“They want to make the districts instrumentalities of DEP, and thus, the governor’s office, and they definitely want them to be reduced in terms of their influence,” said Hamann, an attorney in the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida.

Another former board member, Saundra Gray, called it a “tragedy.

“I just can’t see why the current administration doesn’t seem to realize the tie between good environmental regulation and the economy,” Gray said. “People come to Florida because it’s beautiful and we’ve taken care of it.”

The Scott administration’s actions are part of a larger pattern of failing to protect the environment. The administration has prevented discussion of climate change rather than plan for it, while slashing funding for environmental regulation and land conservation during the governor’s first term.

Floridians showed they rejected this approach though their overwhelming support for Amendment 1, the land and water conservation amendment. But rather than listening to this message, the re-elected governor is doubling down on dubious decisions.

Our region’s depleted and polluted springs show the impact of unchecked pumping and development on the aquifer. In the past, the state’s water districts had too often approved groundwater permits without properly accounting for their long-term cumulative effect.

Scott’s political purge has ensured district staff as well as appointed boards will now be even less likely to turn down permits.

Regulators at the water districts should act as the last line of defense to prevent development that puts the aquifer and our drinking water supply at risk. But the Scott administration has made clear that if they want to keep their jobs, staff members must be loyal to the governor and his political beliefs above all else.

Scott is showing in his second term that he still doesn’t appreciate the connection between good environmental regulation and the economy. If he ever gets it, it may be too late for Florida and its most important environmental resources.

The original article can be seen at this link.  OSFR is grateful to the Sun for permission to reprint their articles in their entirety.

This post has been rendered with LFS

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  1. Consolidation certainly seems a real possibility, given the effort put into creating a North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan that I have always thought will be a way to guarantee that Jacksonville/Duval County can continue siphoning water away from the springs heartland.

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