101001-1 EPA chief averts order to testify on Everglades
Miami Herald - by CURTIS MORGAN
October 1, 2010
Under an appellate ruling, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson won't have to appear in federal court on Everglades issues despite a Miami judge's order.
It appears a Miami federal judge won't get a chance to grill a top federal environmental chief on expanding pollution problems in the Everglades.
An appeals court in Atlanta on Thursday granted a request from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow the agency to send an aide to testify instead of forcing administrator Lisa Jackson to appear in person before U.S. District County Judge Alan Gold next week.
A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a brief decision letting Jackson off the hook, citing the time crunch before the Oct. 7 hearing but retaining jurisdiction to rule on the judge's authority to compel a high-ranking federal executive to appear in court.
Gold had demanded that the EPA chief and the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection both show up in his courtroom to explain in person how they are going to end the ``glacial delay'' in cleaning up the Everglades.
The ruling followed up a 48-page order that found state lawmakers and water managers had crafted ``incomprehensible'' rules and loopholes pushing back a 2006 cleanup deadline by a decade and that the EPA erred in approving watered-down standards.
But last month, EPA attorneys asked to instead send an assistant who worked on Everglades water quality issues, arguing that schedule demands, including travel to Asia as part of an official government delegation beginning Oct. 8, would create a hardship for Jackson to prepare for and attend the hearing.
The judge rejected the request, a decision the EPA appealed.
The judicial panel gave the parties that originally sued the agencies, the Friends of the Everglades and Miccosukee Tribe, until Monday to respond to the decision. It also invited Gold to respond.
Paul Schwiep, an attorney for the environmental group, said he would file a response supporting the judge's authority to get answers directly from Jackson, ``given the EPA's history of failing to enforce the Clean Water Act.''
Earlier this month, the EPA filed a report requested by Gold calling for a 42,000-acre expansion of the state's existing network of reservoirs and pollution treatment marshes -- projects that could cost taxpayers billions of dollars -- and endorsing Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. The proposal would again push back deadlines to meet the standard for levels of phosphorus, a fertilizer ingredient that flows from farms, ranches and yards and can poison native marsh plants.
101001-2 Two views on Everglades cleanup: EPA oversteps rights, making Floridians pay
Orlando Sentinel – by Tom Feeney, Guest Columnist
October 1, 2010
The primary author of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison, described the wonders of our brilliant federalist system as follows: "The powers delegated by the … Constitution are few and defined," while "[t]hose which remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite."
Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a regulation to the state of Florida, imposing billions of dollars in unfunded federal mandates and greatly overstepping the powers delegated to the EPA by Congress. The EPA also ordered the Florida Legislature to rewrite existing state law to conform it to the EPA's determination, trampling on the rights of the state and the separation of powers embodied in the U.S. Constitution.
With no legislative basis — federal or state — the EPA ordered the state to acquire tens of thousands of acres of land and build up to $6 billion in infrastructure under the guise of water-quality compliance. Even if the state were able to pay this incredible price tag, the plan is technically unachievable and will leave the state out of compliance on day 1 and subject to daily federal fines and continuing litigation.
The EPA order was issued in response to a federal court order by Judge Alan Gold that is being appealed in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the state has argued that Judge Gold reached beyond his power under federal law. Not waiting for a decision from the higher courts, the EPA used Gold's order to reconfigure and heighten its role in environmental restoration in general, and Everglades restoration in particular.
In the context of a routine review of changes to state regulations under the Clean Water Act, which allows the EPA only to review and approve or reject regulatory changes, the agency went far beyond its powers and trampled on the constitutional principles of federalism. The EPA also violated its partnership with the state in Everglades-restoration efforts and mandated spending state tax money, going so far as to dictate specific projects, over which it has no authority, with no concern for how the projects would be funded.
Under this new edict, the EPA will micromanage the state's issuance of permits, the state's acquisition of land and its construction of projects, all at the expense of Florida taxpayers. The EPA's order mandates the state construct more than 42,000 acres of projects costing between $2 billion and $6 billion; complete a controversial purchase of land from U.S. Sugar Corp., costing another $200 million; and acquire an additional 7,500 to 16,000 acres of land, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars more.
The order violates the EPA's existing court-approved requirements and replaces them with draconian regulatory requirements that will mean billions, if not tens of billions, of additional dollars of Florida taxpayer expense. This is above and beyond the $2 billion to $6 billion in direct costs from the EPA's mandated projects.
The EPA order not only violates the existing state-federal Everglades restoration agreement, but destroys the constitutional balance between the roles of the state and federal governments. Unaccountable EPA bureaucrats, with the support of a federal judge, have engaged in a hostile takeover of state permitting, dictated project construction, required the taking of private land and ordered the Legislature to make changes to state statutes.
This attack on the state's role will punish all Florida taxpayers and opens the door for the federal government to micromanage every drop of water in our state. For instance, the EPA hopes to impose nutrient standards unique to Florida, which would require hundreds of thousands of homeowners to replace existing septic tanks. Additional requirements on Florida's small businesses would limit economic growth and decrease job opportunities.
Federal bureaucrats, with no responsibility for the cost or the economic and social impacts of their decisions, have effectively directed the state to use its taxing power on actions in which the federal government shares no portion of the cost, all with no supporting federal law or constitutional authority. Tom Feeney, formerly speaker of the Florida House and a U.S. congressman, is the manager of Liberty Team LLC, a consulting firm that represents Florida Crystals.
101001-3 Two Views on Everglades cleanup: Foot-dragging over, EPA finally does its job
October 1, 2010
At last, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken the necessary steps to save the Everglades. In a clear and direct response to a federal judge's order, EPA has ended decades of foot-dragging.
It is instructive that decisive action to save the Everglades has come about only as a result of two decades of litigation. Not one, but two federal judges' rulings have been necessary to obtain life-saving action for the ecosystem.
The state of Florida was sued in 1988 by the Department of Interior. That lawsuit resulted because the sugar industry's lobbyists prevented the state's pollution-control agency from stopping sugar-cane growers' dumping highly polluted water into canals leading to Everglades National Park and the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. The thick soup of agricultural runoff was causing marshland within the park and refuge to choke with dense growths of cattails and abnormal algae.
Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles wisely responded to the rulings of U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, and settled the first lawsuit. The 1994 Legislature passed the Everglades Forever Act, which put the terms of the settlement agreement in state law. It directed the construction of tens of thousands of acres of stormwater-treatment areas to clean runoff water. It required that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection set a numerical phosphorus standard for the Everglades by 2003, with enforcement by 2006.
But just as the new phosphorus standard was about to go into effect, Big Sugar struck again. In 2003, more than 40 sugar-industry lobbyists descended on Tallahassee, and euchred the Florida Legislature into devastating amendments to Florida's water-quality law. The date for enforcing the phosphorus standard in the Everglades was effectively put off for 20 years. And, when the phosphorus standard did finally take effect, the law that sugar lobbyists wrote diluted it with moderating provisions, allowing pollution to continue.
While the EPA is required by the federal Clean Water Act to veto such changes to state water-quality standards, the EPA was cowed by the same mob of sugar-industry lobbyists and took a pass, declining to do its job.
Enter federal judge No. 2. A lawsuit brought by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and environmental groups challenged the EPA's inaction. U.S. District Judge Alan Gold ruled that the 2003 legislative maneuver constituted an egregious violation of the most basic requirements of the federal Clean Water Act. He ordered that the Environmental Protection Agency redo its evaluation of the shenanigans sugar lobbyists had managed to pull off through their legislative gamesmanship.
In response to Judge Gold, the EPA's "amended determination" issued on Sept. 3 provides clear guidelines and milestones to assure Florida will save the Everglades.
EPA has clarified the need for construction of treatment areas necessary to meet the standard — an additional 42,000 acres — and has identified the most easily utilized lands for these facilities: property the state already owns, or has already committed to buy. Also, EPA has wisely offered Florida the opportunity to submit an alternative plan in which the state could reduce the number of acres of treatment area that would have to be constructed at public expense — by ordering the polluting sugar industry to spend its own money to clean up phosphorus on its own land.
However, the fight for the life of the Everglades is not over. The same gang of Big Sugar lobbyists and their cronies are about to jump into action again. Look for them to howl about "mandates from Washington" and how it will cost Florida taxpayers too much to comply.
But the truth is that the harmful "mandates" Florida has followed for far too long are those issued in the form of demands from sugar-industry lobbyists.
Florida should just stop listening to the sugar lobbyists, and enforce the law. If Florida's political leaders had done that two decades ago, the Everglades would be cleaned up today, and the costs, much lower. Charles Lee is director of advocacy for Audubon of Florida.
100930-1 EPA delays new Florida water pollution rules after opposition by Nelson, LeMieux
TampaBay.com – St. Petersburg Times - by Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Florida's two U.S. senators may be in different parties, but they have found something they agree on. They both oppose strict new water pollution standards that the Environmental Protection Agency was supposed to impose on Florida starting in two weeks.
In fact, Republican Sen. George LeMieux and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson are so opposed to the pollution cleanup that on Wednesday night they tried to cut the EPA's funding for enforcing the new rules. A procedural move by another senator blocked them.
"This is a lawsuit-driven mandate without a sound scientific basis, and the result will be unnecessarily catastrophic for Florida," LeMieux said afterward. "The EPA's actions threaten Florida's economy and is unlikely to provide little, if any biological benefit compared to its estimated cost."
In the face of such opposition, EPA officials announced Wednesday that they would push back the effective date of the new pollution rules by a month, to Nov. 14.
To delay even that much, the agency had to get the agreement of the environmental groups that had sued the EPA to force a cleanup of nutrient pollution that they say should have begun a decade ago.
Nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen flow into waterways from fertilized lawns, golf courses, leaking septic tanks, cattle pastures and malfunctioning sewer plants. They feed the increase in toxic algae blooms that kill fish and cause respiratory problems and infections among swimmers, boaters and beachgoers.
Yet the state's rules for how much nitrogen and phosphorous are allowed in Florida's waterways are only vague guidelines that are easily bypassed, environmental activists contend. The EPA told all states in 1998 to set limits on nutrient pollution, and warned it would do it for them if no action was taken by 2004 — but then 2004 passed with no action.
So a coalition of groups that included the Sierra Club and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida sued the EPA, arguing it had failed to enforce the Clean Water Act. Last year the agency settled.
Under the settlement, the EPA had until Jan. 14 to propose the new pollution limit for Florida's lakes, rivers and creeks and then this month to finalize those rules. The agency then has until January 2011 to propose a limit for the state's coastal and estuarine waters, with a deadline of October 2011 to finalize those rules.
The proposed regulations drew 22,000 comments, including reactions from such industries as agriculture, pulp and paper manufacturers and sewer plant operators, all of whom contend it will cost too much to comply. The list of opponents includes such politically powerful groups as Associated Industries of Florida, as well as 21 of the state's 25 congressional representatives.
"These rules will impact a lot of Florida's businesses — not just the black hats," Nelson's press secretary, Dan McLaughlin, said. If the EPA pushes ahead anyway, he said, Nelson fears that "everybody will just end up back in court in a knife fight that'll drag on endlessly."
That's why Nelson backed LeMieux's attempt to prevent the EPA from spending any money on the rules through December, he said. But one of the environmental activists who sued the EPA saw it a different way.
"This is just another pork barrel earmark meant to bail out polluters," said Andrew McElwaine of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. "We shouldn't be weakening water standards after the BP disaster."
The legislation LeMieux and Nelson co-sponsored was an amendment to a resolution to keep the government running through December. It promised to "prohibit the use of funds to finalize, promulgate, implement, administer, or enforce any final rule or requirement based on the proposed rule entitled 'Water Quality Standards for the State of Florida's Lakes and Flowing Waters.' "
However, the amendment could be added only with unanimous consent, and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, objected, killing the measure.
EPA officials said they will use the additional month looking through the 22,000 comments "to review and confirm that all comments have been fully considered."
100930-2 EPA postpones decision on Florida water nutrient rules
September 30, 2010
9:34 A.M. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has postponed a decision on its proposed Florida Inland Water numeric nutrients rule from Oct. 15 to Nov. 14.
Nutrients are part of the aquatic environment, but excess nutrients cause massive algal blooms, which can smother aquatic vegetation and deplete the water of oxygen.
Some algae are toxic and can be harmful to wildlife and humans.
EPA's numeric standards define specific concentrations of nutrients that would be allowed to flow into a water body.
The proposed rule is a response to a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups.
The agricultural industry is opposed to the rule because it would reduce the use of fertilizers, which would limit production.
100929-1 Judge slaps Army Corps over wetlands rules
South Florida Business Journal - by Paul Brinkmann and Susan R. Miller
Miami federal judge has put the brakes on an attempt by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand its federal powers under the Clean Water Act.
The ruling, which came Tuesday, slaps a temporary injunction on the Corps’ attempts to regulate 53 million acres of former croplands in the Everglades and elsewhere.
U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore said in his ruling that the Corps had attempted to change key rules regarding wetlands regulations without proper public notice.
Moore sided with New Hope Power Co. and Okeelanta Corp., subsidiaries of Florida Crystals Corp., which argued that the Corps had improperly extended its powers by attempting to enact new legislative rules without following proper procedure, including having a public notice period. Moore’s ruling denied the Army Corps’ argument that the rule change was only a change in policy that didn’t require public notice.
The ruling came in a narrow case over New Hope’s plans for a new landfill that would dispose of ash from its power generation plant in Okeelanta. But, it could have broader implications.
As the South Florida Business Journal reported last month, sugar companies, homebuilders and the American Farm Bureau Federation are suing the Army Corps over its recent change in policy, which makes it more difficult to build on former croplands in the Everglades and other wetlands.
Florida Crystals praised the ruling.
“This is a great victory for Florida against the federal government’s continued attempts to impose burdensome barriers to economic development in these trying times,” VP Gaston Cantens said in a news release.
Environmental groups have sided with the Army Corps in the case.
Attempts to reach a Corps representative Wednesday were not immediately successful.
At stake is the status of development rights on more than 53 million acres of prior converted croplands in wetlands nationwide, a large portion of which are in the Everglades sugar and citrus regions.
Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps has jurisdiction over navigable waters, including wetlands. But, according to current law, "prior converted croplands" are exempt from the Corps’ jurisdiction, because they were lawfully “converted” prior to the enactment of the CWA.
In January 2009, the Corps announced it would regulate these lands. No notice or comment period accompanied the announcement.
New Hope Power Co. initiated the lawsuit because it has plans to eliminate the long-distance hauling of ash by developing the landfill that would accept only ash, or burned sugar waste, on land adjacent to its renewable power plant. The company claims it is spending $1.4 million a year on hauling ash. Click here to see the ruling.
100929-2 Tribe Loses Challenges to Everglades Bridge
Courthouse News Service
September 29, 2010
(CN) - A Florida tribe lost its bid to block construction of a mile-long bridge to replace the Tamiami Trail, also called U.S. Highway 41, as part of a federal effort to improve water flow in the Everglades.
The 11th Circuit said it lacked jurisdiction to review the government's plans, citing language in a 2009 spending bill that partially repealed the environmental laws invoked by the Miccosukee Tribe.
The tribe had filed two lawsuits against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the planned bridge. The first accused the Corps of violating the National Environmental Policy Act by not considering all the environmental impacts, including the possibility that the higher water levels would flood tribal lands and tree islands.
The second lawsuit invoked the Endangered Species Act, arguing that the Corps failed to address the bridge's impact on two endangered wood stork colonies.
The Corps moved to dismiss the NEPA lawsuit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, as Congress had approved the bridge project in its September 2008 spending bill.
However, a federal judge ruled that the appropriations bill was not specific enough to exempt the government from NEPA requirements, because it neither mentioned the Act nor included the key phrase "notwithstanding any other provision of law," which typically indicates an exemption or limited repeal.
In March 2009, Congress passed another spending bill, the Omnibus Appropriations Act, which again set aside money for the bridge, but also included the key phrase missing in the first bill.
The federal judge then dissolved its preliminary injunction, saying the new bill was an "explicit exemption" from the environmental laws invoked by the Miccosukee Tribe.
The Corps filed a copy of this ruling with the judge presiding over the Endangered Species Act lawsuit, resulting in a similar dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
The Atlanta-based federal appeals court affirmed both dismissals.
"The simplest reading of this plain language is that Congress wanted the bridge built now," Judge Charles Wilson wrote, referring to the text of the Omnibus Act.
"Congress sought to facilitate his goal by repealing the environmental laws that it had previously passed," he wrote. "Allowing further administrative challenges to the bridge under those environmental laws, more than two decades after Congress passed legislation seeking to improve water flows in the Everglades, would further delay the speedy completion of the bridge and frustrate Congress's clear intent."
100928-1 EPA flags 2 contaminated sites in Seminole County
Orlando Sentinel - by Kevin Spear
September 28, 2010
Two business properties in Central Florida, both in Seminole County, were placed Monday on the federal government's list of the nation's most dangerously polluted sites.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it added to its Superfund cleanup program a longtime dry cleaners in a historic part of downtown Sanford and an industrial property near Longwood once used by General Dynamics Corp. and other companies. Toxic industrial chemicals have found their way underground at both locations, though they pose no immediate health risks, officials in the EPA's Atlanta office said.
Central Florida has relatively few properties listed as Superfund sites, a designation many communities seek to avoid because it tends to lower nearby property values or harm a neighborhood's reputation.
Of the 51 other sites in Florida, one is in Orlando, two are in unincorporated Orange County, one is in south Lake County, one is in Volusia County and two are in south Brevard County.
EPA officials said the agency is generally willing to work with local or state agencies on cleanup options that don't necessarily include a formal Superfund designation. And Florida's environmental authorities have tackled many hazardous-waste problems that might otherwise have found their way to the federal list.
But according to Tom Lubozynski, a state Department of Environmental Protection administrator for hazardous-waste cleanups in the Orlando region, both the Sanford and Longwood sites proved difficult to handle from the standpoint of getting property owners to pay for cleanup work with the potential to cost millions of dollars.
"We could not find a responsible party and we did not want that site to linger," Lubozynski said in reference to the Sanford property. "For General Dynamics Longwood, we turned that property over to EPA because the responsible party was not responsive to us."
Bob Tunis, Sanford's economic-development director, said his city is happy to move forward with the Superfund listing so that part of downtown can be redeveloped.
Sanford took ownership of part of the contaminated site — on Palmetto Avenue a few blocks south of Lake Monroe — through code-enforcement proceedings tied to a deteriorating building. The other portion belongs to Metro Orlando Affordable Housing, a nonprofit group that rebuilds homes for low-income residents.
"We're happy about it, because it looks like we can get it cleaned up," Tunis said. "It looks like it can be done relatively quickly."
Dry-cleaning businesses operated at the Sanford location from the 1940s through the early part of this decade. According to a state DEP document, "The long period of operation and the multiple owners and operators make it difficult to identify a responsible party."
The ground there is contaminated with the toxic cleaning solvents tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, and trichloroethylene, or TCE. The cancer-causing chemicals are heavier than water and can sink through underground aquifers to eventually taint the deeper Floridan Aquifer — the region's primary source of drinking water.
In Longwood, state officials had been negotiating with General Dynamics, which operated the industrial site there from mid-1960s to the early 1980s. TCE contamination on the property, which fronts U.S. Highways 17-92 between State Roads 434 and 419, is complicated by the presence of solvents from an adjoining Sprague Electric Corp. factory that closed in 1992.
That property was taken over by the EPA in 2003 as a "Superfund Alternative Site," an approach used by the agency in recent years this is similar to but less forceful than the formal Superfund designation.
EPA project managers for the Sanford and Longwood sites said Monday that in-depth investigations of the properties must be conducted before any estimate of the cleanup costs can be made.
100928-2 Fla. set to donate nearly 30,000 acres to feds
The Associated Press
September 28, 2010
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The state is set to donate nearly 30,000 acres in South Florida to the federal government for the Big Cypress National Preserve.
The deal is on the agenda Tuesday for approval by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet.
It also calls for the federal government to pay the state $4 million because Florida is providing more than its 20 percent share of the joint land acquisition project.
The Big Cypress borders the Everglades and is essential to its health.
Florida has spent $19 million and the National Park Service $56 million for a combined $75 million.
Crist and the Cabinet also are considering the addition of four projects to the priority list for the Florida Forever land-buying program.
100928-3 Fla. delays giving nearly 30,000 acres to feds
Associated Press - by BILL KACZOR, Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A proposal to donate nearly 30,000 acres of state land to the Big Cypress National Preserve hit a snag Tuesday over fears the federal government may ban such activities as hunting, invasive species eradication and the use of mechanical firefighting equipment.
Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet delayed action because the National Park Service hasn't completed a plan covering such management issues. The Big Cypress, covering 720,000 acres of South Florida swampland, borders the Everglades and is essential to its health.
"We're losing more and more land in Florida for public access, for public hunting," said Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson. "We should know what's going to happen with this land, who's going to have access, who's not."
Bronson also said he's worried a federal wilderness designation would prevent removal of diseased trees and allow the buildup of vegetation that could fuel wildfires.
If invasive species eradication is banned, the Big Cypress would wind up preserving the ecology of Asia and Central and South America rather than Florida, Bronson said.
Some of the exotic plant species that have invaded Florida are cogon grass, Brazilian pepper, Melaleuca trees, Australian pine and the ubiquitous kudzu. The foreign fauna include Burmese pythons, fire ants, European starlings, Asian swap eels and walking catfish.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mimi Drew she was unsure when the plan would be completed and said she didn't know what will be in it due to federal confidentiality requirements.
Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said delaying the donation may "inspire them to get off their heinies" and complete the plan.
"If they want to do it, they can do this," Attorney General Bill McCollum said.
A pair of environmentalists urged the panel to approve the deal.
"Wilderness areas will allow hunting as well as fishing and the National Park Service is very committed to wildlife management in those areas," said Julie Wraithmell, wildlife policy coordinator for Audubon of Florida. "It's been a long time coming and it really is in the best interest of Florida, both ecologically and financially."
Wraithmell and Andy McLeod, director of government affairs for The Nature Conservancy, noted the deal also requires the federal government to pay the state $4 million that could be used to protect more environmentally valuable land or further Everglades restoration.
The payment is due because the state is providing more than its 20 percent share of the joint land acquisition project. Florida has spent $19 million and the National Park Service $56 million for a combined $75 million.
Wraithmell said Florida hasn't been managing the land and as a result there's been trespassing and dumping, which the state may be required to clean up.
In other action, Crist and the Cabinet approved a new five-year plan for the state's environmental land-buying program.
The plan adds five new projects to the Florida Forever priority list: the Peace River Refuge, 3,855 acres, and the Peaceful Horse Ranch, 4,414 acres, both in DeSoto County; Suwannee County Preservation, 1,449 acres; and Wolfe Creek Forest, 10,645 acres in Santa Rosa County.
100928-4 Mimi Drew Appointed Secretary Of Florida DEP
Source: Governor of Florida
September 28, 2010
Governor Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet today unanimously voted to approve Mimi A. Drew as Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“Secretary Drew has more than 30 years of technical, supervisory, and administrative experience with Florida environmental issues,” said Governor Crist. “She is a proven leader, and I am confident she will continue to serve the people of Florida responsibly and with integrity.”
Drew has served as Interim Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection since September 10, 2010.
Previously, she served as the agency’s deputy secretary of regulatory programs beginning in 2007, and as director of the division of water resource management beginning in January 1995.
Drew received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, as well as a master’s degree in environmental engineering and sciences.
“I am honored to serve as Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” said DEP Secretary Mimi Drew. “I am committed to ensuring Florida’s dynamic natural resources, state lands, waterbodies and beaches are protected and continue to rank among the most beautiful natural treasures in the world.”
The Department of Environmental Protection is the lead agency in state government for environmental management and stewardship and is one of the more diverse agencies in state government, protecting our air, water, and land.
The Department is divided into three primary areas: Regulatory Programs, Land and Recreation and Planning and Management.
Florida’s environmental priorities include restoring America’s Everglades, improving air quality, restoring and protecting the water quality in our springs, lakes, rivers and coastal waters, conserving environmentally-sensitive lands and providing citizens and visitors with recreational opportunities, now and in the future.
Topics: 2010, air quality, BP Oil Spill, clean energy, coastal waters, conservation, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, DEP, Department of Environmental Protection, environment, Everglades, Florida, Governance, government, Governor Charlie Crist, lakes, land, management, Mike Sole, Mimi A. Drew, moniter, monitor, news, oil spill response, planning, politics, recreation, regulatory programs, renewable energy, rivers, society, springs, U.S., United States, water quality
100927-1 Foot-dragging over the Everglades
September 27, 2010
OUR OPINION: Court's impatience with EPA is well-grounded
Last week's order by Federal District Judge Alan S. Gold directing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to show up in his Miami courtroom -- or else -- is one more in a long series of attempts by frustrated South Florida jurists to make the government comply with its responsibility to clean up the Everglades.
Bravo, Your Honor -- and good luck with that.
``The defendants (Ms. Jackson and two other environmental officials) are hereby placed on notice that failure to comply with the terms of this Order will not be tolerated,'' the judge declared.
Ms. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, would be wise to heed the order. Judge Gold clearly means business and has every reason to be upset and impatient with government foot-dragging in Everglades litigation.
This particular Everglades lawsuit -- there are others pending -- was filed more than five years ago. It's been moving forward at a snail's pace, thanks to government lethargy and stalling tactics.
Judge wants explanation
Frustrated with the persistent delays, the judge on April 14 ordered the officials to appear in his courtroom to explain why the legally mandated standard on water quality of the Everglades has not been met.
That was more than five months ago, yet last week Ms. Jackson said she couldn't be present because she's on a very important mission to Asia that starts on Oct. 8 and just can't make the time. The court was not impressed. Neither are we.
Judge Gold was at pains to point out ``the significant nature of the issues in this case'' and the failure of Ms. Jackson and other named bureaucrats to make ``any showing of a matter of national importance, issue, or great significance to preclude'' their attendance.
Ms. Jackson, through the government's lawyers, offered to send an aide. But Judge Gold rightly noted that as EPA director she is a named party to the lawsuit and the court has a right to pose direct questions to her and the others about whether their strategies for meeting water purity standards ``are a sincere commitment or merely an empty shell.''
That gets to the heart of the matter.
A complaint by Friends of the Everglades and others filed years ago accused the EPA (under a previous administrator) of acting ``arbitrarily and capriciously'' in failing to comply with federal water quality standards for the Everglades.
No activist court
In July 2008, Judge Gold entered a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, but not until last month did the EPA file a plan that might meet the court's mandate for ``an enforceable framework for ensuring compliance.''
Hence, the court's impatience.
Judge Gold is no activist judge. He has a well-deserved reputation as a top-flight, even-tempered, thoughtful jurist. And he's been patient enough already.
Indeed, he pointedly noted in his previous order that he was reserving his right to use the court's contempt powers if officials don't comply. Ms. Jackson is tempting fate if she fails to appear.
100927-2 Sen. Nelson joins effort to convince EPA to delay Florida water quality standards
The Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
September 27, 2010
Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has long portrayed himself as a friend to the ailing St. Johns River. He even made a point to visit portions of the river affected by a mysterious foam that materialized this past summer.
But on Sept. 16, Nelson appeared to side with industry, writing a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging a delay in finalizing the criteria that would affect the lower St. Johns, in order to allow “ample time to fully consider” public comments.
St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon hosted Nelson during a July boat trip to examine the foam, which has been spotted in various portions of the river. In some places, the foam is several inches thick. In an interview with The Florida Times-Union, Nelson appeared concerned, saying, “You can tell something’s not right. … That’s not a natural phenomenon.”
But Nelson’s concern regarding the St. Johns wasn’t enough to keep him from penning a letter urging the EPA to delay finalizing a set of stricter standards to govern the pollution that makes its way into Florida waters. Armingeon says that he is “disappointed” in Sen. Nelson, and that the St. Johns River needs all the help it can get.
Nelson’s letter came just days after a similar letter to House and Senate leaders, signed by representatives from a host of Florida industries, including the Florida Cattleman’s Association, Gulf Citrus Growers Association and Southeast Milk. The industries would likely be subject to harsher rules and regulations regarding their effluent waste once the EPA’s numeric nutrient standards go into effect.
The standards would vary according to the waterbody they govern, but parts could be finalized as early as next month, should the delay tactics be ineffective. The rules affecting coastal waters and estuaries (including the Lower St. Johns, which was recently affected by algal blooms, massive fish kills and foam) is slated to be finalized in October 2011.
In a Sept. 20 press release, national agricultural industry leaders announced that they had penned a similar letter (.pdf) to EPA administrator Jackson, saying that they were ”profoundly concerned” with the numeric nutrient criteria policies currently being implemented in Florida. From that letter: It is apparent that EPA’s development of [a numeric nutrient criteria] in Florida will establish a template for how NNC should be structured nationwide. The work underway in Florida is a result of a settlement agreement with activists, which is not only highly problematic but also raises fundamental questions of fairness and transparency, and effectively undermines the rights of the regulated community to customary, open proceedings.
We strongly urge EPA to:
Delay further NNC policymaking until it has engaged with all relevant stakeholders in a thorough and transparent review of the strategic direction of NNC policies.
Revisit and update the 1998 “National Strategy for the Development of Regional Nutrient Criteria” (National Strategy).
Not finish the NNC for Florida’s lakes and streams this fall and instead work on those in concert with the NNC that EPA is planning to finalize in August 2012 for all other Florida waters – and in the process answer the numerous and significant scientific, economic and policy questions about these NNC in an open and transparent manner.
Reject policymaking by settlement agreement, with its inherent opaqueness and the distrust that creates.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is currently working toward meeting the EPA’s nutrient criteria deadline, but, if recent comments by department head Mimi Drew is any indication, a delay may be on the horizon. In a weekend interview with The Florida Times-Union, Drew (who was appointed as FDEP Secretary by Gov. Charlie Crist on Sept. 14) said that working under an EPA consent decree doesn’t offer her Department a lot of flexibility, but that they are trying to figure out how to best adopt the criteria: Even if they have to come out with a standard, I’ve asked them to consider a delay in implementation because I believe if they get adopted by EPA, Florida is going to be left in a really difficult situation. Because by law, we cannot implement federal standards without doing our own administrative process. … It leaves us in an awkward position where we can’t implement the federal standard immediately. …
I’ve also been meeting with the stakeholders to try to explain that when it happens, there’s not an instantaneous need to meet the standard. We’re going to work hard to figure out a time-frame to come into compliance. …
It’s still going to be an impact that’s going to cost money. But as I said before … Florida was moving down a path to have numeric nutrient criteria. We’re moving down a path to clean up impaired waters. It’s just a matter of the scale and the schedule, I think.
Drew seemed slightly tougher on industry when asked about another problem affecting the St. Johns — the construction of a pipeline to reroute waste produced by a Georgia Pacific mill from Rice Creek to the St. Johns:
Rice Creek, I think, is in trouble and we need to deal with that in some way. We have some really tough decisions to make in Florida related to permitting industrial facilities. The state has really grown up around industrial facilities that have been there for a long time, including pulp and paper mills. … We have a handful of them in Florida. They’re usually located on water, they’re usually located in the middle of nowhere until a city comes along and builds up to them. And they employ a lot of people. And so we have this balance issue we have to strike. …We want to protect, preserve, enhance, but we also want to have a place for people to work.
Read in full or download Nelson’s letter:
100924-1 Everglades restoration 'slow': Report
September 24, 2010
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Decades-long restoration efforts in Florida's Everglades remain slow and may bring "trade-offs" between water quality and water quantity, a federal report says.
A report by the National Research Council found tangible but slow progress during the past two years in efforts to restore the Everglades, suffering from decades of draining and pollution as farms and development spread across former wetlands, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Thursday.
Cleaning up water pollution while also providing the amount of water the Everglades needs is a growing challenge that still must be addressed, the federal report said.
Since 2000, state and federal officials have been following a restoration plan based on protecting what remains of the Everglades while trying to address South Florida's long-term water supply and flood control needs.
The plan calls for the state and federal governments to share the cost of building a variety of reservoirs, storm water treatment areas and other projects expected to take at least 20 years to build.
Environmental advocates said the report was an endorsement of recent Everglades successes but also a call to do more.
"It's no secret that Florida's water quality problems have been choking the life blood out of the Everglades for some time now," Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham said. "This report should emphasize the need for the state to move forward aggressively on curtailing water pollution in the Everglades."
100924-2 Lee County park's water scrubbed
News-Press - by Kevin Lollar
September 24, 2010
Lakes Regional Park’s pea-green water might soon be getting a biological and chemical cleaning.
Lee County staff have completed a pilot chemical water-treatment project and have designed a series of marshes that will filter pollutants from the water.
When completed, the project will provide environmental benefits all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The pilot project and design for the marshes cost $400,000, split equally between the county and South Florida Water Management District.
Design and permitting for the full-scale water-treatment facility will cost $300,000; building the facility will cost about $2 million, and constructing the marshes will cost $3.3 million.
Staff will ask county commissioners to appropriate the money for fiscal year 2011-2012.
“Because of the scarcity of funding, there are some projects we know we’re going to do,” said Kurt Harclerode, operations manager with Lee’s Division of Natural Resources. “For a lot of bigger projects, we have to go back and ask for the money.”
Lakes Park’s 158-acre lake was created from quarrying operations in the 1960s.
Lee County bought the 279-acre property in 1978, and the park, which attracts close to 700,000 visitors a year, opened in 1984.
Once a popular swimming spot, the lake’s water quality declined over the years due to nutrients from runoff and waste from birds that live in and around the park.
Officials refer to the lake as the East Lake and West Lake, which are divided by a maintenance road; more than 1,000 birds roost on islands in West Lake.
“You can see a big difference between East Lake and West Lake,” said Anura Karuna-Muni, a county public works operations manager. “West Lake is like pea soup; East Lake is more tannin colored. Where you have the soup-green water, that’s where the bird islands are. The birds are contributing a lot toward this problem.”
Water quality got so bad that the lake was closed to swimming in 2005.
“We finally pulled the lifeguards out,” park supervisor Mary Beth Krause said. “It was the turbidity: We couldn’t see a child going under or an alligator coming up.”
To clean the lake, the county will use a combination of biological and chemical methods.
Water flows into the lake from the northeast and out of the lake in the southwest.
For the biological part of the system, wetlands vegetation will be planted in the northeast section of the lake to trap pollutants.
On the southwest side of the lake will be a chemical water-treatment facility.
Dirty water will be pumped into a large tank, to which aluminum sulfate (or alum) will be added. The alum acts as a coagulant, binding to nutrients and other pollutants and settling to the bottom of the tank. This process can clean 2 million gallons of water a day.
Some of the clean water will be released into Hendry Creek, and some will be pumped back into the lake to be recirculated.
The pilot project to test a smaller version of the chemical treatment system was recently completed.
A clean lake will mean more than a place where people can swim.
The lake is the headwaters of Hendry Creek, which flows into Estero Bay.
Hendry Creek is an impaired water body — in Florida a body of water is considered impaired if it doesn’t meet specific water-quality standards. Hendry Creek doesn’t meet standards for fecal coliform bacteria and dissolved oxygen.
Improving water quality at Lakes Park will improve water quality in Hendry Creek, Estero Bay and the Gulf.
“We have to remember that what we do upstream, affects our critical coastal resources,” Harclerode said. “It’s essential to make improvements upstream so we have clean and healthy beaches and protect our critical tourism economy.”
100924-3 MWI starts delivering Everglades pumps
South Florida Business Journal - by Paul Brinkmann
September 24, 2010
Deerfield Beach-based Moving Water Industries completed the first round of giant pumps that will be used in the latest stage of Everglades restoration, for which it received two contracts totaling $33 million.
The politically connected company is one of South Florida’s few manufacturers, and one of its longest-running family-owned businesses. The Everglades contracts, although not technically tied to federal stimulus money, have helped the company maintain slightly more than 200 employees, according to company officials.
Four generations of the Eller family have owned and grown the business in the same location.
“It’s a nice thing that state money like this can stay in Florida,” Executive VP Dana Eller said of the Everglades contracts. “All our competitors in the bidding process were out of state.”
The pumps will be used to move water – up to 200,000 gallons a minute – from one containment area to another in the Everglades. The containment areas treat water moving out of sugar-growing regions.
MWI has done a lot of state contracting for flood control devices in the Everglades and elsewhere. President J. David Eller is a longtime donor to the local and national Republican Party, and was once in business with Jeb Bush, who helped him market MWI pumps, though their Bush-El Corp. MWI also supplied pumps to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
None of the MWI contract money for Everglades projects has come from the 2009 federal stimulus package, although the company did receive a separate $7 million stimulus-related contract to build pumps for a dam removal project in California.
The Everglades contacts were announced in November 2008 ($13.6 million) and April 2009 ($19 million). The 2008 contract includes four diesel-powered pumps and five electric pumps; the 2009 contract includes five diesel systems and seven electric systems.
The pumps are actually giant propellers – almost 7 feet across – inside huge steel tubes that lift Everglades water over containment walls and spread it out into the next containment field. One of the units weighs about 81,000 pounds. The Everglades pumps are about two-and-a-half times larger than the New Orleans pumps.
MWI made headlines when it rushed to deliver the pumps to New Orleans by the 2006 storm season. An initial report to the Army Corps of Engineers indicated many of those pumps failed at first. After millions were spent to correct problems, MWI and the Corps declared the New Orleans project a success because the pumps helped keep the city from flooding during hurricanes Ike and Gustav in 2008.
Skilled labor force
MWI has employed skilled labor for decades, including welders and engineers. It traces its beginnings to Hoyt Eller, who moved to Florida in 1924 to work as a carpenter on the Boca Hotel, now known as the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
Dana Eller, 38, said maintaining a skilled labor force in South Florida is a challenge sometimes because the area is not known as a manufacturing center.
“We have people calling us to give us incentives to relocate,” Eller said. “South Florida needs to do more to recruit businesses.”
According to USAspending.gov, MWI has received $55.4 million in federal contracts since 1999.
The company has faced numerous allegations regarding whether it used political connections to obtain business. For the last 12 years, it has been fighting a lawsuit brought by a former employee and the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging it made illegal payments to Nigerian officials to obtain contracts in the African nation.
According to the complaint in Washington, D.C., federal court, the lawsuit alleges that MWI failed to disclose about $25 million in commissions paid to their Nigerian sales agent Alhaji Mohammed Indimi from 1992 to 1994, contrary to certifications signed by MWI to the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which helped finance about $75 million in Nigerian pump sales. Parts of the lawsuit were thrown out in 2007 for being past the statute of limitations, but the suit is still alive.
Bill Bucknam, MWI’s in-house counsel, said the company has defended the allegations vigorously and is confident the lawsuit will be decided in its favor. He said MWI succeeds because of its qualifications.
“We were awarded the Everglades project solely because we were the most responsive and best-qualified company to manufacture the pumps,” Bucknam said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The water management district also knows that we can be relied on to do things correctly, since we have been here since 1926 and they have relied on us when other companies have failed them.”
100923-1 Everglades restoration progressing slowly: Report
Associated Press / Miami Herald - by TAMARA LUSH, Writer
September 23, 2010
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A multibillion-dollar effort to restore Florida's Everglades has produced slow progress that is improving but likely to be spread unevenly across the vital wetlands, a congressionally mandated report said Thursday.
A 276-page document by the National Research Council said the pace of restoration has improved over the last two years.
"However, the importance of several challenges related to water quantity and quality have become clear, highlighting the difficulty in achieving restoration goals for all ecosystem components in all portions of the Everglades," the report said.
Approved by Congress in 2000, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP, was originally estimated to take 30 years and cost about $7.8 billion - a tab that has risen due to rising costs.
The intent is to help restore some natural water flow after decades of diversions for development and agriculture, which have shrunk the Everglades to half its historical 4 million acres.
In August, a historic effort to restore the Everglades was scaled back.
The state had planned to pay $1.75 billion to buy all of U.S. Sugar Corp.'s 180,000 acres.
A modified contract between the state and U.S. Sugar called for an initial land purchase of 26,791 acres for about $197.4 million, a fraction of the deal announced by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008. Under the revised deal, the state would still maintain the option to purchase the remainder of the plan.
Kirk Fordham, the CEO of the Everglades Foundation, said Thursday's report underscores the importance of acquiring U.S. Sugar Corp. lands to address water quality.
"It's no secret that Florida's water quality problems have been choking the life blood out of the Everglades for some time now." wrote Fordham, in a statement. "In addition to Florida's recent legal developments on Everglades water quality issues, this report should emphasize the need for the state to move forward aggressively on curtailing water pollution in the Everglades. At the same time, the report documents progress made on current Everglades restoration projects and should provide us with additional proof to convince lawmakers that their support for funding restoration is making headway."
The report listed several areas where the restoration effort has made progress, including the ongoing construction of a 1-mile bridge under the Tamiami Trail to improve water flow. Also, water levels rose in 13,000 acres of the Picayune Strand in Southwest Florida.
But the report also said that conditions may worsen in some parts of the Everglades in order to achieve success in other areas.
"At the heart of Everglades restoration is the goal of "getting the water right" by re-establishing the quality, quantity, timing, flow, and distribution of water to support the biological characteristics that defined the Florida Everglades before the construction of canals and levees," the report said. "Increasing the amount of water stored in the Everglades is a major near-term priority for the Restoration Plan. However, the reduced area and water storage capacity of the ecosystem mean that restoration benefits will be distributed unevenly across the Everglades landscape. Nearly all Everglades restoration projects carry trade-offs."
Mimi Drew, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and Carol Ann Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, said they agreed with the overall report.
The Everglades have been dying for decades from the intrusion of farms and development, cut by dikes, dams and canals, effectively draining much of the swamp and polluting it with fertilizers and urban runoff. The state and federal governments' efforts to restore the wetlands have been stymied for years by funding shortfalls, legal challenges and political bickering.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/09/23/1839091/report-everglades-restoration.html#ixzz10RIdZw00
100923-2 Home builders take aim at endangered wood stork
Sun Sentinel - by David Fleshler
September 23, 2010
Home builders association say wood stork is thriving and should no longer be on endangered species list
A South Florida wading bird, whose bill is one of nature's most bizarre killing devices, is facing an attempt by the home building industry to boot it off the endangered species list.
The wood stork, a bird often seen in roadside canals and marshes, has been invoked by environmentalists to fight housing developments and other construction projects in its foraging range. The Florida Home Builders Association last year petitioned the federal government to reclassify the species from endangered to threatened, as a step toward removing it from the list completely.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week that the petition had passed the initial hurdle, finding that reclassifying the species to threatened "may be warranted." This finding triggers a year-long study that will conclude whether the change should be made.
The home-building industry points to a rise in the wood stork population that has been sustained, dramatic, along with an expansion of the bird's range from its base in the Everglades.
They say the wood stork has become a weapon for environmental groups. The bird has been used in lawsuits to stop two housing developments near stork colonies in Collier County.
"Environmentalists didn't want these projects built so they had to find a way to fight them," said Steve Godley, senior vice president of Entrix, a Houston-based environmental consulting firm that represents the home builders. "They went to court and held them up for two years."
Environmentalists counter that the increase in stork numbers and range is an ambiguous piece of evidence, indicating that the decline of the bird's Everglades homeland has forced it to fly into less favorable habitat to the north and in urban areas.
And environmentalists say the home-building industry's self-inflicted problems are more serious than any caused by an endangered bird.
"It's no secret that the home building industry in Florida is in the tank," said Charles Lee, advocacy director for Florida Audubon. "If I were a home builder, I would be doing a little introspection about what my part might have been in creating the bubble that burst in the mortgage industry instead of focusing on this bird. They're looking at a pretty marginal issue compared to where they have real problems."
In the 1930s, an estimated 20,000 pairs of wood storks nested in the southeastern United States, largely in enormous rookeries in the Everglades. But as canals, levees and other drainage structures broke up their feeding grounds, the stork flocks began to thin, reaching a low of about 5,000 pairs in the late 1970s.
Few wading birds thrived during this time of galloping development, but the wood stork was made particularly vulnerable by its unusual style of hunting. The stork hunts by touch, swishing its bill through shallow water until it touches a fish or frog or small snake. In an instant – literally one 40th of a second – the bill opens and snaps shut on the prey.
This hunting technique requires large pools of shallow water, with dense concentrations of fish and other prey. As drainage and development eroded these hunting areas, the stork began to decline. But it also began to extend its range, heading north and west as far as Mississippi and North Carolina and showing up in urbanized Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
"It used to be that the only place to see them – 20 to 25 years ago – was in the Everglades and Corkscrew Swamp," said Fred Griffin, a Plantation birder. "But in the last number of years, I've seen them all over the city. I live out in Plantation, and if I don't see two or three a week I'm surprised.
Griffin said he has mixed feelings about seeing wood storks so far from their traditional habitat. "I see them sitting on the side of a canal, and I think that's nice," he said. "And then I think it's crazy to see a big bird like that, that should be out in the swamp, by the side of the road."
But this expansion of the bird's range, both north and into urbanized environments, contributed to its recovery. Last year biologists counted more than 12,000 nesting pairs, double the 6,000-pair threshold for reclassifying the species to threatened.
A 2007 review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended making this change, although the service never followed through with the administrative steps to do so.
A reclassification from endangered to threatened would not alter the species' legal protections, since both threatened and endangered species have the same level of protection under the Endangered Species Act. But the change would acknowledge the species' improved situation and serve as a step on the home builders' ultimate goal of having the wood stork removed from the list altogether.
"Because we've done such a good job of protecting and restoring wetlands, the birds have undergone a striking comeback," said Godley, who represents the home builders. "There are more birds in the southeast U.S. since the 40s and 50s. The five-year review determined it should be down listed but they didn't do anything, so the home builders acted."
They have reasons for wanting the wood stork off the list. It was used by environmentalists to delay the issuance of permits for rock mining in western Miami-Dade County. It was used in the successful fight against the Cocomar Plaza retail development in Coconut Creek. In Collier County, environmentalists invoked the stork in lawsuits to stop the Parkland and Saturnia housing developments, reaching a settlement in which the builders agreed to preserve hundreds of acres of wetlands in which wood storks hunted.
The federal government also requires builders to pay for the construction or improvement of wetlands to compensate for destroying them within about 18 miles of stork colonies.
Chuck Underwood, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said reclassifying the stork from endangered to threatened would not reduce its legal protections or reduce any burdens developers face with projects in stork habitat. Taking the stork off the list entirely, the goal of the home builders, would remove these protections, he said. But he said the stork would retain some protections under the federal Migratory Bird Act, and the service would not remove it from the list without certainty that sufficient protections remain in place to prevent it from declining again.
Removing an animal from the list is difficult, involving administrative steps that can take years. Since 1966, when the first animals were put on the federal endangered species list, 20 have been removed because they had recovered, including the American alligator, brown pelican, American peregrine falcon and bald eagle.
100923-3 Everglades Restoration's Momentum Challenged by Growing Costs -- Scientists
The New York Times - by PAUL QUINLAN of Greenwire
September 23, 2010
The multibillion-dollar effort to restore the Everglades has made slow but tangible progress in recent years, but scientists today warned that sustaining momentum will be among the top challenges as costs continue to rise.
The National Research Council, in its third biennial report to Congress on the progress of the world's largest environmental restoration effort, today struck a brighter note than in its last report in 2008.
Progress at the time was "scant," the council said then, and the overall effort "bogged down" in procedural matters.
"They're beginning to pick up momentum," said Frank Davis, the report's committee chairman and professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. "At the same time, the Everglades continues to decline, so it's really more important than ever to maintain and build momentum."
Construction has begun on four of the 68 projects called for in a massive, now-$13 billion restoration plan Congress approved in 2000, the report says. The federal government, which agreed at the time to split the cost 50-50 with the state of Florida, has increased spending, offsetting declines in state spending as the economy has tumbled. State-federal cooperation has also improved, resulting in better headway and less bureaucratic bickering, according to the report.
"They've been able to come together," said William Graf, who chaired the report committee in 2008 and leads the geography department at the University of South Carolina. "Maintaining that coalition, I think, is the big challenge in the face of changing costs, reduced funding and an acrimonious political environment. We need to hold it together."
To date, Florida has invested more than $2.4 billion in the state-federal restoration, outspending its federal partners. That includes $1.8 billion dollars for water quality projects like artificial, pollution-filtering marshes that scientists say will need to be expanded -- echoing recent orders from U.S. EPA -- in order to meet pollution cleanup goals that continue to elude.
Florida officials concurred with the findings and said the state "remains committed to continue the important restoration work," in a joint statement issued this morning by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District, the local agency overseeing restoration for Florida.
The report spotlights certain successes in the effort to replumb the River of Grass. The Everglades once covered 6,000 square miles but have been reduced to half that size over the past 60 years by the 1,700 miles of canals and levees installed to make room for farms and urban development.
One success highlighted is the Picayune Strand, a 55,000-acre failed housing development where canals were back-filled to restore the natural wetlands.
The report also cheered the groundbreaking on what the committee in 2008 called "one of the most discouraging stories in Everglades restoration," a 20-year-long effort stopped up in court to bridge the Tamiami Trail. The trail runs east-west across the Everglades from Tampa to Miami, acting like a giant dam. Work is now under way to bridge a 1-mile segment.
After eight years of planning, "in the last couple years we're starting to see some projects hit the ground," said Davis. "We can now look forward to some restoration that's in the near term."
Areas in need of improvement include the scientific modeling efforts that drive restoration decisions involving the unavoidable trade-offs in building new reservoirs, buying new restoration lands and back-filling canals, the report said. The report also calls for stepping up involvement of the various environmental groups, farmers, developers and other interests that tend to go to war over Everglades policy.
The scientists also noted the potential benefits of a controversial, 27,000-acre restoration land deal that the state has brokered with U.S. Sugar Corp.
"I haven't seen a great deal of research on the implications of buying that land," Graf said. "That's why you're seeing the committee not making strong statements about it. We just don't know."
Graf compared the overall effort to steering an aircraft carrier, saying that sustaining political will and spending while improving science and modeling is critical to a full turnaround.
"I feel the aircraft carrier was headed for a reef two years ago," Graf said. "We're beginning to turn the ship at this point. It think we're going to avoid cracking up. It's just a process that's going to take some time."
100922-1 Clean water foes want to keep status quo
Lake Wales News
September 22, 2010
Every corner of Florida has its own story about water and how the actions (and inaction) of man have tainted it, rerouted it, pumped it and taken it for granted.
In South Florida, dikes, canals and roadways altered the flow of the Everglades for safety, commercial and agricultural purposes. Decades later, after the negative impacts on the River of Grass and Florida Bay were beyond dispute, an $11 billion plan to restore the ’Glades is making slow progress. The impacts of past Everglades policies stretched as far as the southern part of the Charlotte Harbor estuary in the Caloosahatchee River, which turned brown from periodic lake discharges.
In Northeast Florida, the St. Johns River was so polluted by the region’s powerful paper mill interests, Jacksonville became famous for its stench. That multibillion dollar cleanup also is ongoing. To the south, Indian River Lagoon is getting its own $1.2 billion makeover. Panhandle beach communities already hurt by the recession are reeling from the ongoing impacts of the BP oil spill.
In Central Florida, pumping for mining, agricultural and residential uses depleted underground aquifers till historic springs ran dry.
Pollution befouled lakes until the fish in them were inedible.
A nearly $1.7 billion water supply project being undertaken by Southwest Florida Water Management District includes restoring Lake Hancock in Polk County and rerouting parts of the Peace River around sinkholes created by overpumping the aquifer. A 2007 study stated the Peace River lost 136,000 acres of wetlands and 343 miles of streams since the 1940s. Downstream Charlotte Harbor and Lemon Bay have been deemed “impaired” waterways due to residential, commercial and agricultural impacts.
The dollar signs above don’t begin to reflect the total cost of fixing the problems Floridians and their leaders have allowed to happen since the state’s population began booming in the 1920s and hit 18.5 million last year.
Yet, a consortium of business interests led by Associated Industries and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association (and including Peace River Citrus Growers Association here in our area), would have you believe the real thing to fear is the cost of complying with the federal Clean Water Act, which a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences study compliantly pegged at more than $1 billion a year.
They were among 36 groups signing a letter to the state’s congressional delegation this week calling on them to block the Oct. 15 implementation of the new water quality standards.
With undeniable evidence of point-source pollution from coast to coast, from Key West to the Panhandle, it’s predictable that developers, utilities, farmers and ranchers, mining companies and manufacturers would like to maintain the status quo. It’s also predictable that such interests would march out the bogeyman of higher water bills and consumer costs to convince people it’s wrong to slow down the rate of pollution.
One rigged survey by Mason-Dixon asked respondents if they would oppose EPA’s water quality standards if the regulations resulted in a $700 increase in their water bills. We wonder if the 39 percent who answered “no” or “I don’t know” would have changed their minds if Mason-Dixon skewed the question even more to ask how they would feel if the EPA rules killed their grandmothers?
We know keeping our water clean is going to cost money because polluting it was easier and cheaper than protecting it. What clean water opponents want you to disregard is the fact that cleaning it up costs even more.
That’s what Floridians should really be afraid of.
100922-2 EPA Prescribes Florida Tough Medicine for Everglades
September 22, 2010
State May Balk at Stringent Federal Water Quality Measures and Timetables
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - September 22 - Facing a federal contempt citation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Florida to take immediate and dramatic attempts to reduce water pollution in the Everglades, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). If EPA cannot get Florida to accept its conditions, it may lead to a federal takeover of state water pollution controls.
On October 7, 2010, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will personally appear before U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold in a contempt hearing into repeated violations by EPA and Florida of a 2008 ruling to comply with phosphorous limits for sensitive Everglades waters. On the September 3rd deadline set by Judge Gold, EPA announced that it had a plan to comply with the order and avert a contempt finding but the agency did not release any details. This coyness may be explained by the fact that this new set of EPA Everglades dictates, called the “Amended Determination,” go far beyond any previous actions, including –
Florida is ordered to amend both its controversial Everglades Forever Act and its phosphorus rule to significantly cut pollution flows;
In order to reduce phosphorus loading into canals, the state must purchase at least 42,000 acres of land as Stormwater Treatment Areas; and
Existing water pollution permits must be tightened to conform to new limits by December 3, 2010.
The EPA Amended Determination also flatly declares that Florida is violation of the Clean Water Act and can no longer be allowed to ignore nutrient standards for the Everglades Protection Area. It indicates that if Florida does not take the stipulated steps EPA will directly impose these actions under federal law.
“We welcome this no-nonsense approach. Our only question is where the heck has EPA been for the past twenty years? These woeful conditions did not suddenly appear overnight,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) enforcement attorney, who obtained the EPA plans under Florida’s Sunshine Act. “EPA does leave one big loophole, however, by allowing variances or exceptions to avoid compliance schedules, raising the possibility that under political pressure exceptions could grow to swallow the rule.”
The EPA-imposed deadlines are especially aggressive, and include the completion of state rulemaking by the first of the year – a timeline that assumes no major challenge or litigation. There is already sharp resistance by business groups and the DEP to an earlier, more modest move by EPA to set numeric water quality standards in Florida. This more extensive federal intervention could set off even broader and more intense opposition.
“The chances that Florida will actually abide by this new tough regime are about as likely as a major snowfall down here in August,” added Phillips. “Without Judge Gold holding officialdom’s feet to the fire things would remain business as usual.” Read the EPA Amended Determination Look at the issues in October 7 contempt hearing View the EPA Notice of Filing Examine the fight over numeric standards for Florida See cryptic EPA press release announcing but not detailing actions
100922-3 Private water storage, treatment project proposed for Indian River, Okeechobee
TCPalm - by Tyler Treadway
September 22, 2010
FORT PIERCE — A major citrus grower proposed Wednesday a commercial venture to build what had been a proposed public project: a reservoir and storm water treatment facility in the area where St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties meet.
Fort Pierce attorney Michael D. Minton said Evans Properties Inc., a Dade City agriculture company with property throughout the Treasure Coast, is proposing to build a 3,200-acre reservoir in the northeast corner of Okeechobee County and an adjacent 2,500-acre storm water treatment area in southwest Indian River County that could produce, and sell, about 57 million gallons of water a day.
The proposal is based on the reservoir and storm water treatment area for the watershed in northwest St. Lucie County drained by the C-25 canal that has been planned by the South Florida Water Management District as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
The CERP project is designed primarily to clean agricultural run-off water before it enters the Indian River Lagoon. Minton said the Evans proposal would reduce the influx of dirty water into the lagoon by 55 percent.
Noting that the C-25 project has been on the drawing board for 10 years awaiting state and federal funding, Minton said, “If we were to wait on the state-and-federal partnership to get these projects built, it could take at least 20 to 30 years. We don’t have a set timetable for construction, but we can get it done well in advance of that.”
The project would allow water captured in the South Florida Water Management District, which often has too much water, to flow north into the thirstier St. Johns River Water Management District.
“There are communities not far from here contemplating spending a billion dollars on desalinization plants,” Minton said, “when we have all this water that’s going out (to the lagoon).”
Minton said Evans Properties is in the process of forming Evans Utilities Co. in order to sell water under Florida Public Service Commission regulations.
Kevin Powers of Stuart, the Treasure Coast representative on the South Florida Water Management District board, said the proposal was worthy of more study.
“Anytime the private sector wants to step forward in a project that’s in the public’s best interest, I’m going to listen,” Powers said, “but I’m not on board yet. This proposal is still in its early stages, and I still want to see more specifics on how this would affect other utilities. I want to avoid overlap in services.”
100920-1 In Governors Race, Where Does Big Sugar Fall ?
The Weekly Challenger - by John Kennedy
September 20, 2010
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE - Republican Rick Scott is scheduled to collect checks this week at the Palm Beach home of Florida sugar baron Pepe Fanjul.
But still in doubt is an even sweeter cache of industry money – U.S. Sugar, which bet heavily on Scott’s defeated primary rival, Bill McCollum, and looms as a potential fund-raising prize in the governor’s race.
Unlike many former McCollum backers, the sugar giant hasn’t rushed to Scott’s side since he claimed the Republican nomination powered by spending $50 million of his own family’s money on his campaign.
In that primary contest, Scott also antagonized U.S. Sugar executives – declaring war on a state-backed, controversial, $197 million buyout of companyland on the edge of the Everglades, possibly better positioning Democrat Alex Sink to claim the company’s backing and its powerful war chest for the campaign’s homestretch.
U.S. Sugar senior vice-president Robert Coker did little to clarify where the politically orphaned firm now stands, after contributing at least $2.8 million to the Florida Republican Party and other organizations which supported McCollum in the primary.
“This is not a time I should talk,” Coker told the News Service of Florida, when asked about where the firm’s money would land. “We’ll be there. But we’ll be everywhere, too.”
Scott is planning to attend a Tuesday evening fund-raiser hosted by Fanjul, whose Flo-Sun Corp., is both an occasional corporate ally and rival of U.S. Sugar, the Clewiston-based company that is the nation’s largest producer of sugar cane. Invitations to the event request $10,000 personal or corporate checks for the Florida Republican Party and $500 in checks for Scott’s campaign.
Coker, representing U.S. Sugar, did attend the Florida GOP’s Saturday fund-raiser at Disney World, which pulled in $2 million for the party and became a rallying point for Scott. But Coker acknowledged that the company has a long and powerful bond with Sink running mate Rod Smith.
U.S. Sugar spent $1.6 million on television advertisements and direct mail in 2006 to help Smith in his unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial primary against former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis. Smith, a former state senator, was central to Everglades cleanup legislation that treated sugar companies easier than proposed alternatives. A top Smith consultant, Screven Watson, remains a U.S. Sugar lobbyist.
Shortly after being introduced as Sink’s lieutenant governor candidate last month, Smith hedged when asked whether he could secure U.S. Sugar’s contributions for the Democratic contender.
“I will follow whatever direction I think is appropriate in terms of fund-raising,” Smith said. “They’ll make their decision this time, like they made their decision last time.”
U.S. Sugar is eager to conclude its sale of almost 27,000 acres of groves and fields to the South Florida Water Management District to advance Everglades restoration efforts. The $197 million sale was condemned last month by Scott who said the plan, first crafted in 2008 by Gov. Charlie Crist, and then supported by McCollum, was intended chiefly to benefit the powerful company.
Scott said that McCollum was “bought and paid for” by U.S. Sugar.
Included in its support for McCollum, U.S. Sugar contributed $220,000 this summer to the Freedom First Committee, a 527 spending organization led by Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, which financed TV and mailing for the losing Republican. Another $790,000 went from the company to the Florida Chamber of Commerce Alliance, which also backed McCollum and so far has not taken a public, post-primary stand in the governor’s race.
Jennifer Baker, a Scott spokeswoman, said the campaign’s door was open to U.S. Sugar contributions – but that the candidate did not plan to drop his opposition to the Everglades land purchase.
“Everybody’s reaching out to Rick,” Baker said. “And that includes people who supported him in the primary, and those who did not.”
Early campaign finance reports, however, don’t affirm such claims. The Florida Republican Party’s $2 million fund-raiser Saturday came a day after finance reports for the two weeks following the Aug. 24 primary shows Sink had collected $525,000 compared to Scott’s $43,000.
100920-2 Water district's cash tight
The News-Press – by Kevin Lollar
September 20, 2010
Property values hit budget hard
The South Florida Water Management District's proposed budget for fiscal year 2010-11 has one important thing going for it: Property taxes throughout the district's 16 counties will not be raised.
But because property values in South Florida are depressed, the district will have less money coming in. The proposed budget is $1.1 billion, compared to last year's budget of $1.5 billion.
"We're talking a good chunk less money," said Charles Dauray, a district governing board member representing Lee, Collier, Hendry and Charlotte counties. "We have to be very tight on our dollars. I think we can step back a little bit from direct large purchases of land, slow down a little and not burden the taxpayers, and still accomplish what we need to accomplish."
The water district will hold a budget hearing Tuesday in West Palm Beach and vote on the budget that day.
For most district counties, including Lee, the tax rate will be 62.4 cents per thousand dollars of taxable value on a piece of property, the same as this year. A $250,000 home with a taxable value of $200,000 after the homestead exemption, would have a water district tax bill of $124.80.
In Collier and mainland Monroe counties, which are under the district's Big Cypress Basin, taxes on the same home would be $48.14, or a bill of $96.28.
Among the proposed budget's big-ticket items:
- $197 million to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration.
- $111.5 million for construction of stormwater treatment areas.
- $60 million to refurbish the region's flood-control network of 2,600 miles of canals and levees.
For decades, Southwest Floridians have insisted that the water district spends more money on the east coast than on the west coast, and the feeling persists today.
"There's a great deal of economic inequity in the South Florida Water Management District, though we pay the same amount of taxes," Sanibel Vice Mayor Mick Denham said. "Water district staff is frankly not in the mood and has never showed interest in supporting the needs of Southwest Florida. The board of governors is beginning to listen, but I have zero confidence in district staff." Sacrificial lamb
Dauray agreed that the district's interests sometimes lean to the east.
"No one is totally satisfied right now," he said. "But I won't see the west coast become the sacrificial lamb to the rest of the district."
Several projects for Southwest Florida are in the proposed budget, including:
- $1.7 million for water-quality monitoring in the Everglades Agricultural Area, Lake Okeechobee and coastal watersheds, which include Estero Bay and the Caloosahatchee River.
Water-quality monitoring is essential for future projects, environmental educator and consultant Bill Hammond said.
"That's always been a problem in the Southwest Florida region," he said. "We've never had enough data to have the modelers model things."
- $4.4 million for research and monitoring in support of the St. Lucie River Watershed Protection Plan and Caloosahatchee River Watershed Protection Plan - these plans identify the best ways to improve the health of those rivers and their estuaries.
- $6.6 million for the Southern Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed/Imperial River Flow-way: The project will restore historical sheetflow, reduce freshwater discharges to Estero Bay during the rainy season, reduce nutrient loading to the Imperial River and Estero Bay, and reduce flooding west of the project area. This item includes $6.5 million to buy the final 70 acres for the project.
- $2.1 million to finish a dredging project in Lake Trafford.
Funding for a major Southwest Florida project, the C-43 reservoir, which would store up to 55 billion gallons of water from the Caloosahatchee, has been deferred so more research can be done on nitrogen-reduction technology. Noise factor
"That's a euphemism for saying we're not aggressive because we don't have the money this year," Dauray said. "We're behind on that project a couple of years. If we had the money we needed, construction would have been more rapid."
The budget includes $2.5 million for dispersed water storage and treatment projects in the Northern Everglades, a program in which landowners are paid to store water on their property rather than let it run into Lake Okeechobee.
"That's woefully too small," said Charles Lee, Audubon of Florida's advocacy director. "We urged the district to increase it to $10 million. We recommended that they delve into the budget and move things around. In a budget of more than $1 billion, that's not a big increase. They should be able to find the numbers in the noise factor somewhere."
100919-1 Caloosahatchee restoration is a shared responsibility: Charles Dauray
September 19, 2010
The Caloosahatchee River and Estuary define our way of life in Southwest Florida
Sustaining and improving the health of this unique water body should be foremost in our minds - and our plans for protecting its future.
As advocates for the Caloosahatchee frequently point out, decisions about when and how much fresh water to release from Lake Okeechobee have a direct effect on the health of our river and estuary.
With a system designed more than a half-century ago for flood control, those agonizing decisions are made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with input from its partners, including the South Florida Water Management District.
They have been made more difficult by extreme floods and droughts over the past decade.
Yet in small and large ways, we each have impacted the river's well-being. Along with water management issues, population growth, leaky septic tanks and neighborhood stormwater runoff laden with nutrients have contributed to water quality challenges for the river and estuary.
Given the complex challenges facing the Caloosahatchee, no one solution alone can provide instant or permanent relief.
Sufficient water is available for environmental and economic consumption resulting in sustainability for the west coast.
Finding a way to distribute it equitably requires good public policy, leadership and a wide range of the right projects.
That can only be achieved if everyone works cooperatively and collaboratively instead of resorting to costly legal action.
Let's not forget that we have made significant progress together in the last few years, including:
- Investments by the state of Florida and the District of more than $15.6 million since 2004, with matching local dollars, to fund more than 80 water quality improvement projects in the Caloosahatchee region.
- Landmark state legislation to protect the northern Everglades, which led to creation of the Caloosahatchee River Watershed Protection Plan. The plan is designed to reach water quality targets and maintain appropriate salinity levels in the estuary.
- A revised regulation schedule for managing Lake Okeechobee's water level adopted in 2008 by the corps. Input from a dozen public meetings recently led to a new guide for making District recommendations to the corps on lake management.
While not an ideal solution, the guide is a step toward creating a water use formula that is consistent, understandable and driven by results to better balance the needs of the lake, estuarine ecosystems and water supply.
- Addition of 126,350 acre-feet of surface water storage capacity on private, public and tribal lands throughout the northern Everglades watersheds and connected systems, achieved through a coalition of government agencies, landowners, environmental organizations and researchers.
The district has included more than $3 million in its 2011 budget to further expand surface water storage on private lands.
Moving forward, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan calls for construction of the 170,000 acre-foot Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir Project to help store and manage basin runoff for meeting estuary needs during the dry season.
The district is building a water quality project nearby. The district has also begun work on a Caloosahatchee water reservation, which is a legal mechanism to set aside water specifically for the protection of fish and wildlife or public health and safety.
Anyone with an interest in the river is encouraged to participate in the public process.
Cooperation among water users does not imply capitulation by any party. From the district and the Legislature to environmental groups to residents, businesses and industries, we are all seeking reasoned solutions to improve the Caloosahatchee.
This precious river is our mutual responsibility, and it deserves no less. Charles Dauray is a governing board member of the South Florida Water Management District, representing Southwest Florida, and he is vice president of the Izaak Walton League of America Endowment Board.
100919-2 Water quality: Plan would reduce pollution in Everglades
September 19, 2010
The time has arrived for common sense solutions to Everglades water quality challenges.
We know we cannot restore flows of freshwater into the River of Grass until we figure out how to get the water clean enough to put into the pristine Everglades. Federal courts for 20 years have been the enforcers of state requirements to reduce harmful pollution entering the Everglades.
Now a solid solution has been proposed that merits support.
The court appointed Special Master John Barkett, a seasoned attorney and mediator with an uncommon skill to the tough task sorting out complex Everglades water quality issues. He has, after taking testimony from all affected parties, now plotted a clear course forward.
After lengthy hearings in July, Mr. Barkett has cut through the smoke and fog obscuring the way forward and is recommending to U.S. District Court Judge Frederico Moreno some smart solutions..
Two key elements of the Special Master's Recommendation are: The South Florida Water Management District should be relieved of a purported obligation to utilize 16,000 acres of land to build a questionably located reservoir. Instead, the Special Master agrees with scientists who testified for the Florida Audubon Society, federal agencies, and the South Florida Water Management District that those lands would be better suited to construct more artificial marshes to cleanse sugar farm runoff before it reaches the Everglades. The 26,800 acre acquisition of land from the U.S. Sugar Corp. that the South Florida Water Management District is executing with cash on hand the agency has available presents an excellent opportunity to improve Everglades water quality. The location of this U.S. Sugar land makes it ideal to expand treatment areas as a remedy to the persistent water quality violations that have hampered Everglades restoration and the resolution of litigation that has been going on for 22 years. Special Master Barkett's recommendations are clear that the highest priority must be placed on expanding the artificial marshes in the Stormwater Treatment Areas to take more phosphorus out of the water and build a more robust cleanup system capable of handling greater surges of water.
Audubon has, for more than a decade, advocated that the current STAs, designed in the early 1990's, need to be expanded to sufficiently treat polluted runoff.
The Special Master's recommendations also resonate with the most recent findings of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which on Sept. 3, 2010, issued a requirement that the SFWMD and the State of Florida expand stormwater treatment by 70 percent, or 42,000 acres over existing efforts. This EPA order for expansion matches almost exactly the acreage that can be provided by the combination of the U.S. Sugar purchase and the size of the land available at the former reservoir site.
Audubon believes that Special Master Barkett may have said it best when he wrote the following in his recommendation to Judge Moreno, "Everglades or Neverglades ? At some point, political and business leaders have to implement their commitment to save this Florida and United States ecological treasure; promises just won't do anymore."
All who care for the Everglades should join together in the hope that Judge Moreno will fully embrace the recommendations of Special Master John Barkett and help assure that Florida and national political leaders swiftly carry out his well reasoned plan.
100918-1 Putnam correct on future water needs for state
TampaBay.com - by Aaron Sharockman, Times Staff Writer
September 18, 2010
"We've got to find 2 billion gallons (of water per day) between now and 2025."
Adam Putnam, in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board.
Republican agriculture commissioner candidate Adam Putnam is sounding the alarm about a critical water shortage he says Florida will soon be facing.
"The most important issue facing Florida long term is water — whether you want to plant an orange grove, build a subdivision, save the Everglades … it all boils down to water," Putnam, a U.S. representative from Bartow in Polk County, said during a Sept. 9 editorial board interview with the St. Petersburg Times.
"We've got to find 2 billion — find, create, make, obtain through conservation — 2 billion gallons (of water) between now and 2025. Per day."
Can that be right?
We turned to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the agency tasked to increase the state's available water supplies, for an answer.
Florida used an estimated 6.9 billion gallons of freshwater per day in 2005, the DEP said, citing the most recent U.S. Geological Survey report. By 2025, it is projected that the state will use 8.7 billion gallons a day. That's an increase of 1.8 billion gallons per day, or 27 percent. Close to what Putnam said.
We should note that the projected amount is based on the assumption that the state's population will grow to almost 25 million by 2025. Currently, the state's population is estimated to be around 18.77 million. The projection also assumes that the government will be responsible for providing water for everyone in the state. Both those assumptions could, of course, change between now and 2025.
The DEP and the state's five water management districts have been preparing for the uptick. The water management districts are required by law to develop and update regional water supply plans every five years.
And they have already identified, developed or are developing projects to help close the gap.
In 2005, the Legislature created the Water Protection and Sustainability Trust Fund and designated $100 million to be used to promote the development of alternative water supplies. The state set aside another $117 million over three years in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The Legislature stopped funding the program in 2009, the DEP said.
The investment, however, helped water management districts provide funding assistance for 327 water-saving projects, which will eventually help create approximately 761 million gallons a day of "new water" available for consumptive use. That's close to 40 percent of the water expected to be needed by 2025.
Putnam is right, based on the latest estimates Florida will use about 2 billion more gallons of water a day in 2025 than the state did in 2005. But the state and the five state water management districts have started planning for it, and already have identified water construction projects that will help meet some of the increasing demand. We rate Putnam's statement Mostly True.
Aaron Sharockman, Times staff writer. Edited for print. For more, go to politifact.com/florida.
100918-2 Seminole burial sites delay Everglades restoration project
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
September 18, 2010
The fate of 19 bodies exhumed from Seminole burial sites on land to be flooded for Everglades restoration has interrupted construction and will likely cause lengthy delays, require new plans, more construction and additional permits.
Although the South Florida Water Management District often encounters archeological artifacts and Native American remains, water managers say privately they had hoped to keep this case quiet because the remains have already been moved from the site, known as Compartment C.
And the Seminole Tribe wants them put back.
"The excavation and removal of the human remains from Compartment C is a difficult and tragic event," the tribe's attorney, Stephen A. Walker wrote in a July 20 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "However, we have the opportunity to right the wrongs done and build a better and more effective working relationship. We hope you embrace the opportunity as willingly as we have offered it."
Few details and documents about the remains have been released. To prevent looting, the locations of the burial sites are not public.
The sites are located within an 8,800-acre parcel of land south of Lake Okeechobee. Beyond that, water managers have refused to explain or provide public records revealing who knew about and approved moving the remains and why the tribe wants them returned to their original resting place.
"We are going to take a conservative position on that," the district's deputy executive director, Kenneth Ammon said, concerned that releasing such details would anger the tribe.
However, letters and reports made public by the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues construction permits for such projects, reveal that the Corps, district and State Historic Preservation Office began working with both the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes in 2006 to develop a plan to protect the remains. In letters dated February 19, 2008, to the Florida tribes and to Creek and Seminole tribes in Oklahoma and Alabama, the Corps provided reports and surveys about the site where the remains were eventually reinterred.
The documents summarize meetings with the Miccosukee about the remains, but not with the Seminoles. There is only a brief mention of a phone call with the tribe's Historic Preservation Officer. Walker said the Seminoles did not know that the remains would be moved. The district insists "there was contact made with the Seminoles."
"I have no idea what may have prompted them to change their mind in that regard," Ammon said. But returning the remains to their original sites, some nearly two miles apart, could cause serious delays. The district estimates it would cost about $250,000 per site to return the remains. Protecting them could cost far more.
As part of the effort to restore the Everglades, the district had planned on flooding the site with 18 inches of water. Building a double-berm around the sites has been suggested. But in a letter to the Corps on July 20, the Tribe insisted that the remains be returned and the sites not be flooded.
However, to do that, the site plans would have to be re-drafted and new permits pulled. The district's staff estimates that it would take one year to complete the archeological work and redesign.
The Corps would need time to review the new design and re-issue the permit. Then construction could begin on the berms or barriers to protect the sites.
Still unknown is how long it will take the agencies and tribe to resolve "the broader issues." The tribe wants assurances that this will never happen again and protocols to ensure it, Walker said.
"We want to deal with how these issues are addressed," Walker said. "There will be a lot more advance coordination."
The permit for the Compartment C stormwater filtration project expires in 2014.
Meanwhile, as concerns about Compartment C were growing, the district began putting together a deal to purchase nearly 18,000 acres of citrus grove from U.S. Sugar for another Everglades restoration project. That land is adjacent to Compartment C.
To assess any possible problems on the Southern Citrus land, the district commissioned a preliminary survey of cultural resources. The survey, released in March, noted several sites of historical importance to the Seminoles, including historic trails used by the military during the Third Seminole War (1855-1858) along with previously recorded archeological sites. Although no human remains were found, that does not mean there are none, according to Janus Research, the company that performed the preliminary survey.
In August the district entered into a contract to purchase the Southern Citrus land and another parcel from U.S. Sugar for $197 million.
Could the problems on Compartment C affect the district's plans for the neighboring Southern Citrus land?
"To be determined based upon discussions with the tribes, USACE and State Historic Preservation Office," according to the district.
The $197 million purchase is scheduled to close on October 11. If it falls through, the district must pay U.S. Sugar $10 million.
100918-3 U.S. judge demands water district show it has money to undertake Everglades cleansing
The Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton
September 18, 2010
A federal judge wants the South Florida Water Management District to explain where it will find billions of dollars it needs to comply with his order to clean water headed to the Everglades, spurred by testimony in another case that indicates officials don't have the money.
In an uncommon legal move, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold last week issued an order based on testimony in an unrelated case. He warned the district and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to come to his courtroom on Oct. 7 prepared to explain how "specific milestones" are "directly linked to a meaningful financing plan" to reduce phosphorus levels in the Everglades.
The district is not a party in the lawsuit but Gold targeted the district because it issues permits and enforces clean water standards. Gold cited testimony in which the district's financial advisers estimated it would cost between $2 billion and $6 billion to buy land and build projects needed to comply with Gold's order.
In the suit, U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno ordered the district to resume construction of an $800 million reservoir. The district "does not have the financing capacity" to also comply with Judge Gold's order, according to documents that Gold reviewed.
What impact Gold's latest order might have on the district's plan to spend $197 million on nearly 27,000 acres for Everglades restoration is not known. The district approved the purchase last month and the closing is scheduled for mid-October.
The district did not comment on the order but said through a spokesperson that the sale would be reviewed after the Oct. 7 hearing. Under terms of the sale contract, pulling out now would cost the district $10 million.
Gold issued a scathing 48-page order in April accusing the EPA, the district and Florida Department of Environmental Protection of deliberately ignoring and refusing to enforce the laws limiting the amount of phosphorus discharged into the Everglades. He set a deadline of Sept. 3 for the EPA to draft guidelines and deadlines for the district to use in building projects to lower phosphorus levels.
Those guidelines require work to be completed by 2020. In his order Tuesday, Gold cited the district's own Strategic Plan 2010-2020, which shows land purchase and design schedules but "no construction in connection with the 'River of Grass' through 2020."
Gold said he fears that without a financing plan in place, work will be postponed and the water quality will continue to decline.
"What actions will the EPA require to assure that such a result does not occur?" Gold wrote. "And how does the EPA intend to enforce its requirement?"
100917- Summit organizers: River needs respect
The Daytona Beach News Journal -by DINAH VOYLES PULVER, Environment Writer
September 17, 2010
JACKSONVILLE -- The final day of a two-day summit on the St. Johns River had a sort of Rodney Dangerfield theme going Thursday.
Compared to the Everglades, the St. Johns River just doesn't get the same respect, even though it's also a "national treasure," several speakers said.
The historic St. Johns, they said, gets only a fraction of the money and attention focused on the famed River of Grass.
David Hobbie with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Jackonsville said when he goes to Washington to talk about Florida, federal officials know about the Everglades, not the river.
"The St. Johns River is not on their minds like the Everglades," Hobbie said, even though the Corps and the St. Johns River Water Management District have worked on river restoration for 30 years.
The water district and its partners have spent more than $1.3 billion on the river's restoration, said Kirby Green, executive director. But that's only "a small part of what the Everglades has cost."
Hoping to create a little more respect for the collaborative efforts to clean up the river, the St. Johns River Alliance organized this summit, attended by about 350 people. The Alliance directors, appointed from counties along the 310-mile length of the river, hoped to build excitement for a renewed effort and "unified vision" for improving water quality. It was the first summit since a 2003 summit that resulted in creation of the nonprofit Alliance.
Several problems have plagued the northern end of the river this summer, including algae blooms, fish kills and a mysterious brown foam that scientists could not explain.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, announced Thursday he plans to create a St. Johns River caucus among Florida legislators in November.
Thrasher said the river flows through the districts of 24 members of the Florida Senate and House of Representatives, about 15 percent of the total 160 members of the state Legislature.
"For the first time we'll be able to bring together the folks who have a common interest in the river," Thrasher said.
A caucus is an informal group of legislators who work together on issues. For example, Thrasher pointed to existing caucuses for the University of Florida, Florida State University and women.
Thrasher said it will be a place to talk about issues along the river.
The caucus was one of two key announcements expected Thursday. The Alliance also had hoped to have Thrasher announce a $1 billion, 10-year plan for a collaboration among local governments and agencies to clean up the river.
However, Alliance members said concerns about the economy and the election year derailed the plan at the last minute.
Thrasher said he hopes to implement a 10-year plan for the river and said the caucus could help encourage collaboration by state and regional "partners."
Among other issues discussed Thursday were plans to continue removing pollutants from the river, such as the nutrients from fertilizers, pesticides and other sources that get into the river from storm water runoff during periods of heavy rain.
George Pappas, a Daytona Beach attorney, was among several Volusia residents who attended the summit.
Pappas said he wound up being surprised by how much he learned about the river and its importance.
"I didn't realize how much was involved," Pappas said. "It's critical to our entire area, to our economy and to our quality of life. It's a living thing that needs to be protected."
100916- Politifact: Kendrick Meek not lone defender of Everglades
Miami Herald - by TRENTON DANIEL, tdaniel@MiamiHerald.com
September 16, 2010
After declaring he's been the only one to fight against developers overtaking the Everglades in a television ad, a closer look shows that he hasn't been the only one to defend the fragile ecosystem.
In his first television ad of the general election, released on Sept. 7, 2010, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek tries to distinguish himself from his fellow Senate hopefuls, Republican Marco Rubio and the independent candidate, Gov. Charlie Crist.
The clip opens with Meek stepping into an airboat and zipping around the Everglades - an image that screams Florida. In his first claim on the 33-second video ``Only One,'' Meek boasts of being ``the only one who's fought against developers draining the Everglades!'' The ad goes through a litany of claims: ``The only one against drilling before and after the BP spill. The only one against privatizing Social Security. The only one who's pro-choice, who took on George Bush, who's fought for middle-class tax cuts, against high credit card fees, and to raise the minimum wage.''
Such a wealth of fact-checking opportunities! We decided to start at the top, saving the Everglades. It seemed like such a bold claim that it warranted a closer look.
We asked the Meek campaign to show us the proof that its candidate could lay claim to such bragging rights. Meek spokesman Adam Sharon noted that the Democratic contender had voted in favor of a 2007 bill that set aside funding for water resource construction and improvement projects, including $687 million for Everglades restoration. The Meek campaign also cited $135 million that Meek helped secure for Everglades Restoration in fiscal years 2009. These measures are clearly pro-Everglades, but do they do much to keep developers out of the Everglades? We didn't see anything in the bills, and neither do others.
``It has nothing to do with any restrictions on development in Florida,'' said Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation in Washington, D.C.
APPLES TO ORANGES
Clearly, Meek is referring to his actions on federal legislation, and it isn't exactly a fair comparison. Former House Speaker Rubio and Gov. Crist aren't in the same position to vote; after all, they aren't federal lawmakers. ``They didn't vote in the same body so you can't compare their voting records,'' Fordham said.
Just as we had asked the Meek campaign to show us how he stopped developers from draining the Everglades, we asked Crist and Rubio whether they've done anything to help the Everglades.
Crist spokesman Danny Kanner pointed to the governor's 2009 bid to buy out U.S. Sugar Corp. and convert its 180,000-plus acres to reservoirs and pollution-treatment marshes. The original plan with its $1.75 billion price tag has since been scaled back to $197 million and 26,800 acres, but a new deal gives the South Florida Water Management District options to buy all or part of the land for up to 10 years.
Everglades advocates such as Fordham and Thom Rumberger, chairman of the Everglades Trust in Tallahassee, also point out that Crist has made key appointments favorable to the environment. Fordham noted how Crist -- compared to his developer-friendly predecessor, Jeb Bush -- appointed pro-environment types to the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District including Shannon Estenoz, Sandy Batchelor and Kevin Powers. Crist has also received a ``Champion of the Everglades'' award in 2008 from Audubon of Florida.
As the Meek campaign was quick to point out, Crist signed Senate Bill 2080 in 2009, which stripped the water board's authority over issuing consumptive use permits and gave it to the board's directors, a move that prevented the public from making decisions on who gets water, how much and from where. ``Everglades restoration depends on reducing the quantity of water taken from the environment,'' Audubon of Florida said in a statement on May 21, 2009, urging Crist to veto the bill.
HARD TO ARGUE
Still, ``It would be hard to argue that Meek has a superior record to the governor,'' said Fordham, a major backer of the U.S. Sugar deal. ``I know Crist has a pretty solid record on protecting and restoring the Everglades.''
For his part, Rubio voted when he was in the House in favor of a 2008 bill that authorized issuing bonds for Everglades restoration. It also doubled the maximum annual issuance amount from $100 million to $200 million.
``The real work on the Everglades was being done at that time on the Senate side,'' said Eric Draper, of the Audubon of Florida. ``The House was more in a position of going along. I would characterize (Rubio) as going along, not as providing leadership.''
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/09/17/1828773/politifact-kendrick-meek-not-lone.html#ixzz104TYfe00
100915- Court rejects tribe's Everglades bridge challenge
The Associated Press
September 15, 2010
MIAMI -- A federal appeals court has rejected an Indian tribe's challenge to a bridge project intended to restore the health of the Everglades in South Florida.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over the Miccosukee tribe's claims. The tribe said the project on Tamiami Trail west of Miami violated environmental laws and would flood the tribe's nearby lands.
The mile-long bridge is intended to improve water flow in the Everglades. The judges ruled that Congress added language to a spending bill essentially exempting the bridge project from existing environmental and other laws the tribe relied on.
Work on the project began in July and is expected to last several months.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/09/15/1826351/court-rejects-tribes-everglades.html#ixzz104Um64aw
100913- Criticism of U.S. Sugar land acquisition ignores key facts: Kevin Powers
TCPalm - by Kevin Powers
September 13, 2010
Advocates for the St. Lucie River cheered in June 2008 when the South Florida Water Management District began negotiating with the U.S. Sugar Corp., to acquire as much as 187,000 acres of land for Everglades restoration. For Martin and St. Lucie County residents, the proposed $1.75 billion land acquisition offered an opportunity to provide much-needed water storage facilities south of Lake Okeechobee and to limit federal freshwater lake releases that have plagued the river and its estuary.
At its Aug. 12 meeting, the district governing board approved a scaled-down — but no less historic — agreement that is in line with the realities facing the agency today. Under the amended contract, the district will use $197 million in cash already set aside for land acquisition and restoration projects to initially purchase 26,800 acres of land. The agreement includes options for up to 10 years for the district to purchase the remaining acreage should economic conditions allow.
Some Treasure Coast supporters of the original U.S. Sugar acquisition now oppose this latest agreement, claiming it will not do enough to protect the estuary. While this frustration is understandable, especially after this year’s set of damaging lake releases, the criticism ignores several fundamental factors that have shaped the acquisition.
Most important, the immediate and necessary focus for the U.S. Sugar properties is to address pending federal court proceedings related to improving water quality in the Everglades. The acquisition will expand existing efforts to treat water moving through the South Florida ecosystem, which requires strategically located land.
The two parcels in the amended U.S. Sugar purchase can achieve these water quality improvements in key areas. The district can immediately use the 17,900 acres of citrus groves in Hendry County and 8,900 acres of sugarcane land in Palm Beach County to expand the network of treatment wetlands that has proven so effective at cleaning Everglades-bound water.
To date, no other land options have been forwarded to the district to achieve these objectives in a better location at a better price. Without additional proposals, it is in the best financial interest of taxpayers to deal with willing sellers as opposed to the last resort, condemnation, which can cost millions of dollars in legal fees.
Additionally, the district must accomplish all of this in a vastly different economic climate than the one in which the original acquisition was proposed. Since 2008, the agency’s revenues have declined by $150 million. Recognizing those fiscal constraints, the Governing Board has taken great care to honor its pledge to complete the land purchase without increasing the burden on taxpayers or impairing the district’s ability to meet its core missions. This amended purchase also preserves funding for constructing water quality improvement projects in the future.
It is important not to make the mistake of viewing the initial 26,800-acre acquisition as a last step. The district has another decade to buy the remaining acreage. But even if all the land was available now, it would not provide instant relief for the estuary without storage and water quality improvement projects.
The St. Lucie estuary is a natural treasure that is key to our way of life on the Treasure Coast. As a Martin County resident, I believe the estuary should enjoy the same water quality protections afforded the Everglades. At the moment, however, federal and state laws dictate that the quality and quantity of water flowing south to the Everglades is subject to stricter regulations than that dumped on our estuary. This must change.
The district is working to achieve water quality improvements for the St. Lucie, with limited resources and a vast South Florida ecosystem that needs our help. To that end, we continue to look for new and innovative ways to store water north and south of the lake to help protect our unique and precious estuary. Powers, partner in the Indiantown Realty Corp., sits on the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District.
100909-1 South Florida water officials warned to guard against ethics violations
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
September 09, 2010
Warning follows string of South Florida corruption cases
South Florida water officials were warned on Thursday that a new "climate" of corruption prosecutions among scandal-plagued local governments could spread to them if they fail to pay attention to ethics rules.
Officials at the South Florida Water Management District were put on notice by their attorneys that the agency's appointed board of directors must follow ethics rules and public meeting laws that have tripped up government officials throughout South Florida. Those laws also apply to an advisory commission made up of people from South Florida special interest groups.
Recent prosecutions in Broward County and Palm Beach County, where the district is based, prompted the reminders about anti-corruption rules governing local officials. The water management district guards against flooding, oversees water supplies in 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys and is responsible for a $1 billion budget. The district also leads Everglades restoration.
The warning about "greater scrutiny" was particularly aimed at the district's Water Resources Advisory Commission, the wide-ranging group that weighs in on important water management decisions that can affect environmental regulations and divvying up South Florida's water supply.
100909-2 Water management district proposes enviromentally friendly release plan
News-Press - by Kevin Lollar
September 9, 2010
After two hours of discussion Thursday in West Palm Beach, the South Florida Water Management District governing board advised district staff to adopt a plan that will be slightly more beneficial to the environment than an alternate proposal.
At issue were two models for releasing water from Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers during dry times.
One model — AP-5.50 or simply 5.5 — is slightly better for the rivers’ estuaries. The second model — AP-5.40 — is slightly better for agriculture.
Both models call for no freshwater releases to the rivers at certain times. Releases are necessary to keep the rivers healthy — while agriculture always receives water.
“The environment has a direct impact on our economy,” said Charles Dauray, a district governing board member representing Lee, Collier, Hendry and Charlotte counties. “In the Caloosahatchee, if you ruin the ecology, the economy goes down, and we’re out of business. There will be billions of dollars in damages.”
During the public comment period, 16 people spoke in favor of protecting the environment.
Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah alluded to the famous line in the movie “Cool Hand Luke” about “failure to communicate.”
“District staff is acting subservient to the sugar industry,” he said.
District executive director Carol Wehle said she was offended by Judah’s comments.
“We don’t feel we work for U.S. Sugar or Florida Crystals,” she said. “We grapple with balancing resources just as you do. I think we’re in this together.”
100908-1 EPA Complies With Court Decision And Directs Florida To Restore Water Quality In The Everglades
September 8, 2010
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) directed the state of Florida to take specific measures to restore water quality to levels that protect the Everglades. This action, known as an "Amended Determination," complies with a decision by Judge Alan Gold of the U.S. District Court – Southern District of Florida following lawsuits by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and the Friends of the Everglades.
The District Court's April 14 decision directed EPA to give clear and comprehensive instructions to Florida by September 3, 2010.
"With this action, EPA is complying with the law and acknowledging that we must do more together to restore clean water to the Everglades," said Stan Meiburg, Acting Regional Administrator for EPA's southeastern region. "The State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District have done much good work already and we hope to build on that by meeting both the substance and the spirit of Judge Gold's decision with this plan, and to achieve clean water standards as soon as possible."
As required by the court's decision, EPA has notified Florida that clean water standards for phosphorus are not being achieved in all parts of the Everglades and that further reductions of phosphorus pollution are needed in the area south of Lake Okeechobee. Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring nutrient that, in excess, causes chemical and biological changes that degrade natural systems, such as wetlands, lakes and coastal areas. Excess phosphorus is being released into the Everglades as runoff primarily from farms to the north.
EPA has identified a comprehensive set of actions and milestones needed to meet clean water standards in the Everglades including a significant expansion of marsh treatment areas that decrease phosphorus levels in the runoff water before it is released to the Everglades. There are currently about 60,000 acres of these marsh treatment systems already in place or under construction. EPA's actions call for another 42,000 acres of treatment area. EPA believes that this expansion can largely be accommodated using existing land currently in State ownership, together with additional land the South Florida Water Management District recently agreed to purchase from the U.S. Sugar Corporation.
The Amended Determination spells out several actions which the State of Florida and the District will need to take, with the first deadlines coming in the next 60 days. An important short-term action is to amend existing permits for the discharges to the Everglades so they conform to Judge Gold's decision and incorporate discharge limits in the amended determination. Longer term actions include conducting environmental assessments, preparing engineering designs, and constructing new marsh treatment areas. The determination includes a detailed set of milestones for completing these tasks as soon as possible. Judge Gold has scheduled a hearing for October 7 on the amended determination.
SOURCE: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
100908-2 EVERGLADES: EPA smacks Fla. with commands for cleanup
Greenwire – by Paul Quinlan, E&E reporter
September 8, 2010
After three-and-a-half years of watching from the sidelines while Florida state agencies wrestled over expensive proposals and battled environmentalists in court, U.S. EPA has slapped Florida with new orders aimed at restoring the Everglades.
On Friday, at the behest of a federal judge, EPA issued directives and deadlines aimed at returning the slow-moving waters of the River of Grass to health by 2020. It came in response to a scathing order from U.S. District Judge Alan Gold that demanded EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson appear before him next month and blasted her agency for choosing to "drag its feet" in a "dereliction of duty ... contrary to the Clean Water Act."
Environmentalists say the order promises to break through the impasse that has resulted as the state has pushed for deadline extensions, promised grandiose restoration projects and wrangled over the merits of a billion-dollar land deal that was repeatedly delayed and downsized and has yet to close.
"Getting Region 4 of the EPA to act on something is like trying to steer a water bed that's rolling down a hill, and you can see this in what happened," said David Guest, the Earthjustice attorney who has long litigated for faster Everglades cleanup. "This is a very dramatic change in policy."
The plan released Friday, which the court must still approve, calls on Florida to roughly double the size of its billion-dollar spread of man-made pollution-filtering marshes to more than 100,000 acres. It calls on the state to correct "deficiencies" in its monitoring and reporting of pollution levels.
EPA's order lays out a matrix of deadlines under which the state must purchase land, complete design, obtain permits and finish construction of the filter marshes.
It also endorses the state's controversial land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp., the object of two years of heated public debate and litigation. EPA said the new marshes could be "largely accommodated" with land the state already owns, as well as the 27,000 acres that Gov. Charlie Crist (I) and state water managers have agreed to purchase for $197 million next month.
Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham cheered the new EPA restoration blueprint for its "ambitious deadline" and for what he characterized as an "emphatic declaration that the U.S. Sugar land acquisition is central to the success of Everglades restoration."
EPA's Acting Region 4 Administrator Stan Meiburg said the order complied with the law but also acknowledged that the federal and state governments "must do more together to restore clean water to the Everglades."
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District, the local agency responsible for Everglades restoration, both issued statements saying EPA's order, which gives the state 60 days to respond with alternative proposals, remains under review.
But the district also said it was "encouraged by the determination's apparent flexibility," particularly for encouraging the state to propose water storage alternatives in certain areas.
Despite spotty but improving performance, the artificial marshes remain the best available weapon for combating phosphorus, the fertilizer constituent that washes off farms and urban areas and represents the primary pollution threat to the Everglades. Phosphorus has triggered soupy algae blooms and caused cattails and exotic weeds to choke out essential native plants in the once 4,000-square-mile marsh, which has been reduced to half its original size, slowly poisoned by farms, urban sprawl and rock mining. Sugar land deal
EPA's action marks the second major endorsement for Crist's controversial U.S. Sugar land deal in recent weeks.
In another Everglades case, a special master to U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno issued a recommendation saying the state is correct to halt construction of a 25-square-mile reservoir, the largest of its kind in the world, despite having already invested a quarter-billion dollars in the project.
Moreno's special master, John Barkett, sided with Everglades Foundation scientists and other environmentalists who argued that the state's decision was wise and that the reservoir land would be better used as a pollution treatment marsh, given the U.S. Sugar acquisition.
Attorneys for U.S. Sugar's chief rival, Florida Crystals Corp., and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, which lives on land in the Everglades and operates a casino on its outskirts, had argued that halting the reservoir would set back Everglades restoration for decades.
First unveiled by Crist in June 2008, what began as the South Florida Water Management District's shocking $1.75 billion total buyout of the sugar giant was downsized three times, to the purchase of just 27,000 acres of citrus fields and other lands.
Frustrated by the slow progress and second-guessing, Moreno issued an order in March that seemed a death knell to the deal, writing that he was "now uncertain as to what role the downsized land purchase will play in Everglades restoration." But after hearings this summer, Barkett took a decidedly different tack.
"It would be both disappointing and surprising if the State and the United States did not figure out a way to assist the District in truly recreating the River of Grass," Barkett wrote. "Everglades? or Neverglades? At some point, political and business leaders have to implement their commitment to save this Florida and United States ecological treasure; promises just won't do anymore."
Miccosukee attorney Sonia O'Donnell did not return a call for comment.
Fordham, of the Everglades Foundation, said the report and EPA's order last week together marked a sea change in both regulators' and the courts' view of what was best for the ecosystem.
"They're very much aligned in the direction that Everglades restoration now needs to move in," Fordham said. "If we can continue the harmonious relationship between the state of Florida and the federal government, we have an opportunity to really advance key water quality improvements over the next five to seven years."
100908-3 South Florida water managers tentatively pass $1 billion budget
SunSentinel - by Andy Reid
September 08, 2010
Controversial Everglades land deal is part of spending plan final vote on Sept. 21.
An Everglades restoration land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. moves forward — without raising property tax rates — under a $1 billion budget initially approved Wednesday by the South Florida Water Management District.
The district's proposed budget includes $197 million to buy 26,800 acres of farmland from U.S. Sugar that would be used to store and clean water to replenish the Everglades.
In addition to the U.S. Sugar deal, the district's budget includes $60 million to refurbish the canals and levees that protect South Florida from flooding and more than $100 million to expand stormwater treatment areas that filter pollutants out of water headed to the Everglades.
Under the proposed budget, the property tax rate levied by the district would remain about 62 cents per $1,000 of taxable value for Broward and Palm Beach counties along with most of the agency's 16-county region.
For a home assessed at $230,000 and eligible for a $50,000 homestead exemption, district taxes for residents in Broward and Palm Beach Counties would be about $112 a year.
100906-1 A vote for U.S. Sugar deal: Special master says it's right move at right time.
The Palm Beach Post
September 6, 2010
Critics of the deal to buy U.S. Sugar's land received a rebuke last week - a sharply worded report that will guide a federal judge's decisions in how he should protect the Everglades.
John Barkett, special master for U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, found that water managers were correct to halt construction of a 16,000-acre reservoir in western Palm Beach County, even though they had spent about $280 million on the first phase of construction. The reservoir wouldn't help water quality, he concluded, and building it now would mean missing the opportunity presented by buying U.S. Sugar's land.
"It would be both disappointing and surprising if the state and the United States did not figure out a way to assist the district in truly re-creating the River of Grass," Mr. Barkett wrote. "Everglades? Or Neverglades? At some point, political and business leaders have to implement their commitment to save this Florida and United States ecological treasure; promises just won't do anymore."
Critics had attacked the South Florida Water Management District for dropping the reservoir, even though its location - given the U.S. Sugar purchase - is best suited for conversion into a shallow-water marsh known as a stormwater treatment area. Such marshes cleanse water, so it can meet strict pollution standards before entering the Everglades. The district stopped before a point of no return, and argued that the work just as easily could lay the groundwork for a treatment area.
Because of declining tax revenue, the water district has reduced its purchase of U.S. Sugar land to $197 million for 27,000 acres. Those two properties are meant to help with water treatment, not water storage. U.S. Sugar competitor Florida Crystals, the Miccosukee Tribe and politicians seeking to capitalize on voter discontent, argue that the U.S. Sugar purchase wastes money and stops progress on ongoing projects. Mr. Barkett disagrees: "The question presented is whether the district is allowed to change its mind on a remedial approach. The answer is a qualified 'yes.'" It's the right recommendation to Judge Moreno. - Joel Engelhardt for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
100906-2 Court Enforced EPA Action Aims to Restore Everglades
Epoch Times - by Conan Milner
September 6, 2010
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given Florida specific measures to restore water quality to protect the Everglades. The action complies with an amended determination set by U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold in April ordering the agency to give Florida comprehensive instructions to improve environmental conditions by Sept. 3.
For years, the EPA has faced pressure from environmental groups to take pollution in the Everglades more seriously. Friends of the Everglades and the Miccosukee Tribe sued the agency in 2004 for not taking a more active role in protecting this unique ecosystem.
In accordance with Gold’s ruling, the EPA told the state that clean water standards for phosphorus are not being met in all areas of the Everglades. The agency called for further reductions in phosphorus pollution specifically in the area south of Lake Okeechobee.
According to the EPA, although phosphorus is a naturally-occurring nutrient, “in excess it can cause chemical and biological changes that degrade natural systems, such as wetlands, lakes, and coastal areas.” Runoff from farms north of the Everglades has been blamed as the largest source of the excess phosphorus. The agency says it will soon amend existing discharge limits to conform to Gold’s decision.
The EPA has also said another 42,000 acres of marsh treatment systems should be added to the 60,000 acres already in place. The South Florida Water Management District plans to purchase land from the U.S. Sugar Corporation to be used for the expansion.
“With this action, EPA is complying with the law and acknowledging that we must do more together to restore clean water to the Everglades. The state of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District have done much good work already and we hope to build on that by meeting both the substance and the spirit of Judge Gold’s decision with this plan, and to achieve clean water standards as soon as possible,” said Stan Meiburg, acting regional administrator for EPA’s southeastern region in a statement.
However, these actions are just the beginning in a series of steps the EPA and the state of Florida must take to meet the requirements set by Gold, who has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 7 to evaluate the progress of his amended determination.
100904- EPA gives Florida new Everglades cleanup guidelines
The Miami Herald
September 4, 2010
Under pressure from a Miami federal judge, the EPA lays out a long, expensive proposal for the state to reduce pollution flowing into the Everglades.
BY CURTIS MORGAN cmorgan@MiamiHerald.com
Federal environmental regulators on Friday laid out a detailed blueprint for how Florida can finally live up to its repeatedly postponed pledge to clean up pollution flowing into the Everglades.
The plan, which a Miami federal judge demanded from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, calls for a more than 70 percent expansion of the state's existing network of reservoirs and pollution treatment marshes -- 42,000 acres of new projects that would cost taxpayers billions of dollars. It also endorses Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. as part of the solution.
But the proposal would again push back deadlines to meet a standard for phosphorus, a fertilizer ingredient that flows from farms, ranches and yards and can poison native marsh plants. The long-expired 2006 state deadline for supplying the Glades the pristine water it needs would lag -- pushed back to as much a decade from now.
Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, said the proposal, which U.S. District Judge Alan Gold must approve, made a clear case that cleanup was falling short.
``The technical experts at the federal government and the courts are all banging on the table, saying the state needs to get off its duff,'' he said.
Fordham called the plan an ``emphatic declaration'' for the U.S. Sugar land purchase, a deal championed by many environmental groups but bitterly opposed by rival growers and the Miccosukee Tribe. Last month, the South Florida Water Management District approved the latest version of the thrice-shrunk deal. The deal, scheduled to close next month, would pay the company $197 million for 26,000 acres of citrus groves and fields that plans call for eventually converting to reservoirs and pollution cleaning marshes.
Stan Meiburg, the EPA's acting southeastern regional administrator, credited the district and Florida Department of Environmental Protection with making progress but also acknowledged ``that we must do more together to restore clean water to the Everglades.''
Gold was not so diplomatic in a blistering ruling he issued in April. Gold argued state lawmakers had crafted ``incomprehensible'' rules that opened loopholes effectively pushing back a 2006 deadline by a decade. In an initial ruling in 2008, Gold also found the EPA erred in approving the watered-down standards.
In April, the judge threatened to fine the EPA and DEP if they didn't work out an enforceable plan. He also ordered the chiefs of both agencies to appear in his court in next month.
The 57-page document spells out the steps to improve water quality but also shows that the state's $1 billion-plus investment in sprawling marshes hasn't halted the decline of the Everglades. In just one of many measures, it notes that in the 10 years between 1995 and 2005, the expanse of soil with damaging levels of phosphorus increased by 106,000 acres, or 50 percent.
NO APPROVAL YET
The EPA had been working with state agencies on the plan but neither the DEP or district has formally approved it.
Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said the lengthy plan was under review. Water managers, in a statement, said they were encouraged by the ```apparent flexibility'' of a plan that would allow more water storage and give the state up to 60 days to propose alternative solutions.
They also were pleased that the federal agency had noted how the U.S. Sugar deal would help the state comply with tougher standards.
The land deal got more legal support earlier this week, when a advisor to U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, who is overseeing another Everglades cleanup case, issued a report supporting the land buy as part of an expanded cleanup effort.
If the purchase goes through, the district would own most of the land it needs for the cleanup expansion -- aside from 7,600 acres near the Loxahatchee Wildlife National Refuge, site of two past water quality violations. Land in the more well-developed area would be expensive, particularly for an agency already struggling with budget cuts from declining property tax revenues.
The Gold case was originally filed by the Miccosukee Tribe and Friends of the Everglades, an environmental group. The tribe, along with Florida Crystals, U.S. Sugar's chief rival, have also been the fiercest critics of the land buy, arguing it would leave the district with no money for building projects and delay restoration by decades.
Sonia O'Donnell, the tribe's attorney, did not respond to an e-mail nor a phone message asking for comment.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/09/03/1807702/epa-gives-florida-new-everglades.html#ixzz0ybG3R6hk
100903-1 Conservancy files two petitions seeking to changes to handling water flow on Caloosahatchee River
September 3, 2010
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida ratcheted up the pressure on water managers Friday to protect the health of the Caloosahatchee River.
In two separate legal petitions, the Naples-based group seeks to get more water from Lake Okeechobee to downstream estuaries in coastal Lee County during the dry season.
A lack of fresh water upsets the natural balance of the sensitive ecosystems, harming seagrasses and oysters with high salinity levels and chasing away salinity-sensitive marine life such as blue crabs.
“Right now in the river, it’s either feast or famine,” Conservancy President Andrew McElwaine said.
One petition, filed with the state Division of Administrative Hearings in Tallahassee, asks a judge to invalidate a water use rule the Conservancy says puts agriculture’s irrigation needs above the health of the river.
A second petition filed with the South Florida Water Management District seeks to have the agency revise the rule that sets a minimum flow of freshwater down the river from Lake Okeechobee.
In a statement issued Friday, water management district spokesman Randy Smith said the district was reviewing the two petitions and that the district Governing Board will discuss them next week.
The Florida Farm Bureau Federation accused the Conservancy of trying to drive a wedge between South Florida water users.
“They’re playing politics and making lawyers rich,” said Charles Shinn, the Federation’s assistant director for government affairs.
Shinn said the Conservancy’s petition won’t solve the problem of too little water to go around among the environment, utilities and agriculture.
That will take a fix to the dike around Lake Okeechobee to allow more water to be held in the lake for the dry season and the completion of a reservoir, known as the C-43 in the state-federal Everglades restoration plan, to store water for releases down the Caloosahatchee.
“I think they are grasping at something that’s been taken care and just needs some time to be funded and built,” Shinn said.
The C-43 project wouldn’t provide enough water for the river and storing too much water in the lake comes with its own environmental consequences, Conservancy natural resource policy director Jennifer Hecker said.
Instead, the district needs to do a better job of allocating water more equitably, she said.
“We think the policy should reflect shared adversity,” Hecker said.
In 2001, the district set a mean monthly flow for the Caloosahatchee River at 300 cubic feet per second.
A peer review criticized the rule for only taking into account protections for a seagrass species called tape grass and using inadequate computer models to predict the effects of various salinity levels.
District studies have said the minimum flow ought to be set as high as 800 cubic feet per second, according to the Conservancy petition.
The Conservancy says the district routinely fails to meet the minimum flow rate and that water use permitting rules aren’t helping any.
In the other petition seeking to overturn the water use permitting rule, the group says it allows the district to allocate water to agriculture and public water supply without having to make sure the Caloosahatchee River has enough water.
The district has used the rule to issue 20-year water use permits to existing water users, regardless of whether they had a previous permit, the petition says.
Shinn, with the Farm Bureau Federation, said agriculture water use permits are issued under the assumption that farmers will face water restrictions one out of every 10 years.
But, because water levels in the lake are being kept low to protect the dike, there is less water available to use.
That means water restrictions — and the crop damage that comes with them — are more frequent, Shinn said.
“Everybody’s taking it on the chin,” he said.
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/.
100903-2 EPA Complies with Court Decision and Directs Florida to Restore Water Quality in the Everglades
September 3, 2010
(ATLANTA – Sept. 3, 2010) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) directed the state of Florida to take specific measures to restore water quality to levels that protect the Everglades. This action, known as an “Amended Determination,” complies with a decision by Judge Alan Gold of the U.S. District Court – Southern District of Florida following lawsuits by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians and the Friends of the Everglades.
The District Court’s April 14 decision directed EPA to give clear and comprehensive instructions to Florida by September 3, 2010.
“With this action, EPA is complying with the law and acknowledging that we must do more together to restore clean water to the Everglades,” said Stan Meiburg, Acting Regional Administrator for EPA’s southeastern region. “The State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District have done much good work already and we hope to build on that by meeting both the substance and the spirit of Judge Gold’s decision with this plan, and to achieve clean water standards as soon as possible.”
As required by the court’s decision, EPA has notified Florida that clean water standards for phosphorus are not being achieved in all parts of the Everglades and that further reductions of phosphorus pollution are needed in the area south of Lake Okeechobee. Phosphorus is a naturally-occurring nutrient that, in excess, causes chemical and biological changes that degrade natural systems, such as wetlands, lakes and coastal areas. Excess phosphorus is being released into the Everglades as runoff primarily from farms to the north.
EPA has identified a comprehensive set of actions and milestones needed to meet clean water standards in the Everglades including a significant expansion of marsh treatment areas that decrease phosphorus levels in the runoff water before it is released to the Everglades. There are currently about 60,000 acres of these marsh treatment systems already in place or under construction. EPA’s actions call for another 42,000 acres of treatment area. EPA believes that this expansion can largely be accommodated using existing land currently in State ownership, together with additional land the South Florida Water Management District recently agreed to purchase from the U.S. Sugar Corporation.
The Amended Determination spells out several actions which the State of Florida and the District will need to take, with the first deadlines coming in the next 60 days. An important short-term action is to amend existing permits for the discharges to the Everglades so they conform to Judge Gold’s decision and incorporate discharge limits in the amended determination. Longer term actions include conducting environmental assessments, preparing engineering designs, and constructing new marsh treatment areas. The determination includes a detailed set of milestones for completing these tasks as soon as possible. Judge Gold has scheduled a hearing for October 7 on the amended determination.
Contact Information: Dawn Harris-Young, (404) 562-8327 (404) 562-8327;
100903-3 EPA gives Florida new guidelines for Everglades
The Associated Press – Miami Herald
MIAMI -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given new guidelines to the state of Florida for restoring water quality in the Everglades, following an April order from a federal judge.
The EPA announced Friday that it has identified actions and milestones the state needs to meet.
In April, U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold threatened the EPA with contempt of court in a ruling that accused the agency of ignoring federal Clean Water Act requirements in the Everglades.
Gold ruled in 2008 that the EPA had turned a "blind eye" to Florida's Everglades cleanup efforts, while the state continued to violate its own commitment to restore the vast ecosystem.
The Miccosukee Tribe and Friends of the Everglades initially sued the EPA in 2004.
100901-1 FDEP workshop suggests the agency will recommend ineffective water quality standards
The Florida Independent - by Virginia Chamlee
September 1, 2010
In the wake of a rash of fish and bird deaths likely due to toxic blue-green algal blooms in the St. Johns River, there are renewed calls for standards that dictate how much nutrient runoff citizens and businesses can dump into Florida’s fresh water. The recent gulf oil spill brought to light the fragility and importance of waters on the state’s economy and ecology, but the ocean isn’t our only at-risk body of water.
The St. Johns has long suffered the effects of nutrient pollution, but the past several months have been undoubtedly worse than usual. Those fish and bird deaths, plus the sudden appearance of a bizarre foam, are just a few of the symptoms of nutrient overload, and it is becoming apparent that the agencies governing Florida’s water bodies need to accelerate the adoption of a stringent set of rules to protect them.of rules to protect them.
A lawsuit filed by EarthJustice in 2008 alleged that better standards for nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen — two of the culprits behind many of the area’s toxic algal blooms — were needed in Florida waterways. That suit led to a 2009 determination by the EPA that a set of standards was “necessary” under The Clean Water Act.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has been working on a draft of numeric nutrient standards for almost 10 years, but is still scrambling to finalize them before they are handed over to the EPA for approval. Part of the criteria (for lakes and flowing waters) must be finalized by next month; the criteria affecting estuaries (like the lower St. Johns River basin) must be proposed by January and then finalized by October 2011.
As it stands now, the FDEP has created reports for almost 30 estuarine systems, summarizing all available water quality data and selecting an approach for the development and eventual implementation of the numeric nutrient standards.
In November, the FDEP must propose the criteria for several Florida waterways and estuaries and the EPA must finalize the criteria for estuaries by October 2011. That this date could potentially change.
About a month ago, the EPA released a note soliciting more comment before it finalized the standards. Members of the FDEP, who have essentially worked side by side with the EPA on developing the standards in the past, seemed less confident about their relationship with the federal agency in an agency workshop held yesterday in Bunnell, Fla.
One FDEP representative said that, since last month’s note, the relationship between the FDEP and the EPA has been slightly strained: “We have been feeding them considerations … but lately, not so much. … We really don’t know what they’ll propose.”
At least 50 area scientists and professors attended yesterday’s workshop, whose purpose was two-fold. It was intended as an information session on numeric nutrient criteria, but was also meant to garner suggestions on how to further improve the criteria.
Ken Weaver, the FDEP rep described the lengthy scientific process of testing estuarine waters for nutrients, and said that several considerations need to be made before the effectiveness of the criteria can be ensured. “Data sufficiency is an issue,” he said. “We’re looking at about nine years of data collection to allow for seasonal adjustments and temporal variability.”
Seasonal adjustments present problems in measuring blue-green algae. During a particularly harsh winter (like Florida’s most recent one), algal blooms become aggravated, which has led some to blame the weather for recent fish kills and foam.
The FDEP has identified seven known or potentially toxic algal species in the lower St. Johns thus far, and has a list of likely culprits, including springs and groundwater, atmospheric deposition, non-point source discharges (like the 12 major tributary watersheds off of the river) and wastewater. There are currently 112 facilities authorized to discharge into the lower St. Johns through National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits.
Another controversy involves the mathematics of how nutrient presence is measured. The lower St. Johns River’s nutrient levels are currently measured in terms of overall loads — Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL, to be more specific — rather than concentrations. This means that measurements are taken about once a month in various parts of the water, and the overall nutrient content of the river is then assessed.
For some, including St. Johns Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon, this simply won’t do. Following a brief report on the system and how TMDL is used to measure its nutrient load, the FDEP’s Wayne Magley met harsh criticism from Armingeon.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Armingeon said. “What you’ve just presented is the TMDL and you’ve retitled it the Numeric Nutrient Standard. … You’re really not developing anything new; you’re just repackaging it.”
After citing recently installed Beemats — floating wetlands designed to soak up excess nutrients in surrounding waters — and other projects as good attempts at improving the basin’s water quality, Magley said that the TMDL “should be sufficient for a nutrient criteria.”
In essence, the FDEP is planning to present to the EPA its current system of nutrient measurement as the system to be used permanently, which poses problems. One FDEP rep admitted that the EPA “has expressed interest in terms of a concentration measurement rather than a load measurement. We’d like feedback on how to do that.”
After Armingeon expressed concern that concentration measurements would likely be more enforceable, and therefore more effective, the rep admitted that concentration measurements “help with assessments because loads can’t be measured instantaneously.”
With little time left, the FDEP still has much to accomplish. In addition to determining which criteria to use to develop nutrient standards, they still need to determine how to asses and enforce them.
Another problem ? Consensus within the scientific community. While it is tough to argue that the St. Johns hasn’t seen the effects of nutrient runoff, one FDEP rep made a rash claim in yesterday’s meeting. When speaking about the St. Marys River Estuary, which the department determined to be in healthy shape, he said this: “These systems can handle lots of nutrients without any adverse effects.”
Unfortunately, there are some dead fish that would beg to differ.
100901-2 Report may aid Everglades land buy
Miami Herald - by CURTIS MORGAN
September 1, 2010
An advisor's report may help Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial U.S Sugar land buy clear a major legal hurdle.
Forcing water managers to build a massive abandoned reservoir would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars but still not do enough to clean up the Everglades, according to an advisor to a federal judge.
If U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno accepts the advisor's recommendation, and he has in the past, it would keep alive what remains of Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial sugar land buy.
The South Florida Water Management District acknowledges it can't afford both projects -- completing a $700 million, 16,700-acre reservoir in western Palm Beach County and buying 26,000 acres for $197 million from the U.S. Sugar Corp. to convert it to reservoirs and pollution cleaning marshes.
Moreno, who oversees the landmark 1992 settlement that forced the state to cut pollution runoff destroying the native landscape, ordered the state in March to revive the reservoir, saying he was tired of waiting for the promising but downsized and repeatedly delayed U.S. Sugar land buy. He assigned John Barkett, a special master he appointed to analyze the complex Everglades litigation, to hash out new construction deadlines and cleanup plans.
Instead, Barkett issued an 80-page report that shared Moreno's frustration with the glacial pace, changing plans and endless litigation but also argued that reviving an old project won't solve more pressing cleanup demands from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a second federal judge in Miami, Alan Gold.
Gold, in a separate ruling, has demanded that federal environmental regulators enforce tougher phosphorous pollution standards in the Glades. Barkett found that reservoir, which was primarily intended to store water under an older cleanup plan he said was based on ``incomplete'' and ``inaccurate'' assumptions, wouldn't meet Gold's higher cleanup bar. ``The public interest is served by doing the best we can to ensure that precious Everglades restoration dollars are spent as wisely as we can,'' Barkett wrote.
The Miccosukee Tribe and Florida Crystals, U.S. Sugar's chief rival, had urged Moreno to order the reservoir built. Fierce critics of the land buy, they had contended the deal would enrich a major Crist campaign donor, leave the district with no money for other projects and delay restoration by decades.
Last month, the district's governing board approved its third downsizing of what had started out in 2006 as a blockbuster $1.75 billion bid to buy out U.S. Sugar and its sprawling 180,000-acre empire. Closing is scheduled next month.
Barkett wrote that it was unlikely the reservoir would be built for six to 10 years because of lawsuits. And citing the refusal of rival growers to consider land swaps, noted: ``Some might argue that such an attitude from a farm interest is not consistent with genuine interest in Everglades restoration.''
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/09/01/1801656/report-may-aid-glades-land-buy.html#ixzz0yJftZfmb
100831- Report to federal judge recommends against finishing Everglades reservoir shelved by U.S. Sugar land deal
Sun Sentinel – by Andy Reid
August 31, 2010
The South Florida Water Management District should not have to finish an Everglades restoration reservoir shelved by its land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp., according to a report to a federal judge filed Monday.
If U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno accepts that recommendation it would remove a key legal hurdle to the district's proposed $197 million deal to buy 26,800 acres from U.S. Sugar. The land would be used to help restore water flows to the Everglades.
Moreno in March determined that the district's 2008 decision to stop construction on the massive reservoir in western Palm Beach County threatened to derail Everglades restoration in pursuit of a land deal with the sugar giant pushed by Gov. Charlie Crist.
The judge in March appointed a special master to coordinate how to proceed with getting the reservoir and Everglades restoration back on track.
Special Master John Barkett now has recommended that the district be relieved of its obligation to build the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir — which already cost taxpayers nearly $280 million.
Barkett echoed the district's argument that the chance to buy U.S. Sugar land offers better restoration opportunities for the Everglades than finishing the 16,700-acre reservoir west of U.S. 27.
"The availability of the U.S. Sugar land is another changed circumstance that cannot be ignored in seeking to achieve Everglades restoration," Barkett wrote in his recommendation to the judge.
Instead of proceeding with the costly reservoir, the district wants to turn it into a stormwater treatment area that could help filter pollutants out of water headed to the Everglades.
"Given limited resources, the district has seized a rare opportunity to acquire lands in a cost-effective way, enabling us in the coming years to implement proven water-treatment projects," the district said in a statement released Tuesday praising Barkett's recommendation.
The district on Oct. 11 plans to close on the latest scaled-down version of a land deal with U.S. Sugar. Crist for two years has pushed to buy U.S. Sugar land that could be used to build reservoirs and treatment areas intended to replenish the Everglades and provide backup for South Florida drinking water supplies.
Barkett pointed out in his recommendation that Moreno in March called for restarting reservoir construction "in absence of an agreement" to change Everglades restoration guidelines. Barkett contends that the district and federal and state officials are working on a new agreement.
Barkett called for a series of hearings starting Oct. 25 to try to resolve the differences between backers of the U.S. Sugar deal and the Miccosukee Tribe, which wants the reservoir built.
The tribe and U.S. Sugar competitor Florida Crystals have been waging a legal battle against the land deal, arguing it costs taxpayers too much, unfairly enriches U.S. Sugar and takes money away from other needed Everglades projects, such as the reservoir.
A decision from the Florida Supreme Court on the tribe and Florida Crystals' challenge to the deal is pending.
Environmental groups have supported the deal as a historic chance to buy strategically located farmland that was long off limits to Everglades restoration. Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504.