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Rising seas

5 Places Transformed by Climate Change in 2014 – by Jan Lee
December 31st, 2014
This past year could be called a test case for climate change. Scary as that sounds, 2014 has seen a broad spectrum of quirky events, ranging from drought and flooding to the loss of sea ice and glacier mass. There’s been some oddly good news as well: Some species continue to find their own way to adapt to climatic changes, opting for new environmental zones or alternative food sources. What will be our new way of adapting? Will we lead the pack, or follow suit?
Flood vs. secede? … Hmmm
In Florida, one small city made headlines this year when it threw down the gauntlet and announced it was seceding from the state. That might not have been what Gov. Rick Scott expected when he announced his bid for re-election as one of the country’s biggest hold-outs against climate change, but it definitely garnered attention. Years of increasing flooding due to rising tides and Florida’s unique porous topography were the tipping point for the embattled city. The recent news that South Florida would probably be under water in a couple of centuries probably didn’t help. But with a freshly signed resolution to secede now making its way through South Florida’s 24 county governments, the city of South Miami may just get its wish for redress over the definitions of climate change in sunny South Florida.
The $400 million home relocation
In 2013 we reported on a tiny town called Kivalina, Alaska, which sits above the arctic circle and has not only lost land mass to climate change, but also much of its traditional way of life. Unusually warm temps and loss of sea ice has placed the town of 370 inhabitants at risk, as the tiny land spit is buffeted by winds and storm surge. Local sources estimate that the town has lost a third of its land mass in recent decades, forcing residents to admit that relocation may be necessary in order to save their traditional way of life. The General Accounting Office estimates that relocation could cost as much as $400 million, however, given the shrinking coastline in other areas of the region as well.
In 2008 Kivalina sued ExxonMobil and 23 other oil, power and coal companies for global warming, which the city said was brought on by carbon emissions. The residents didn’t win; the court punted the issue, saying that global warming was a political matter better regulated by Congress. That, of course, has yet to happen.
California: Year three and counting
It’s been a wild ride in California this year. Just about every region of the state has faced environmental changes, from bankrupting droughts to inundating floods. Lack of rain forced farmers to fallow their land and forced ranchers into bankruptcy. It also caused considerable problems for organic dairy farmers. Federal funds amounting to $100 million were called in to help ranchers, while Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $687.4 million for drought relief. The funds came from the state’s Greenhouse Reduction Fund and voter-approved bonds.
Native American tribal communities also received assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency to combat climate change. Approximately $43 million was allocated to Southwest tribes to bolster water resources and infrastructure in remote, parched areas of the state.
The arrival of winter storms in December is not expected to alleviate stress from drought, which is heading into its fourth year.
One century and 7,000 homes
With record storms and flooding besieging the U.K.’s coastlines in past years, the government’s Environment Department has estimated that as many as 7,000 residences may be reclaimed by the sea in the next century. At greatest risk, of course, are homes and businesses that are vulnerable to storm surge, but last year’s widespread flooding in cities has heightened awareness that Mother Nature’s reach isn’t limited to coastlines. The tourist haven of Cornwall, England is expected to lose the most homes to the sea in the next 50 years. More than 750 homes in England will face risk in the next 20 years.
Where climate goes, so go the trees
We can’t close a New Year’s post on a dismal note, so we have this upbeat news to share: Earlier this year scientists found that some species are coming up with their own innovative answers to climate change. The polar bear and a wide selection of butterfly subspecies have developed intuitive ways to deal with changing temperatures and seasonal needs. For the polar bear, retreating to land more frequently and seeking out new food sources has allowed some animals to adapt to disappearing sea ice. The checkerspot, quino and comma butterflies have made their own migratory changes, opting for cooler climates. Trees, too, have found ways to adapt in Costa Rica’s drought-hit rain forests. Tropical zones in some areas are moving “up,” seeking more amenable environments for survival during what may likely be, another year of climate evolution.


FL Capitol

Lawmakers working on 5-year land plan, water money - by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
December 30, 2014
Some estimates $10 billion over 20 years
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Florida lawmakers might lay out future water and land preservation efforts in a 5-year plan updated annually, similar to how transportation projects are prioritized.
The proposal will go before lawmakers during committee weeks leading up to the 2015 legislative session, which starts in March.
Since voters approved the “Florida Water and Land Legacy” constitutional amendment in November, lawmakers have heard from a growing number of interests about how the money — by some estimates $10 billion over 20 years — should be carved up.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told reporters this month he supports creating a 5-year plan for the long-term water and land conservation projects.
“It allows local communities to plan,” he said. “It gives you some flexibility that if there is some land that needs to be acquired, you could do it in a partnership. Because everybody knows what that 5-year plan is.”
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who has joined Gardiner in saying that water conservation and protection will be a priority during the next two legislative sessions, was more ambivalent when asked about a 5-year plan.
 “The idea of a multi-year financial plan, similar to the Department of Transportation’s 5-year work program, is something that we have spoken of for some time now and is not a new concept,” Crisafulli said last week.
“I believe it is an approach that we will vet through the committee process as we approach the upcoming session.”
The voter-approved constitutional amendment requires 33 percent of the revenue from a tax on real-estate transactions to go to land and water projects for the next two decades.
Supporters of the amendment say it will generate about $10 billion over 20 years, while the state appears to project higher numbers.
Supporters of the amendment say it will generate about $10 billion over 20 years, while the state appears to project higher numbers.
A state analysis estimates the total would be $648 million during the fiscal year starting in July 2015 and eventually would grow to $1.268 billion by the 20th year.
Since the amendment was approved, concerns have been expressed about issues such as how lawmakers will define land-preservation or water-conservation projects, how the state will determine which of its “impaired” water bodies is most critical and how to approach the reduction of stormwater runoff and agriculture fertilizer use.
Eric Draper, state director of Audubon Florida, backed the idea of a 5-year plan.
“Instead of everybody in Florida hiring a lobbyist in Tallahassee and competing for money from the Legislature, you have a list of criteria and on an annual basis fund the most important things,” Draper said.
The concept of the constitutional amendment was spawned as funding diminished for the Florida Forever program.
Florida Forever, which uses bonds backed with revenue from the documentary-stamp real-estate taxes, authorizes lawmakers to spend up to $300 million a year for preservation. But as the economy went sour during the recent recession, so do did funding for Florida Forever.


Students Learn Environmental Stewardship In Everglades National Park
South Dade News Leader  - by Bill Maxwell
December 30, 2014
Kids explore the Everglades.
“You will feel the Everglades today,” park Ranger Ryan Hess said, his green-and-gray uniform and iconic hat giving his words authority. “You will get muddy and wet.”
 This was orientation with the 25 students from the Gateway Environmental K-8 Center in Homestead who were participating in the three-day Everglades Environmental Education Program.
  Hess, who immediately became “Ranger Ryan” to the students, discussed the ecological importance of the famous “River of Grass” and conducted an exercise that demonstrated the park’s interdependent web of life.
After orientation, a bus took the students, their teacher, Pamela Nelson-Shokar, and four chaperones to the HiddenLakeEducationCenter. Ranger Ryan gave a tour of the camp, and he and Nelson-Shokar recited the program’s no-nonsense rules, stressing that discipline equals safety.
Nelson-Shokar reminded a boy acting out that she had his mother “on speed dial.” He apparently got the message and stopped misbehaving.
  Ranger Ryan announced that during the next three days, no one would take showers.
  “One of the best things will be the smell, the body odor, you get in three days,” he said, bringing groans and nervous laughter. “You will have to clean your tents and your bathrooms. And we will have inspections.”
More groans, no laughter.
Getting Wet and Loving It
  After lunch, the students went on their first major adventure: the slough slog, literally walking in Everglades waters. The ranger led them into a periphyton marsh near Pay-hay-okee trail. After initial screaming because of the cold water, the students relaxed and started learning firsthand that this so-called swamp is not a wasteland of stagnate water.
  They realized that the shallow, slow-moving water is a clear universe of animal and plant life. More than an hour later, the kids walked out of the slough, having accomplished a feat many adults dare not attempt.
  “This was great,” a boy said. “There were a lot of crayfish.”
  A girl said, “It was real messy, but I loved it.”
Learning to Protect the Environment
  Although a goal is for students is to enjoy themselves, the environmental program, which operates from mid-December through mid-March for 9- to -13-year-olds, is not about fun and games. All of the activities are aligned with the curricula of the three county school districts the program partners with, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe.
  Founded in 1971, the Everglades National Park program, which includes the Loop Road Education Center, uses private donations and park funds to host some 14,000 students annually.
  In addition to being an internationally unique ecosystem, Everglades National Park, as the program stresses, is a living classroom where rangers and teachers work collaboratively to show children why they should care about the total environment.
The Night Hike Introduces a New World
  After dinner the first night, Ranger Ryan took the students on a one-mile night hike from Hidden Lake to Anhinga Trail. The teacher’s manual describes the hike as “a thrilling experience that serves to dispel misconceptions about the dangers that lurk in the dark.”
  After about a quarter mile, Ranger Ryan asked the students to turn off their flashlights and remain silent. An owl hooted deep inside the woods, and several bioluminescent insects flew overhead and in and out of the foliage.
  “Nature doesn’t stop when the sun goes down,” Ranger Ryan said. “Many secretive animals come out at night. We’re seeing what it’s like to be a nocturnal animal.”
The “Trust Walk” Builds Confidence
  On the return hike, the students were unaware that their greatest challenge awaited them: the “trust walk.” Describing the significance of the walk, Ranger Ryan talked about overcoming fears, trusting others and the importance of personal responsibility.
  Then, he left the students with the teacher and chaperones as he placed faint-red illuminations, with ample distance between them, along the path. An adult stood at each illumination, and the students were instructed to proceed one by one in the darkness.
  Meanwhile, Ranger Ryan had built a campfire before the students emerged from the darkness and found seats around the blaze.
  The reactions of Jadalyn Zorrilla, 11, and Ted Kinard, 13, typified the reactions of other students to the trust walk.
  “I was a little afraid at first, but then I realized that it was okay,” Jadalyn said. “I saw the campfire and knew I was safe. I was really excited to get here and finally see people around the fire. I’d been afraid of something coming out of the woods and attacking me. This is the Everglades. It’s kind of freaky with all of the noises.”
  Ted said, “I don’t see how anyone could forget the trust walk. I was afraid. This was my first time being in the dark. You didn’t know what was in the road at night in the dark. But when you trust somebody, like Ranger Ryan said, you know it’s safe and you keep on going.”
The Adults Also Learned and Were Inspired
  “A lot of the kids have never been camping before,” said music teacher Katie Martinez, on her third as a chaperone. “They come and enjoy nature and learn. It’s a good bonding experience, kind of a growing-up experience. They learn a different way of life. Last year, this boy was in tears on the last day. He said he wanted to be a park ranger. He was captured by the experience. That was probably the most amazing experience I’ve seen a child have.”
  Substitute teacher Carlos Coronado was chaperoning for the first time. “This place is amazing,” he said. “At school, you can read about the Everglades, but once you’re out here, you can actually smell and taste it. The Everglades is on you, and you’re getting wet. That’s the best way to experience it. The kids are out here learning and asking questions of rangers. Everybody is learning.”
  Nelson-Shokar became involved with the program as a sixth-grader, when she was a camper. She said the value of bringing children into nature is immeasurable. Today, she is the coordinator of the camps at Gateway.
  “We don’t choose kids based on academics, and we don’t choose them based necessarily on their behavior,” she said. “We choose kids who can have their lives changed by this. A kid who leaves here on Friday will not be the kid who arrived on Wednesday – guaranteed. It affects them for the rest of their lives. The kids are not used to being in another world outside of their homes, outside that part of Homestead. They come here nervous and scared.”
  On Friday, the last morning of camp, the students were up at 6 o’clock to watch sunrise over Hidden Lake. After breakfast, they canoed. For the majority, this was their first time in a water craft.
  “Look at them,” Nelson-Shokar said after all the students gotten out of the canoes and handed their paddles to a ranger. “These kids are home.”


Florida's leaders working together on Port Everglades upgrades
Sun Sentinel - by Lois Frankel, a Democrat representing Florida's 22nd congressional district
December 29, 2014
Will the new Congress find a way to break gridlock?
In this age of dysfunctional government, South Floridians can be proud of bipartisan efforts made by local, state and federal leaders to advance the expansion of Port Everglades.
Port Everglades is the 12th leading container port in the U.S. and a South Florida economic powerhouse. The port is in an international race to deepen its harbor to accommodate the larger ships that will be traveling the seas as a result of the widening of the Panama Canal.
Increased cargo will mean thousands of new middle-class jobs for South Florida families, and $500 million in economic impact to the region. Without port expansion, the larger ships will take their freight, and new jobs, elsewhere.
The opportunity to move the project forward arose when this Congress took up what is known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act. Without inclusion in WRRDA, a project like the Port Everglades expansion cannot break ground nor be eligible for federal funding.
Getting this project in the bill had many dimensions, often with more than one happening at a time. There were ups and downs, and finally a big win.
Local and state leaders — private and public — made it well known how important this expansion was to Florida's economy. Congressional leaders received multiple visits from Broward County leaders including Mayor Barbara Sharief, Commissioner Chip LaMarca, Port Director Steven Cernak, and businessman Terry Stiles, as well as representatives of Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Ports Council.
Florida's congressional delegation worked together to lobby important House and Senate leaders. We found colleagues in other parts of the country with similar issues. Dan Webster, a Republican from Orlando, Corrine Brown a Democrat from Jacksonville, and myself used our perch as members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to press our cause. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio advocated in the Senate.
Eventually, we got a provision in the WRRDA bill to allow the Port Everglades expansion to proceed once it receives approval from the Army Corp of Engineers, subject to future reimbursement by Congress. We await corps approval, expected in May 2015, and the thousands of jobs it will eventually bring.



Public pays big for FPL drilling deal
Sun Sentinel
December 29, 2014
Did state regulators go too far in approving fracking deal for FP&L ?
In granting the latest wish from Florida’s investor-owned utilities, the Public Service Commission talked past the main issue.
At last Thursday’s hearing, the commission was deciding whether Florida Power & Light could bill customers for the costs of a new venture in natural gas exploration. FPL and a company called PetroQuest would use hydraulic fracturing — fracking — to drill for gas in Oklahoma’s Woodford Shale.
Fracking has led to the domestic energy boom by opening up many new sites for exploration. It’s also helping our country gain ground in its goal for energy independence.
But critics argue that the process, in which water and chemicals are injected underground to loosen deposits of natural gas and oil, also leads to groundwater contamination and even earthquakes. Some operators have been accused of deceiving property owners who lease their land for drilling.
To defend FPL’s request, Commissioner Lisa Edgar defended fracking, calling it a way “to fuel our economy.” Others noted that since fracking is not new to the Woodford Shale, FPL wasn’t seeking to expand a sometimes controversial practice. A day before the hearing, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had banned fracking in that state, citing environmental concerns.
The Public Service Commission, though, was not debating the merits of fracking.
Commissioners were debating whether to set another anti-consumer precedent by allowing a regulated utility to bill customers for creating a new business in an unregulated industry.
FPL long has been able to pass along the cost of acquiring fuel to generate electricity. This “pass-through” cost, however, was not intended as a profit source. It was intended to protect utilities from spikes in energy prices and to return money to customers if prices drop dramatically.
For the first time, however, a Florida utility wants not to just buy natural gas on the open market, but to get into the market — on the customers’ tab.
As always, FPL argued that its goal is to save money and keep bills low, in this case by cutting out the middleman. FPL claimed that the savings from the initial $191 million investment would be $52 million.
Attorneys for ratepayers countered that if FPL wants to branch out into exploration, the company should pay for it. That $52 million in savings, they pointed out, would be spread over three decades. The commission staff estimated just a 16-cent savings in the average monthly residential bill — 1,000 kilowatts of electricity. And the savings wouldn’t come until 2016.
In the meantime, FPL could gain much more.
An economist and utility consultant who testified on behalf of the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers, calculated that FPL could make from $12 million to $15 million off the first investment. FPL then wants to invest as much as $750 million each year in drilling. The OPC witness estimated that FPL could make $47 million annually from the drilling venture. All those profits could come much sooner than customer savings. FPL would not discuss profit projections.
The commission choir gave its usual response to FPL’s preaching. Eduardo Balbis anticipated “savings on Day One.” Lisa Edgar pronounced herself “all for it.” Julie Brown commented that Edgar “said it very precisely.” After hesitating, Ronald Brise went along. Only Arthur Graham voted no.
With that approval, FPL basically got everything it wanted. Later drilling ventures would not need further commission review. The commission did request that an outside auditor review the books of the FPL-PetroQuest entity, supposedly to guard against FPL inflating costs. In practical terms, however, the auditor will have little power.
The commission will issue a final order this spring. At that time, the Office of Public Counsel may challenge the ruling before the Florida Supreme Court on the grounds that the commission has neither the authority nor the expertise to rule on unregulated industries. The commission staff dismissed that argument three months ago in a document long on outrage but short on substance.
If the decision stands, expect Florida’s other investor-owned utilities to see the same profit potential at their customers’ expense. The issue is whether the Public Service Commission should be renamed the Utility Service Commission.


State adopts 10-year, $750 million plan to clean up Lake Okeechobee
Associated Press – CBS Miami,
December 28, 2014
Goal: Reduce phosphorus entering lake by 33 percent by 2025
NAPLES, Fla. —The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has adopted a 10-year, $750 million plan to help rid Lake Okeechobee of excess nutrients.
  LO - click to SEE
The News-Press reports that Okeechobee has been plagued with nutrient pollution for decades, since developers connected the lake to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers as a way to lower the water table and drain South Florida.
Sources of excess nutrients include farming operations, urban developments, fertilizer from residential neighborhoods and human and animal waste, the former of which is dried and used as fertilizer.
Environmental groups like Audubon Florida and the Everglades Foundation lauded the plan.
The main goal is to reduce total phosphorus entering the lake by 33 percent by 2025.

Experts: Send cleaner water south – by Timothy O’Hara, Citizen Staff
December 27,2014
State and federal policy experts, biologists, hydrologists, fishermen and environmentalists will converge Jan. 8-11 in Key Largo to discuss and debate one of the most expensive and difficult ecosystem restoration projects in world history.
The effects of the multibillion dollar Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan will be profound in the Florida Keys and Florida Bay eco...
For the complete article, please pick up a copy of The Citizen for this day or purchase this day's electronic edition at Home


Input on proposed new road sought - by Tom Palmer
December 27, 2014
The Southport Connector would cut through the Everglades basin
POINCIANA | Plans for the latest version of a proposed new road that would cut through large tracts of undeveloped land in the headwaters of the Everglades will be the topic of a public meeting in January in Osceola County.
The project, called the Southport Connector, resurfaced in 2013 after transportation planners had dropped an earlier version for a new road in the area that proposed to connect State Road 417, a beltway around the Orlando area, to roads in the Kissimmee area.
A public meeting on the latest routes under study by the Florida Department of Transportation is scheduled Jan. 13 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Living Waters Fellowship Church, 4101 Pleasant Hill Road, which is near Poinciana.
The study area includes a corridor between the Reedy Creek Swamp where a new toll road called Poinciana Parkway is under construction, and Canoe Creek Road and Florida's Turnpike east of Lake Tohopekaliga and south of St. Cloud.
Several proposed routes are being examined, including some that would cross sections of the 18,810-acre lake.
Part of the road's route has been advocated by local economic boosters since the 1920s to open more land to development and to secure new routes to move freight.
More recently, the project has drawn some support from Poinciana homeowners who think new roads might offer better access to surrounding areas.
But environmentalists have questioned the route's effect on the management of large tracts of adjacent conservation land and the functioning of the Upper Everglades Basin. Some en­vi­ron­­mentalists also have questioned the road's need.
The current study is scheduled to be completed in 2017.


Florida’s top 10 environmental stories of 2014
SaintPetersBlog - by Bruce Ritchie
December 26, 2014
Whether candidates or elected officials want to acknowledge it’s true, the environment always is important in Florida. From a statewide perspective, here are my top 10 environmental stories from 2014:
Scott re-elected
Gov. Rick Scott was re-elected over former Gov. Charlie Crist despite cutting the budgets of water management districts, dismantling of the state planning agency and vetoing spending for land conservation early in his first term. Scott adopted a green persona for re-election by pledging funds for springs, parks, Everglades restoration and Indian River Lagoon.
Amendment 1 passes
An amendment to the state constitution that provides an estimated $19 billion during the next 20 years for water and land conservation was approved by 75 percent of voters statewide. Now some environmentalists are worried that legislators will use the broad amendment language to help pay for local water projects and sewer plant fixes rather than land-buying.
Springs bill dies
A group of five Senate committee chairmen crafted legislation that would have required advanced wastewater treatment near springs and adherence to agricultural best management practices on farms. SB 1576 passed the Senate 38-0 but died without a vote in the House.
Indian River Lagoon funding
The heavy rains and “brown tide” from Lake Okeechobee fouled Indian River Lagoon in 2013, but funding solutions had to wait until the 2014 legislative session. The Legislature provided $172 million for restoration projects in fiscal year 2014-15 along with $30 million the next two years for raising the Tamiami Trail highway to restore water flow.
US Supreme Court takes up water wars
The U. S. Supreme Court agreed in November to consider Florida’s request to divide water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system among Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The court appointed Maine lawyer Robert I. Lancaster to oversee the case, which could take several years to resolve while seafood workers worry about the future of Apalachicola Bay.
New leaders, new focus on water
New House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner say there will be a focus on water in the 2015 legislative session. But it’s not clear what problem they want to address much less how to achieve results.
Scott talks climate change, sort of
After having said earlier in his term that he wasn’t convinced that climate change is real, Scott tried to dismiss questions by telling reporters, “I’m not a scientist.” Scott later agreed to meet with climate scientists, but only after Crist had agreed to meet with them. Scott later said he was focused on solutions but environmentalists remain skeptical.
New leader at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. left as expected at the end of the governor’s first term and Jon Steverson of the Northwest Florida Water Management District replaced him. Steverson was at the district only 2 ½ years and previously was at DEP where he oversaw $700 million in budget cuts at Florida’s five water management districts.
Oil drilling and fracking
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said in April it was fining the Dan A. Hughes Co. $20,000 plus $5,000 costs for conducting a procedure that the Tampa Bay Times said is similar to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. DEP also said it will seek legislative authority to request stiffer fines. In December, two Democratic senators filed a bill to ban fracking.
PSC and energy conservation
Environmentalists’ criticism of the Public Service Commission reached a peak in November as it approved scaling back conservation programs and eliminating solar rebate programs at major utilities. Legislation to revamp the PSC and repeal the law allowing utilities to charge in advance for future nuclear plants failed in 2014 but was filed again for the 2015 legislative session.


No such thing as safe fracking in Florida - Column by Merrilee Malwitz-Jipson and Jim Tatum
December 26, 2014
Fort White
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” is an oil drilling technique where sand, water and chemicals are injected deep into the ground under pressure in order to fracture the oil-bearing shale rock, allowing the oil and gas to be extracted. This technique causes earthquakes and is prone to leaking methane gases into the atmosphere. It also leaves toxic chemicals in the earth and in the aquifer. Fracking is normally done in shale rock. But in Florida, most of the oil and gas is found in loosely mineralized soils, requiring the need for “acid fracking,” or “acidizing,” employing the use of acids such as hydrofluoric acid (HF) or hydrochloric acids (HCI) to dissolve limestone, dolomite and calcite cement.
A recent study at Duke University found that 92 percent of water and drilling fluids remained deep underground. Are these substances that we want to inject into our groundwater or allow to be anywhere near our aquifer? There is no such thing as safe fracking.
Some chemicals used in fracking are non-toxic, but a new study says that out of 81 common compounds, there’s very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third of them. But some indeed, are well known carcinogens: Benzene, toluene, xylene, methanol, lead, hydrogen fluoride, naphthalene, sulfuric acid, formaldehyde, crystalline silica.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Chief of Mining, Calvin Alvarez, says that fracking is not a “factor” in south Florida, and Ed Garrett, DEP Section Administrator, says that we don’t frack in Florida.
And Ed Pollister, owner of Century Oil, says that fracking is inevitable, and that if he doesn’t do it, somebody else will.
But fracking has occurred in Florida, and it is allowed by the FDEP. And the interest in this is recent. In the past five years there have been 37 drilling applications granted. Of these, 16 have been in the past year.
This recent surge of new interest in Florida is due mostly to the new extraction technology that makes it possible and profitable to exploit previously inaccessible pools of oil and gas.
When we think of the oil and gas industry, we usually don’t think of Florida because it is not a big oil producing state: But extraction started in 1943. There are operating wells sucking oil from the Sunniland Oil Trend in Collier, Henry, Lee and Dade Counties; and in the Panhandle in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in what is known as Jay Field.
The winds of public opinion may be shifting in Florida. In the recent off-year elections, the monumental Amendment 1 was approved by a landslide.
The people spoke with a loud voice, saying they want to protect what is good and unique in Florida — our land and water.
Even more recently, proposed a senate bill (S) was written to prohibit hydraulic fracturing in Florida. If passed, it would take effect in July 2015.
There is also a statewide effort to ban fracking at the local level where authorities are acting rather than just listening to their citizens.
The time is here to take an important step towards protecting what we cannot afford to lose. Our Santa Fe River, Inc. has been a leader in opposing the threat posed by the Sabal Trail pipeline project. We must encourage our lawmakers to save Florida.
The potential for mineral rights exploration in North and Central Florida could easily destroy our aquifer and drinking water source.
Related (same article): New interest in oil & gas exploration in Florida         Suwannee Democrat
Should oil, gas 'fracking' be banned in the state of Florida?  Palm Beach Post (blog)


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Scripps on Briger another environmental boondoggle
Palm Beach Post – Commentary by Panagioti Tsolkas
December 26, 2014
The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board got a few things right in the Dec. 14 editorial about Scripps and Briger:
1. It’s one of the few remnants of pine flatwoods and scrub left along the interstate …”
2. Yes, the risk of “[l]osing it has a group of environmentalists from Everglades Earth First! understandably upset.”
3. Indeed, we’ve “been documenting the tree-felling and road-building with grief and outrage.”
It would have been helpful if The Post went as far as telling its readers what we’ve been finding. First off, the number of gopher tortoises noted in the initial permits for the site was 12. Now that clearing land has begun on Briger, and the developers know that Everglades Earth First! and the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition have been collecting data (and using motion-detecting cameras which, I might add, are much more reliable for detecting wildlife than supposed “snake-sniffing dogs”), they have admitted to the presence of 75 tortoises in the area where the current work is anticipated to have an impact.
This new information places the actual number of burrows in Briger at likely over a hundred, with each one providing habitat for literally hundreds of other species — including some of Florida’s most endangered critters. It’s also worth noting that gopher tortoises are on the brink of being uplisted from “Threatened” status to “Endangered,” for the exact reason of developments like this.
And then you have the flora. Among the plant species facing extinction on the site are one of largest documented populations of hand fern in the continental U.S. We documented over 55 cabbage palm trees hosting the rare fern, by photo and GPS point. The developer’s permit listed two.
Briger’s location in the eastern corridor places it in an increasingly rare type of habitat. It’s for that reason that the county had previously discussed purchasing the land with bond money. While development has since turned it into an island, it is a large and very biodiverse island, and one that is surrounded by nearly a dozen school facilities in a 2- to 3-mile radius. Students could be using the forest as an educational resource, but they are losing that opportunity as you read.
Since clearing began last month, we have shown that the developers are working off of deeply flawed permits, including cutting a massive access road which never appeared in the construction permit from South Florida Water Management District.
It’s unfortunate that we taxpayers have had to foot the Scripps bill for the greed of politicians in Florida. But development of Briger is destined to bring more of the same. Residents of Palm Beach County should never forget that a majority of their some elected representatives resigned in disgrace for developer-driven corruption, starting the year after Scripps’ Mecca Farms plan bit the dust.
We also should never forget that Scripps and the county did not concede willingly in their plans for building on the Mecca and Vavrus properties. In fact, they were so arrogant as to start laying concrete at Mecca Farms before a judge was able to get around to pulling the plug. Several of us who fought Scripps out there, and ultimately defeated the plan, are the ones who went on to initiate the fight for Briger, after seeing what a rare treasure we all stood to lose.
This project has turned out to be yet another boondoggle, at the expense of animals, the environment and the people who live here.


“Do-nothing” Congress did little for Florida – by Ledyard King, The News-Press Washington bureau
December 25, 2014
WASHINGTON — It was a Congress derided for inertia.
The "do-nothing" Congress lived up to its billing, as the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-run Senate found little common ground on substantive issues. Of the 366 roll call votes taken this year in the Senate, about 70 percent dealt solely with nominations.
The few bills that did pass often dealt with extensions or delays. Twice, hours from a government shutdown, Congress acted to keep the lights on. And those were considered big victories.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson couldn't muster much enthusiasm.
"When we get these appropriations done, the space program and some defense programs are going to be OK," he said last week a few days before the Senate approved a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2015. "Other than that, this wasn't a very productive last two years. Not at all."
Still, some of what Congress accomplished will affect the Sunshine State. That includes:
• Legislation delaying increases in flood insurance rate hikes.
In March, both chambers overwhelmingly passed legislation giving nearly 270,000 Florida property owners relief from skyrocketing flood insurance rates.
Support for the measure was broad, despite concerns from conservatives, taxpayer groups and the Obama administration that postponing the premium increases would undermine reforms Congress adopted in 2012 to make the flood program more solvent.
Business leaders from Florida said the premium increases were scuttling real-estate deals because prospective buyers couldn't absorb them.
The measure approved by Congress delays the increases for four years until the Federal Emergency Management Agency completes a study of how to make the rates affordable.
• Passage early this year of a $500 billion farm bill that will boost Florida's multi-billion-dollar citrus industry.
The measure included authorization of $125 million to research a cure for "citrus greening," which has wiped out orange trees in several states and cost Florida's economy $4.5 billion and 8,000 jobs between 2006 and 2012, a University of Florida study concluded last year.
The multi-year law also ended direct payments to farmers, expanded the popular crop insurance program and cut spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) by 1 percent, or $8 billion over the next decade.
That's much less than the $40 billion in cuts originally approved by the House, disappointing some conservatives. SNAP spending makes up about 80 percent of money in the farm bill.
The measure also permits up to 10 states to voluntarily start pilot programs that will be used to develop employment and training test programs for SNAP recipients. It replaced a House plan, authored by GOP Rep. Steve Southerland of Panama City, that would have required millions of able-bodied SNAP recipients to work, volunteer or attend job training to keep their benefits.
Florida is one of the states considering such a program, Southerland said.
• Legislation to reform the veterans' health care system.
The sweeping measure passed with rare bipartisan unity in late July following widespread reports of inadequate care and long wait times that may have contributed to patient deaths.
Those reports were compounded by a Veterans Affairs audit that found dozens of VA health care facilities around the country, including several in Florida, were changing recorded wait times to make it appear veterans were seeing doctors faster than they actually were.
The law provides billions to help veterans seek care from private doctors if they can't get prompt appointments at a VA hospital or clinic or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The measure also includes several billion dollars to hire more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff, and $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA clinics across the country.
It also makes it easier for the VA secretary to discipline or fire senior agency officials.
In June, some 10,000 veterans in Florida were waiting at least 90 days for access to VA medical centers around the state, the head of the Veterans Affairs health system serving most veterans in the state said at the time.
•A bill authorizing billions for water-related improvements nationwide, including several key projects in the Sunshine State.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, passed in May, doesn't guarantee funding for those projects but does call for congressional appropriators to come up with money for port improvements and Everglades restoration to help waterways on both Florida coasts.
Among the projects included in the bill are the C-43 West Storage Reservoir Project that will help prevent tainted runoff from reaching Southwest Florida beaches, and the widening and deepening of the Port Canaveral channel so it can handle larger ships.
-• A $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal 2015 that passed earlier this month.
Critics said key elements were never vetted thoroughly, but the measure contained a number of benefits for Florida. Those included provisions giving $18 billion to NASA, or $364 million more than the space agency got in fiscal 2014.
Most of that increase is due to additional money for the Space Launch System and Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle designed to eventually take astronauts to Mars, a key congressional priority. The spending bill includes $3.25 billion for human exploration, up from the $2.78 billion the Obama administration had sought.
The omnibus bill also set aside $25 million in mandatory spending for the Citrus Disease Research Program and nearly $50 million for the Citrus Health Response Program.
About $2.5 billion was approved for processing VA disability claims nationwide, instituting strict reporting requirement for VA centers, and requiring the agency to conduct spot audits of regional offices.
The spending bill also fully funds a pay raise for troops authorized in a defense policy bill and includes $94 billion for new Defense Department equipment and upgrades. It also provides $8.9 million to improve mental health services for troops, military families and veterans, particularly those in rural areas.
Finally, the bill provides flexibility in how local schools and school districts comply with federal school lunch regulations. Some Florida districts had criticized the rules.


Lee County has benefitted from conservation fund
Cape Coral Daily Breeze – Guest Opinion by David Mica, Executive Director, Florida Petroleum Council
December 25, 2014
Abundant energy can lead to a pristine environment. As we take time to reflect during this holiday season, what better time to truly appreciate our beautiful state and quality of life. Florida is home to wondrous natural resources delighting residents and tourists alike: sugar white beaches, springs that support wildlife unique to this area and natural preserves that are known throughout the world. In addition, Florida has historic locations that have shaped our state's and country's destiny: Pre-Columbian archeological sites, the settlements in St. Augustine and Pensacola, and sites associate with the Seminole War, the Civil War, through to the U.S. space program. Florida is unsurpassed in its quality of life, natural beauty and cultural history.
A concerted effort from local, state, and federal governments has led to the purchase, conservation and in many cases restoration of these treasures, and much of the funding has been provided from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which derives its funds from revenues generated from offshore oil and natural gas production. America's most important conservation program has funneled about $908,000,000 into Florida over the past five decades. For example, an area where we have been producing oil for more than a half century, the Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park areas, have received $30 million in LWCF funding in 2012 alone. In addition, the Florida Everglades Restoration Project has received about $58 million from the LCWF over the last three years to restore the natural flow of water in the everglade ecosystem.
The LWCF is celebrating its 50th year. Its idea dates back to President Eisenhower, was built upon by President Kennedy, and then enacted into law in 1964 during President Johnson's administration in a brilliant bipartisan Congressional effort. What a "win-win" situation: Americans have access to affordable, reliable energy produced from domestic resources offshore, and our environment and cultural heritage is conserved using the revenues generated from royalties paid by the oil and natural gas industry.
Do not be fooled into thinking these funds are strictly for big projects located elsewhere. Lee County has benefitted through the years including 13 projects such as Sanibel Freshwater Recreation Area, Fort Myers Wharf-Centennial Park, Caloosahatchee Creek Preserve, and the Prairie Pine Preserve. About $2.5 million from the LWCF has been used to restore and make our local treasures more accessible in Lee County. You do not have to travel too far down the street - how about to the JN "Ding Darling" National Wildlife Refuge or to the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge - to find many more examples of the LWCF at work in Florida.
When we discuss the energy security, enhanced economy, and job opportunities that come from increased domestic offshore oil and natural gas production, we should also remember the tremendous environmental benefits that we have realized in the past and the potential for the future.
Related:           David Mica: Abundant energy can lead to a pristine environment (same article)
Land conservation fund preserves local natural treasures (same article)        Daytona Beach News-Journal


Florida passes New York; but we knew that would happen
Sun Sentinel – by Editorial Board
December 24, 2014
Florida's population passes New York for No. 3 in the nation
It's not like we needed validation from the U.S. Census Bureau that we've passed New York, but now we have it.
With Tuesday's announcement that Florida has passed New York and is now the nation's third most-populous state — 19.9 million to 19.7 million — we no longer have to listen to New Yorkers tell us they are better in every way. Now, we don't have to be called New York's sixth borough anymore. In fact, perhaps we should call New York a suburb of Miami. Or one of the Florida Keys.Florida, of course, has been hipper than New York for awhile. We have Pitbull and Flo Rida, while New Yorkers still rock out to Frank Sinatra. True, Frank was cool, but he was from New Jersey.
  FL population
Florida has the Miami Heat. We don't have LeBron anymore, but the 2012 and 2013 championships are recent enough to taste. The last time the New York Knicks won a championship was 1973. Richard Nixon was still popular back then.
As for baseball, we have a true superstar in Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees' most recognizable player is Alex Rodriguez. Enough said.
And don't forget bowl games. Florida has eight. New York has one, the same as Detroit and Boise, Idaho. But it does have one more than New Jersey, which is something New Yorkers can brag about.
Florida even has people who say "in line," instead of "on line." Thank goodness for that.
OK, we'll give New York its due. It has lots of great delis — even if a corned beef sandwich can cost you as much as a small car — and certainly great theater. And the restaurants are top-notch.
But we have all of that, too, don't we?
Both of us share Donald Trump, although we can give New York full ownership if it wants.
New York has Central Park, which is terrific. But we can get our nature fix in the Everglades, and we can do it in January if we want.
New York has the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Nobody can match that. But we have Disney World, Universal Studios and the Kennedy Space Center, so let's call it a draw.
OK, OK. Pardon us for gloating today, but we have felt like New York's stepchild for too long.
Despite our new status, we can still be generous to the good folks up north.
In the spirit of the holidays, let's send our friends in New York a T-shirt. Have it read: "We're No. 4."

Army Corps finally delivers report needed for Everglades funding
Palm Beach Post
December 23, 2014
The commander of the Army Corps of Engineers signed a crucial and controversial Everglades restoration report on Tueday, which should soon enable Congress to consider financing projects in the central Everglades.
The “chief’s report” for the Central Everglades Planning Project, also known as CEPP, was the culmination of a three-year planning effort by the Corps, the South Florida Water Management District, other governmental agencies, stakeholder groups and the public.
CEPP is designed to capture water that currently ends up in the ocean and instead direct flows to the Everglades and Florida Bay. The project optimizes the use of public lands to move the additional water to the south.
“This is a wonderful holiday present for everyone who has worked hard on this project,” said Col. Alan Dodd, Jacksonville District commander. “We set some very aggressive goals to produce a timely report on a project so large.”
CEPP nearly collapsed earlier this year because the chief’s report was not complete in time to be included in a once-every-seven-years water funding bill that Congress passed this summer. However, a bill introduced by Florida lawmakers allowed CEPP to be considered for funding as long as the chief’s report was signed by Dec. 30.
“No longer will bureaucratic red tape and finger pointing stand in the way of what we all know needs to get done – sending clean water south,” said U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, author of the bipartisan, bicameral CEPP Act, which authorizes construction immediately upon completion of the report. “I will work tirelessly to see federal authorization and full funding of CEPP in the upcoming Congress.”
Although deadlines were missed, the Corps implemented a pilot project, which cut in half the time it usually takes to study such a large project. Historically, the Corps’ planning and review process took at least six years. The CEPP process was completed in three years.
“The CEPP process is an excellent example of how the Corps is executing transformation in its civil works processes” said Dodd. “We are making the planning process more modern and relevant, enhancing our budgeting capability, and improving our methods of delivery.”
The CEPP report will undergo additional review by the Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and the Office of Management & Budget. It will be formally transmitted to Congress upon completion of those reviews.


Counting 158,000 christmas birds in South Florida
December 23, 2014
CLEWISTON, FL. -- The South Florida Water Management District is joining with the Hendry-Glades Audubon Society once again as the group conducts its portion of the 115th Christmas Bird Count in Stormwater Treatment Area 5 (STA-5) in Hendry County on January 3 at 7 a.m.
Data collected during the annual bird counts—which span North America and beyond during the weeks surrounding Christmas—are critical to studies of the long-term health and status of bird populations, according to Audubon. The STAs, managed by the SFWMD, attract large numbers of birds and also provide the public with a variety of recreational opportunities, such as hiking, biking and excellent bird watching.
During the 114h Christmas Bird Count, Audubon teams in STA-5 and the surrounding area documented 123 avian species and more than 158,000 individual birds.
Throughout South Florida, the District provides recreational access to its public lands while continuing to manage them to support environmental restoration, water supply, water quality and flood control missions. At present, the District owns approximately 600,000 acres of land that are open to the public. Many of these properties are in their natural state or have enhancements such as picnic tables, informational kiosks, primitive campsites and hiking trails.
Stormwater Treatment Areas are the water-cleaning workhorses of Everglades restoration. They are also known as renowned havens for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
For more information on recreational opportunities throughout the District’s 16-county region, visit
WHEN: January 3, 2015
TIME: 7 a.m.
WHERE: Click here for a map and written directions.
RSVP: Margaret England, Hendry-Glades Audubon Society
(863) 517-0202



Everglades work clears hurdle
MiamiHerald - by Jenny Staletovich
December 23, 2014
Everglades restoration cleared another hurdle Tuesday when the chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed off on chronically stalled work needed to move water south through the central wetlands and Florida Bay.
The move puts back on track projects that environmentalists had hoped to finalize earlier this year. Despite letters from lawmakers, including Gov. Rick Scott and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the Corps balked at approving the work in April, preventing it from being included in a major waterworks bill that typically languishes among bipartisan bickering.
In September, Florida lawmakers mounted a rare united effort to push through bipartisan legislation authorizing $1.9 billion in projects.
“No longer will bureaucratic red tape and finger pointing stand in the way of what we all know needs to get done – sending clean water south,” said U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, who helped steer the law.
The suite of projects, called the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), was pulled from a larger Everglades restoration plan in an attempt to speed up work that has dragged on for more than a decade. The report will now go to the Secretary of the Army and the Office of Management and Budget, but is not expected to face opposition.
“The CEPP process is an excellent example of how the Corps is executing transformation in its civil works processes” Col. Alan Dodd, the Corps’ Jacksonville district commander, said in a statement. “We are making the planning process more modern and relevant, enhancing our budgeting capability, and improving our methods of delivery.”


Florida surpasses New York as third most populous state
Palm Bech Post
December 23, 2014
Sorry New Yorkers: There are officially more of us than youse.
Census population estimates released Tuesday show the population of Florida — 19.9 million — has surpassed that of the Empire state — 19.7 million, making Florida the third most populous state in the country.
Florida earned a spot among the top three by adding 293,000 new residents between July 1, 2013 and July 1, 2014, an average of 803 a day. By contrast, New York added 51,000 residents during that year.
California remained the nation’s most populous state, with 38.8 million residents, followed by Texas at 27 million. Overall, the U.S. population increased by 2.4 million to 318.9 million.
County-level numbers were not released. However, Palm Beach County’s estimated population of 1.3 million is greater than the population of nine states, including Rhode Island, Montana, Vermont and Wyoming.
The significance of Florida’s population eking ahead of New York’s is mostly symbolic, said Stanley Smith, professor emeritus at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida. However, the data are further proof that the nation’s population is shifting, Smith said.
“There has been a significant shift from the northeast to the southwest,” Smith said. Overall, southern states saw population increase of 1.2 million. States in the northeast saw an increase of 124,133. “This trend has been going on for many decades and this is an indication that this trend is alive and well.”
More people means a larger congressional delegation. In 1910, New York had 43 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to Florida’s four. Both states now have 27 seats, with Florida picking up its two most recent states in the 2012 redistricting based on the 2010 Census. The next reallocation of seats will be in 2022.
The additional numbers also means some issues develop a whole new scale, from services needed for elderly residents to the stresses put on the natural environment.
But Gov. Rick Scott called the demographic milestone “exciting” news and pointed to his efforts to increase jobs and boost the economy in Florida.
“Florida is on the way to become the number one destination for jobs and we continue to be the best place to live, work and raise a family,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to more people and more job creators moving to Florida in the near future.”
Scott has often appeared on national cable news programs telling people to move to Florida. New York was also one of the states in which Scott wrote open letters to business owners in 2012 and 2013 touting the economic benefits of moving to Florida.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce praised Scott and the state’s Republican leadership for the population growth.
“People have been comparing apples and oranges for a long time,” the business group said on its website. “Now they’re choosing oranges, and calling Florida home.”
However, some environmentalists consider the new numbers a threat, likely to increase habitat loss, urban sprawl and water withdrawals.
“Between condos, Walmarts, beach development and roads, Florida’s wildlife is running out of room to run,” said Stephanie Felstein, population and sustainability director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “If Florida doesn’t get its growth under control, it’ll be a loss for wildlife and Florida residents.”
Related:           Florida Population Now Tops New York's, But Boom Is a Bust for ...         Center for Biological Diversity (press release)


Miss Florida is using her crown to do good
December 23, 2014
PANAMA CITY BEACH-- This year's Miss Florida winner is from right here in Bay County and she stopped by our station this morning to tell us how her win has affected her life.
Tori Cowen graduated from Mosley High School in 2011. She has been a resident of Bay County her whole life.
NewsChannel 7's Brian Goddin asked her how being crowned Miss Florida has changed her life. She said that the partnership created with the Everglades Foundation in 2009 has allowed her to travel around talking to young people about the importance of Florida's Everglades.
Cowen is a role model for many young ladies; in fact she created a mentoring platform called "One Chance, One Choice" when she was 15-years-old. She said this platform is about helping others to be present and aware of everything that happens in their lives because you don't always get a second chance at things.
She competed in the Miss America pageant, and although she didn't win she said the friendships she made during that experience were the best part.
So what's next for Miss Florida ? She won a scholarship when she was crowned Miss Florida and is considering studying abroad in London next summer. She is currently double majoring in Marketing and Professional Sales and has two semesters left at Florida State University.


South Florida Water Management District shows how it moved water south away from Indian River Lagoon
TCPalm – by Christin Erazo
December 23, 2014
Compared to the 2013 wet season, the Indian River Lagoon fared better in 2014 thanks in part to not receiving any Lake Okeechobee discharges. 
The South Florida Water Management District released an interactive report showing how it moved nearly 60.84 billion gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee south through the Everglades Agricultural Area.
The district reports that amount of water is the same as 141,452 football fields filled with one foot of water. 
Explore the interactive graphic on their website and see the many places the water has to travel before heading south. 
Click to see the presentation by South Florida Water Management District


US Capitol

'Do nothing' Congress did a few things for Florida – by Ledyard King, Gannett Washington Bureau
December 22, 2014
It was a Congress derided for inertia.
The "do-nothing" Congress lived up to its billing, as the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-run Senate found little common ground on substantive issues. Of the 366 roll call votes taken this year in the Senate, about 70 percent dealt solely with nominations.
The few bills that did pass often dealt with extensions or delays. Twice, hours from a government shutdown, Congress acted to keep the lights on. And those were considered big victories.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson couldn't muster much enthusiasm.
"When we get these appropriations done, the space program and some defense programs are going to be OK," he said last week a few days before the Senate approved a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2015. "Other than that, this wasn't a very productive last two years. Not at all."
Still, some of what Congress accomplished will affect the Sunshine State. That includes:
• Legislation delaying increases in flood insurance rate hikes.
In March, both chambers overwhelmingly passed legislation giving nearly 270,000 Florida property owners relief from skyrocketing flood insurance rates.
Support for the measure was broad, despite concerns from conservatives, taxpayer groups and the Obama administration that postponing the premium increases would undermine reforms Congress adopted in 2012 to make the flood program more solvent.
Business leaders from Florida said the premium increases were scuttling real-estate deals because prospective buyers couldn't absorb them.
The measure approved by Congress delays the increases for four years until the Federal Emergency Management Agency completes a study of how to make the rates affordable.
• Passage early this year of a $500 billion farm bill that will boost Florida's multi-billion-dollar citrus industry.
The measure included authorization of $125 million to research a cure for "citrus greening," which has wiped out orange trees in several states and cost Florida's economy $4.5 billion and 8,000 jobs between 2006 and 2012, a University of Florida study concluded last year.
The multi-year law also ended direct payments to farmers, expanded the popular crop insurance program and cut spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) by 1 percent, or $8 billion over the next decade.
That's much less than the $40 billion in cuts originally approved by the House, disappointing some conservatives. SNAP spending makes up about 80 percent of money in the farm bill.
The measure also permits up to 10 states to voluntarily start pilot programs that will be used to develop employment and training test programs for SNAP recipients. It replaced a House plan, authored by GOP Rep. Steve Southerland of Panama City, that would have required millions of able-bodied SNAP recipients to work, volunteer or attend job training to keep their benefits.
Florida is one of the states considering such a program, Southerland said.
• Legislation to reform the veterans' health care system.
The sweeping measure passed with rare bipartisan unity in late July following widespread reports of inadequate care and long wait times that may have contributed to patient deaths.
Those reports were compounded by a Veterans Affairs audit that found dozens of VA health care facilities around the country, including several in Florida, were changing recorded wait times to make it appear veterans were seeing doctors faster than they actually were.
The law provides billions to help veterans seek care from private doctors if they can't get prompt appointments at a VA hospital or clinic or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The measure also includes several billion dollars to hire more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff, and $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA clinics across the country.
It also makes it easier for the VA secretary to discipline or fire senior agency officials.
In June, some 10,000 veterans in Florida were waiting at least 90 days for access to VA medical centers around the state, the head of the Veterans Affairs health system serving most veterans in the state said at the time.
• A bill authorizing billions for water-related improvements nationwide, including several key projects in the Sunshine State.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, passed in May, doesn't guarantee funding for those projects but does call for congressional appropriators to come up with money for port improvements and Everglades restoration to help waterways on both Florida coasts.
Among the projects included in the bill are the C-43 West Storage Reservoir Project that will help prevent tainted runoff from reaching Southwest Florida beaches, and the widening and deepening of the Port Canaveral channel so it can handle larger ships.
• A $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal 2015 that passed earlier this month.
Critics said key elements were never vetted thoroughly, but the measure contained a number of benefits for Florida. Those included provisions giving $18 billion to NASA, or $364 million more than the space agency got in fiscal 2014.
Most of that increase is due to additional money for the Space Launch System and Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle designed to eventually take astronauts to Mars, a key congressional priority. The spending bill includes $3.25 billion for human exploration, up from the $2.78 billion the Obama administration had sought.
The omnibus bill also set aside $25 million in mandatory spending for the Citrus Disease Research Program and nearly $50 million for the Citrus Health Response Program.
About $2.5 billion was approved for processing VA disability claims nationwide, instituting strict reporting requirement for VA centers, and requiring the agency to conduct spot audits of regional offices.
The spending bill also fully funds a pay raise for troops authorized in a defense policy bill and includes $94 billion for new Defense Department equipment and upgrades. It also provides $8.9 million to improve mental health services for troops, military families and veterans, particularly those in rural areas.
Finally, the bill provides flexibility in how local schools and school districts comply with federal school lunch regulations. Some Florida districts had criticized the rules.



As development grows, water supply dwindles - by Girard Krebs, Special to the Star-Banner
December 21, 2014
This column follows the free public evening lecture by Dr. Robert Knight at Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) Tuesday evening.
The subject of the lecture was and is the Floridan aquifer, groundwater and artesian springs. Among other things, that lecture was loaded with historical and numerical data. Anyone concerned about the availability of potable water in Florida — more specifically, Marion County — is aware of the fact that the aquifer that feeds artesian springs such as Silver Springs just east of Ocala and Rainbow Springs near Dunnellon is being overdrawn at accelerating rates.
Historical records over the past 80 years make this abundantly clear. On average, the potable water production of springs in Florida show an overall decline of 30 percent to 40 percent or more over just the past decade or so. There are several variables that explain that reduction in flow. One of the most significant is “development,” i.e., drawdown of water from the Floridan aquifer as the result of greatly increasing demand for water for houses being built, strip-mall construction, retail-outlet use, manufacturing, etc.
Water is absolutely essential to all our lives. Without it, we are all dead in a matter of days.
Enter, our erstwhile tunnel-visioned elected officials and their dollar-driven patron developers who are very busily at work with plans to develop Marion County. They all seem oblivious of the water availability limitations to their plans. Without sufficient water supplies, the whole Marion County economy collapses. Period.
Those of us concerned for our individual and collective welfare know plans are in the works for the development of Red Oak Farm and the adjoining Ocala Stud Farm adjacent to Trinity Catholic High School. There will be hundreds of new structures demanding water drawdown if and when those projects are completed.
Then, there are the reported hundreds of apartment and condominiums planned for just behind the new Publix strip mall across the road from Trinity Catholic. Oh, and don’t forget the hundreds of new houses planned by a developer for State Road 200. Just for starters, I cite these three.
Estimates are that each human in one of those new or existing houses or apartments will consume something like 200 gallons of water per day. And never mind all those commercial establishments.
Appropriate arithmetic and statistical analysis surely would result in concluding no end in sight for acceleration of the degradation of the aquifer and springs upon which we are all totally dependent. The interesting question is where would be the point on a timeline graph at which spring production and drawdown on available water resources cross increasing demand for water resulting from “development.”
I live on a small horse farm in southwest Marion County where I and my horses are totally dependent on the availability of water from my private well, which, of course, taps into the aquifer. If time and circumstances had permitted Tuesday evening, I would have liked to ask of the IHMC lecturer how long it might be before I turn on a tap and no water comes out of the spigot.
Girard Krebs is a retired professor from Ohio University where he taught and did research for 26 years, including serving as director of the university’s Architectural and Cultural Resources Center. He lives in Ocala.


Efforts to jump start Collier County's rural growth plan underway
Naples – by Eric Staats
December 21, 2014
NAPLES, Fla. - Environmental advocates say they are optimistic they can find common ground with landowners to revamp Collier County’s landmark plan for rural growth.
A self-appointed group of landowners began meeting this summer to write a report about ways to jump-start what they say is the faltering growth plan, but a report isn’t expected to be released until at least early January.
Environmental groups that were left out of the early stages of the landowner review have since seen a draft of the report and are generally favorable to at least looking at some of the issues raised by it, representatives said last week.
“We think there could be some merit in it,” said Nicole Johnson, the government relations director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
The report could be a first step toward changing rules for growth on the edges of the county’s urban area that were put in place in 2002 after environmental groups won a legal challenge over the old rules.
In 1999, then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet ordered a halt to growth across most of the county’s rural area until the county could rewrite the rules to improve protections for wildlife habitat and wetlands.
The new plan, which covers about 73,000 acres, divides the county’s rural fringe into places were development is encouraged and places to be preserved. To maximize growth in development areas, landowners must buy credits from landowners who lost development rights in preserve areas.
Critics, though, say the so-called Transfer of Development Rights program is broken. They blame the required minimum price of $25,000 per credit, a shortage of available credits and complexities in buying and selling the credits.
While details have not been released, the gist of the report is to find ways to increase the development credit supply or demand, or both, said report consultant Bob Mulhere.
“I don’t know what the sweet spot is,” said Mulhere, a former county planning director who helped write the original 2002 plan.
The growth plan review is being pushed by a group calling itself the Rural Fringe Coalition, which takes its name from the zoning district where the growth plan applies.
The coalition includes representatives from the State Road 846 Land Trust, Hacienda Lakes, agribusiness giant Lipman Produce, homebuilders Lennar Corp. and G.L. Homes, and mining company Vulcan Materials Co.
Johnson said the Conservancy agrees the growth plan needs a second look.
“How we get to the fix, we’ll probably have different perspectives on that,” she said.
Florida Wildlife Federation field representative Nancy Payton said she is pleased landowners are not looking to shrink the size of the preserve areas in the plan.
She said she sees the potential for incentives to increase the preserve areas and for smarter use of the areas to be developed, but she cautioned that any new plan is a long way away.
“A lot can happen, good and bad, between here and there,” Payton said.
Audubon of the Western Everglades policy advocate Brad Cornell said he likes that the review will include a look at how to make it easier for landowners to get extra development credits to sell by restoring their land and then putting it in the hands of government agencies to keep it in preserve status.
“If we can figure out a better way to get these two things accomplished, then I’m all ears,” Cornell said.


Everglades Idol: Steven Tyler to perform Feb. 14 benefit
Palm Beach Daily News - by Shannon Donnelly, Society Editor
December 21, 2014
Walk this way ! Steven Tyler is coming to town.ForEverglades, the Everglades Foundation’s annual dinner dance, is known for bringing in top-name entertainment. Sting. Dave Matthews. Jimmy Buffett. ZZ Top.This year, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler will headline the 10th annual event with his touring band, Loving Mary.“It’s exciting to announce Steven Tyler as the headliner for our 10th annual Foreverglades Benefit,” said Eric Eikenberg, Everglades Foundation CEO. “Having such an acclaimed artist help bring awareness to protecting and restoring America’s Everglades is appreciated and we are grateful for Steven Tyler’s support.”Tyler, for two seasons a judge on American Idol, Tyler is included among Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers. He also is ranked third on Hit Parader’s Top 100 Metal Vocalists of All Time.He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Aerosmith (2001) and the Songwriters Hall of Fame (2013) with songwriting partner Joe Perry.Last year Tyler and Perry earned the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Founders Award.His songs include Walk This Way, Sweet Emotion, I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, Janie’s Got A Gun, Angel, Cryin,Dream On, and more.The ForEverglades gala takes place Feb. 14 at The Breakers.Chairmen for the event are Glenn Dubin, Marshall Field V, Carl Hiaasen, Paul Tudor Jones II, Paul Leone, Garrison duP. Lickle, Jack Nicklaus, Mike Ramos, Nathaniel Reed, and Andrew Wilshire. Chairwomen are Mary Barley, Eva Dubin, Jamee Field, Fenia Hiaasen, Sonia Jones, Kathy Leone, Michele Henry, Mary Morse, Barbara Nicklaus, Ashley Ramos, Lia Reed, Alita Reed and Toni Wilshire.Procceeds support restoration science to “protect and restore this fragile ecosystem that provides fresh water for nearly 8 million Floridians.” The foundation’s board underwrites all of the foundation’s administrative and fundraising expenses, allowing 100 percent of the funds raised at the benefit to support these programs.
To purchase tickets, contact Debbie Fife or Samantha Miller at (212) 245-6570, Ext. 20, or email


Martin gets early ‘Christmas gift’ for clean water storage
Palm Beach Post – by Sally Swartz
December 21, 2014
Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard calls it “the best Christmas present ever” — 1,800 acres of farm land in western Martin. The drained pasture land will be restored to natural wetlands, to store and clean water before it flows to the St. Lucie River.
The land, known both as Harmony Ranch and the Palmar Complex, once was part of of a plan to build 4,000 houses west of Hobe Sound. For years, it also has been on the wish list of land needed to help restore the Florida Everglades.
A group of the oddest bedfellows ever made the $20.4 million deal happen. Heard told the tale at Tuesday’s Martin County commission meeting.
The land is part of the Martin County and St. Lucie County watershed that drains to the St. Lucie River’s South Fork. It’s an ideal place to store and clean water naturally on land, rather than build expensive reservoirs and other structures.
All Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan lands have to be bought from a willing seller, Heard said. Harmony Ranch withdrew a plan to build houses and 2 million square feet of business space on the property in 2012. But developer Otto “Buzz” DiVosta wasn’t a willing seller — until this year.
“Buzz DiVosta is a very enthusiastic land developer,” Heard said, “and a very successful one.” During negotiations, he wanted to meet with former commissioner and Martin environmental guru Maggy Hurchalla, she said. “They became very friendly negotiators.”
DiVosta “didn’t have to sell this land,” Hurchalla said, ”at $11,000 an acre, for property that’s 15 minutes from Palm Beach County” and near an Interstate 95 interchange.
DiVosta asked, “Will this help the river?” and then said OK, Hurchalla said.
She and Heard also praised Gov. Rick Scott, former Department of Environmental Protection chief Herschel Vinyard and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for getting the money for the deal, and DiVosta’s agent, former Martin commissioner Tom Kenny, who also worked hard on it.
South Florida Water Management District board joins Martin County to buy the land. The district draws $17.2 million from the state’s Florida Forever fund and the county provides $3.2 million. Martin’s money comes from a half-cent sales tax residents paid for five years to buy land for parks and conservation.
Like most cleared pasture land, the property is not a nature-lover’s dream. Bordered by tall concrete power poles and ditches filled with brown water, the land is flat and barren. A few “islands” of trees poke up from ground blanketed in brown, tan and green grass. Cattle graze in the distance.
But Martin has examples of what happens to farm and ranch lands when drainage ditches are filled in and wetlands return — such as the Allapattah Ranch property. Wetlands spread out there, Hurchalla said, the pine and palmetto are coming back. Birds are everywhere.
Such small wetlands once surrounded the edges of the Everglades, she said, and are the key to wading bird survival. The wetlands dry down and concentrate food in smaller wet areas during nesting season.
There’s no room for such wetlands in paved-over Miami-Dade, Broward, and much of Palm Beach County. Officials have bought about half the 90,000 acres the Indian River Lagoon South Plan calls for to restore wetlands. The biggest expense? Buying the land. Restoration — filling in drainage ditches and canals — is cheap.
The deal on the “best Christmas present ever” wraps up in April. For residents who want to see cleaner water flowing into area rivers, it’s a gift that continues giving for generations to come.


Research finds wind at work in fostering algae  by Tom Henry, Staff Writer
December 21, 2014
Study first to pinpoint gusty impact.
Wind has emerged as the most important weather-related factor contributing to harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie, according to the preliminary results of a scientific study that was presented recently at the 47th annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.
The study is being undertaken by seven researchers, including two from Ohio State University: C.K. Shum, a distinguished university scholar and geodetic science professor, and Jiyoung Lee, an environmental health-sciences associate professor who serves as the project leader.
Using satellite data from 2002 to 2012, the researchers are building the first detailed analysis of how various environmental factors, such as wind speed, temperature, sunlight, and rain, work in tandem to amplify the effects of nutrient-fed algal growth.
Their results are being presented at a weeklong symposium of nearly 24,000 participants that organizers describe as “the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world,” with more than 1,700 sessions and more than 23,000 oral and poster presentations.
Wind long has been viewed as a contributing factor. 
The heavy algae concentration that smothered Toledo’s water intake the first weekend of August, overwhelming the city’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant and making the metro region’s tap water unsafe to drink for nearly three days, has been attributed to a large plug of toxins getting blown down and mixing with others deep in the water column near the Oregon shoreline.
But this study is believed to be the first to quantify wind’s impact and rank it as the most important variable.
Mr. Shum said the research “underscores the need for environmental agencies to incorporate the threat of extreme weather events caused by climate change into future algae mitigation strategies.”
“What surprised us the most was how the impact of nonweather factors, such as nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, varied strongly by season, while weather factors remained consistently important throughout the year,” said Song Liang, a former OSU researcher who’s now a University of Florida environmental and global-health associate professor.
Nitrogen and phosphorus widely are considered algae blooms’ two more important causes, but wind direction, speed, and strength could be one of the biggest factors in determining how thick the blooms become or how quickly they break apart.
Ms. Lee said that by better understanding how algae mats form as a result of complex linkages between water quality, wind, and other weather variables, scientists “can better understand and predict the future of harmful algal blooms, or HABs, and water safety in the Lake Erie community with the impact of changing climate and environmental factors.”
Although mats can form when winds blow algae into one area, low winds generally lead to larger blooms. Calm water allows algae to rise to the lake surface and form blooms.
In their abstract, researchers said their findings “offer insights into possible mechanisms underlying the dynamics of the HABs.” Several other Great Lakes studies were presented at the event


water storage ?

Water storage deal smells like a costly boondoggle
Palm Beach Post
December 21, 2014
In 2013, worried about the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pumped billions of gallons of runoff and Lake Okeechobee water into the brackish Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. The consequences for water quality, and the plant and animal life were extreme — dead oyster beds, dead manatees and dead sea grass beds.
Diverting runoff to ranchland helped avoid a repeat since then, along with more favorable weather. But it’s a temporary fix.
An audit by the inspector general for the South Florida Water Management District recently found that paying ranch owners to absorb flood water from time to time is much more costly than pouring the excess flood water onto public land — $8 an acre compared to over $100 an acre. So clearly, long term, the smart money would be on putting money into public land, not private hands.
Enter the Florida Legislature. Because lawmakers earmarked $10 million for storing water on private land last session, the water district went ahead and approved an 11-year, $135 million plan to divert flood water to area ranches on Dec. 11. It counts on the legislature renewing that appropriation every year.
Yes, it’s tying up money that could be used for a permanent solution to the rivers’ needs. On the bright side, a few politically connected insiders could become fabulously rich off the deal.
A lot about this deal, approved by the Water Management District board Dec. 11, doesn’t look right. For instance:
* In Hendry County, ranch owners earn about $9 an acre annually to make their land available for cattle grazing. Yet the government is paying Alico, $136 an acre to make their Hendry County land available for water dispersal during heavy rains.
* Alico and the other land owners get paid rain or shine, even if not a single drop is sent onto their property.
* Building a reservoir to hold the water would enable the rivers to be helped not just in the wet season, but during droughts, too. But that wasn’t what legislators funded.
* Alico is now traded on the Nasdaq-GS exchange. Since the deal closed, its stock is surging. Alico was founded by former Florida legislator and citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin. Griffin’s grandchildren include former state Sen. J.D. Alexander, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris and former state Rep. Baxter Troutman.
That’s some serious political pull.
* A few weeks before the SFWMD vote, an investment group with unidentified owners, called “734 Investors, LLC” bought up a majority of Alico’s stock. Since then, Alico’s stock price has soared. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if the Securities and Exchange Commission, the SEC, looked into the matter and let taxpayers know who was profiting off the deal?



Climate change denial wading in sewage in Miami – Op-Ed by Paul Wallis
Miami - It doesn’t NEED to get much more bizarre than this. High water in Miami caused sewers to back up in America’s Retirement and Organized Crime Mecca. The local governor, a Republican, of course, says there’s no problem.
Sydney Morning Herald reporter Nick O’Malley has a truly hilarious report on the solemn denial of any environmental issues related to the long-predicted high water in Miami. It would be a real shame and insult to the guy’s journalistic chutzpah to synopsize a great article, which you can read on this link.
As O’Malley reports, Leonardo Di Caprio is news in Miami, but not the seas of sewage. It’s not even reported, not even the stench. That’s not the case with the online stories about Miami, though. A search of Miami sewage smell will get a lot of responses
Australian site Trip Advisor regarding the semi-famous Vizcaya Museums and Gardens:
The gardens of the Vizcaya Museum are vast and marvelous. The only thing spoiling it was the horrible smell. Most of the ponds with still water were stagnant and smelled like sewage waste.
Add to this the fact that Miami has a history of major sewer breaks and breakdowns, and it’s not a great image.
The denial, however, is fascinating. This is a city which has actual flooding, as well. The endless billions sunk, excuse the pun, into Florida’s flatline coastal capital, which is barely above sea level, are at risk… So the safest move is to deny there’s any risk.
Away from the delusions, Miami, meanwhile, has become the poster city for high risk and property devaluation. According to recent figures, Miami is predicted to have eight times its current level of flooding by 2050. That means in 35 years all that real estate will be history.
The denial argument, which is basically all about fossil fuels not causing global warming, states as a core principle that Earth’s climate is always changing. Therefore, they say, fossil fuels aren’t the cause of the problem, so the world can go on polluting and killing people with air pollution safe in the knowledge that it’s not causing global warming — and anyway, the air pollution will probably kill you before it happens, so what are you worrying about?
Yes, the climate is always changing. Which leads to this point — it’s about to run right over Miami, with the added attraction of drowning in your very own local sewage. What’s the point of denying it?
You may ask, and much good will it do you –
The US can get along with 49.27 states or whatever’s left if the east coast flood predictions come true, can’t it?
People don’t have to resort to mere honesty to deal with major issues, do they?
Hey-thar city folks-taxpayers-varmints can swim ‘round the sewage, cain’t they?
Just one more thing, from Al Jazeera US, which shows the denial isn’t very honest, either. The city denies there’s an issue, but has been installing anti-backups in pipes across the city, even so:
All week, city crews have been sliding temporary rubber plugs in about 20 stormwater drainage pipes and then inflating them. Before the tides roll in, workers will inflate the plugs, sealing the pipes to keep water from flowing back up from the bay and into the streets.
Recently Miami Beach installed two very large pump stations in South Beach, and both have been running at full capacity, pumping water out in preparation for the high tides this week. In the next five years, the city plans to spend the remainder of a half-billion-dollar allotment and add 58 pumps along the beach and main corridors.
So there’s no problem, but there’s a half billion dollars’ worth of work being done to fix it? Every time the tide comes in, that argument becomes less convincing. Just wait until the Florida real estate industry starts advertising free scuba lessons, then buy.


Florida Tech trying to help predict IRL flooding
Florida Today – by Chris Bonanno
December 21, 2014
The Indian River Lagoon can be deceptive from a science perspective.
“The Indian River Lagoon isn’t a river, really. It has flow that is generated basically by the wind field,” said Dr. Steven Lazarus, associate professor with the Marine and Environmental Systems department at Florida Tech.
Given that, Lazarus, along with fellow professor Michael Splitt and Ph.D students Jeff Colvin and Bryan Holman are working alongside flow model specialist Dr. Robert Weaver to determine what happens from a flooding perspective when that wind blows parallel to the direction of the semi-enclosed body of water, meaning roughly in a north-northwest to south-southeast direction.
“You can push water, it’s like a bathtub,” Lazarus said. “You can push water to one side of the lagoon or the other so there can be flooding.”
“We are trying to sort of better understand and characterize and ultimately predict the set-up, that’s the pushing of water.”
Lazarus says that his group at FIT focuses primarily on the “wind” while Weaver focuses on the water. As part of Florida Tech’s contribution to the project, they’re using different model runs to put forth what he calls an “ensemble” approach.
They’re also looking back at the results of what happened in similar high-wind events in the past in the IRL.
“I’m focusing a lot on right now trying to I guess, go back in history and look at how often really significant wave events happen in the Indian River Lagoon,” Holman said.
They’ve also had assistance from other department students who have installed sensors that measure the lagoon’s water level.
“Right now of course, we’re putting some additional sensors out there, but there’s been some sensors in other parts of the lagoon measuring the water levels so the more we have, the better we can, you know, test our simulations,” Splitt said.
In all though, it’s clear that the research and work being done at Florida Tech certainly has a very important application.
“The idea of course is to work with the National Weather Service as a partner to develop algorithms, code in support of the weather service mantra to protect the life and property, essentially,” Lazarus said.


Florida could have fracking problem on its hands
Orlando Sentinel – Aaron Deslatte
December 19, 2014
ALLAHASSEE – Florida has a fracking problem. Voters want cheap energy, environmental protection, cleaner water, lower taxes and less government in their lives.
Florida ratepayers rebelled against utilities seeking to charge them for nuclear power plant construction. Voters overwhelmingly passed a mandate to spend more than $800 million annually to protect waters and lands. Yet, property owners don't want government inspecting their leaky septic tanks.
In short, public sentiment on energy use is a bit schizophrenic – people want inexpensive living in an age of energy transformation and fossil fuel exhaustion, natural beauty without the beastly bills.
Hydraulic fracturing is an interesting political quagmire. Florida isn't a fracking hub, although one company created a stink in the governor's race when it got popped by the state last summer for attempting to frack in the Everglades.
However, the process of injecting high-pressure water and chemicals underground to crack rocks and release oil and gas helps power our homes and businesses. It's also becoming increasingly unpopular. New York last week banned it over fears it was contaminating the water and air.
Florida's utilities – Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy – want permission from utility regulators to charge consumers for its fracking exploration for natural gas reserves in other states.
The Public Service Commission just gave permission to FP&L to invest $191 million into an Oklahoma exploration for natural gas that the company argued could save ratepayers $52 million over three decades. But lawyers representing the public and some environmental groups argued the company was shifting risk for energy exploration to customers and couldn't guarantee the savings.
Next March, the PSC could consider allowing FP&L to start charging up to $750 million annually for similar fracking projects.
Commissioner Eduardo Balbis noted about three-fourths of energy expenses were already coming from fracking operations, and "if they're going to be paying for energy from unconventional sources, they ought to get it cheaper," he said.
As the federal government continues to clamp down on coal plants, reliance on natural gas is expected to increase, particularly because states such as Florida refuse to invest in technologies like solar that could transform energy use and supplant the fossil-fuel utility dominance.
Meanwhile, a handful of Democrats led by Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, have filed legislation to ban fracking in Florida. Soto said other alternatives to make it cost-prohibitive could also materialize during the spring session. "It just doesn't make sense given we get our water from the Floridan Aquifer," Soto said. "It would put all this at risk for so little gain."
Florida's sweltering summers make it insatiably addicted to imported energy – so much so, the Republican-controlled Legislature was steaming toward authorizing oil rigs off the coasts in 2010 until the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That catalytic event crystallized public opinion against offshore oil drilling, but not their own energy use or irritability when utilities try to up the rates.
Florida's utilities invested millions into the elections and have a lengthy agenda to reduce requirements for solar investment and shift more costs to consumers.
The only candidate making claims to support energy independence by way of sources like solar – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist – lost a squeaker to Gov. Rick Scott, who has little interest alternative energy sources.
So, fracking and its consumer-footed financing may get its own file in the "elections have consequences" folder.
Related:           Florida Paves the Way For Fracking As Miami Senator Files Bill to ...         Miami New Times (blog)

FPL gets OK to drill for gas
Sun Sentinel
December 19, 2014
ALLAHASSEE — Florida's largest power company can now get in the natural-gas production business with its customers' money.
But it won't be able to use money from those same ratepayers to advocate against new federal clean-water rules.
Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light won permission from state utility regulators Thursday to sign a 30-year contract with Louisiana-based PetroQuest to conduct exploratory drilling for natural gas in southeastern Oklahoma, with the $191 million cost spread to customer bills.
The deal, approved in a 4-1 vote by the state Public Service Commission, will make FPL the first regulated power company to engage in such energy production.
"This is an innovative project,'' Public Service Commission member Julie Brown said. "And let's face the reality here, we're becoming more and more dependent … on natural gas. And we will only continue to become more dependent on natural gas in the future.''
Regulators and FPL officials were quick to claim customers should see cost savings from the investment.
However, the commission delayed until March a request by FPL to set guidelines for additional production projects, which could raise production costs to about a $750 million year.
Despite the upfront costs, Commissioner Eduardo Balbis said the proposal to drill for shale gas in Oklahoma should be a "windfall" for FPL customers.
"These are proven reserves, it's just arguing how much of a savings there will be," said Balbis, who is leaving office at the end of the year. "Day one, customers are going to see lower bills."
FPL has claimed the work will save customers $51.9 million through the life of the contract, as they would be paying for the production of the gas rather than paying an outside driller.
PSC staff estimated a 16-cent decrease in the monthly bill of a residential customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, starting in 2016. Only commission Chairman Art Graham voted against the plan.
The power company currently spends about $3 billion a year to purchase natural gas, which accounts for about two-thirds of the fuel used by the company.
Susan Glickman, Florida director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, called the approval "bad policy."
"FPL customers should be outraged at the company's overreach and concerned that the PSC, the agency charged with balancing the interest of the public with desires of monopoly utilities, approved the speculative out-of-state deal," Glickman said in a release after the meeting.
The Office of Public Counsel, which is charged with representing consumers in utility cases, called the venture a "financial risk" for ratepayers that will garner a positive yield for shareholders, "regardless of the success of the venture."
Commissioners were emphatic the approval does not allow or expand "fracking" in Florida.
Fracking, formally called hydraulic fracturing, is a controversial process that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations, which allows the release of natural gas and oil.
Also Thursday, commissioner accepted a staff recommendation to reject FPL's request to use ratepayers' money to lobby against new federal clean-water rules.
FPL had sought to use $228,500 for a fight against the proposed "Water of the United States" rules, which revise definitions within the Clean Water Act.
"While it's commendable that FPL wants to limit rate impacts from the proposed regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency rules are not final, and FPL is not incurring any required compliance costs,'' Graham said in a prepared statement.
The federal water-designation changes — published in April — have been devised by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
FPL has claimed that the "overreaching" changes would result in an increase in regulations over wetlands and water bodies and would impact current facilities and future electric utility projects.


The price of development - by The Commentator
December 19, 2014
In 20 years of living in South Florida, I was able to witness what overdevelopment does to a community. I saw miles of beautiful beachfront turn into a canyon of high-rise buildings blocking the sun. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Everglades, row upon row of concrete driveways and backyard swimming pools replaced palm trees and open space. And when the space ran out, mountains of sand were dumped to create more land, so we could build farther out into the Everglades.
We saw what happens when public officials get too cozy with those who build, and over time grow less concerned with the consequences of their official decisions.
When we moved to Chapel Hill, we found an attractive community with many lovely neighborhoods, convenient retail stores, and easy access to cultural activity. We found an enlightened community of well-educated people who cared about their town, its schools and quality of life. That’s a good sign. There’s not much wrong with that picture. The old saying “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” could apply.
That was 37 years ago.
Today, we live in a community determined to reinvent itself into something more like a copy of the overgrown cities of South Florida and the concrete jungles in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.
Of course, we will have some growth, and change is inevitable. Some of it is good. Too much is not. That which is driven by greed is not.
As we come to the end of another year, we await the inevitable approval of major developments on the north side of town, the south side, the west and the east. Fortunately, we have no beautiful Everglades in the path of our construction. But we do have us, the people who must live with the consequences of all this building.
We and our neighbors are this community’s residents, the people who live here, who love our community and who wonder what it is that’s broken that we are so determined to fix



Water Resource Council: Hydrilla still a concern - by Glynis Hart, Ithaca Times
December 19, 2014 12:15 am
Although the campaign to keep invasive weed hydrilla out of Cayuga Lake has been working so far, continuing vigilance is needed. Bill George, of the Tompkins County Water Resources Council, told the Ulysses town board, “Although hydrilla's not up here, if we don't pay attention, it will be up here.”
The invasive weed damages waterways by crowding out other plant life and forming a dense mat that keeps oxygen from penetrating to fish species. In areas in Florida where hydrilla has clogged waterways, boats cannot get through without the work of hydrilla cutting machines.
The discovery of hydrilla in the south end of Cayuga Lake inspired a hydrilla task force and a number of mitigation efforts. The most effective seems to be a twice-yearly application of an herbicide for aquatic plants. However, since hydrilla can regenerate from small pieces of the plant, forming tubers that live in the mud, sometimes removal by hand is necessary. George said that divers had removed hydrilla tubers from the mud in parts of the inlet in Stewart Park, where the infestation was persistent, and the southeast corner of the lake. “Things are looking good, but it's a matter of vigilance,” said George. “The important thing in all this is funding, so I included all these things in my report.”
Under bad news, George said that hydrilla has been found in the Tonawanda area, Croton River, and areas around Orange County.
The Water Resources Council also monitors water quality in Cayuga Lake. In partnership with Cornell's Lake Source Cooling monitoring team, the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network, Finger Lakes Institute, and Floating Classroom, Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the Community Science Institute, the committee collects water quality data. Noting that the water down by Stewart Park has always been “yucky”, George said they are drafting a letter to the state DEC to have the “pathogen impairment” standard removed, and to state that phosphorus levels in the southern end of the lake meet the standard.
George summarized the activities of the WRC for the past year, presenting a list of speakers they’d had, noting funding received and disbursed, and the beginnings of forming a strategic plan for the Finger Lakes region by the Finger Lakes Prism Stakeholders.
In other business, George said the WRC had “respectfully declined” an award from the Sustainability Center, as the award cited the WRC’s comments on the SGEIS for natural gas drilling in NYS as important “anti-fracking” work. George said the WRC agenda is not political, but scientific, and the members did not feel comfortable accepting the award.


EPA Announces 2014 Annual Environmental Enforcement Results
December 18, 2014
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its annual enforcement and compliance results reflecting a focus on large cases driving industry compliance and that have a high impact on protecting public health and the environment.
“By taking on large, high impact enforcement cases, EPA is helping to level the playing field for companies that play by the rules, while maximizing our ability to protect the communities we serve across the country,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Despite challenges posed by budget cuts and a government shutdown, we secured major settlements in key industry sectors and brought criminal violators to justice. This work resulted in critical investments in advanced technologies and innovative approaches to reduce pollution and improve compliance.”
In fiscal year 2014, EPA enforcement actions required companies to invest more than $9.7B in actions and equipment to control pollution and clean up contaminated sites. EPA’s cases resulted in $163M in combined federal administrative, civil judicial penalties, and criminal fines. Other results include:
Reductions of an estimated 141 million pounds of air pollutants, including 6.7 million pounds of air toxics.
Reductions of approximately 337 million pounds of water pollutants.
Clean up of an estimated 856 million cubic yards of contaminated water/aquifers.
EPA pursues high impact cases that drive compliance across industries:
Lowe’s Home Centers agreed to a corporate-wide compliance program ensuring contractors nation-wide follow laws to protect children from dangerous lead paint exposure.
The nation’s second largest natural gas producer, Chesapeake Appalachia, agreed to restore streams and wetlands damaged from its operations and implement a comprehensive plan to comply with water protection laws.
EPA holds criminal violators accountable that threaten the health and safety of Americans, while directing funds to affected communities:
EPA’s criminal program generated $63M in fines and restitution, secured $16M in court-ordered environmental projects and sentenced defendants to a combined 155 years of incarceration.
After EPA pursued the case, Tonawanda Coke was found guilty and required to pay a $12.5M criminal penalty and to fund $12.2M in community service in New York, for releasing benzene from its facility into neighboring communities.
EPA enforcement work reduces pollution in the sectors that impact American communities the most:
Settlements with Minnesota Power and Wisconsin Electric Power Company are cutting coal fired power plants emissions, requiring companies to control pollution and conduct innovative mitigation projects that promote renewable energy development and protect clean air for local communities.
We’re reducing dangerous air toxics released from industrial flares at refineries and chemical plants, requiring companies like Shell and DuPont to implement monitoring and pollution control technologies. These efforts are equipping minority and low-income communities with monitoring data, while reducing toxic air pollution for residents living near the facilities.
EPA is working closely with cities such as East Bay MUD (California), Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (Illinois) and Miami-Dade County (Florida) to cut discharges of raw sewage and contaminated stormwater through integrated planning, green infrastructure and other innovative approaches.
EPA ensures companies and federal facilities take responsibility and clean up toxic pollution they create.
Polluted sites across the country are being cleaned up while EPA conserves and recovers federal funds. This year, settlements will result in more than $453.7M in commitments from responsible parties to clean up Superfund sites, and return $57.7M to the Superfund trust.
When abandoned munitions posed an imminent and substantial endangerment at the Camp Minden, Louisiana site, EPA acted to ensure proper cleanup and accountability by the U.S. Army.
Major cases developed in 2014, but not included in fiscal year 2014 statistics demonstrate EPA’s ongoing commitment to tough enforcement:
A settlement with Hyundai-Kia netted a $100M fine, forfeiture of emissions credits and more than $50M invested in compliance measures helps level the playing field for car companies that follow the law, and helps reduces greenhouse gas emissions fueling climate change.
The largest cleanup settlement in American history, with Anadarko and Kerr McGee, will put more than $4.4B into toxic pollution cleanup, improving water quality and removing dangerous materials in tribal and overburdened communities.
A settlement with Alpha Natural Resources, one of the country’s largest coal companies, requires it to protect water quality in communities near their coal mining operations in five states.
For more information, visit


Mosaic Corp.

Mosaic toxic waste settlement in works - by Matt Dixon, Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau
December 18, 2014
TALLAHASSEE — Federal and state environmental officials are negotiating a settlement with Mosaic, among the world’s largest fertilizer companies, over whether it mishandled hazardous waste at some of its Florida operations.
The issue could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades and trust fund payments in addition to a possible penalty of more than $1 million, according to state rec­ords and regulatory filings.
It’s part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s crackdown on hazardous waste created by the mineral processing industry.
“The negotiations involving Mosaic are complex and ongoing,” said company spokesman Richard Ghent. “We are negotiating in good faith and we look forward to a successful resolution of the matter.”
Phosphate ore is a mineral companies mine and process to produce fertilizer. A toxic byproduct created in the process is stored in piles up to 200 feet tall, called gypsum stacks or gypstacks. To some environmental groups, they are mountains of hazardous waste.
“They can sometimes overflow and spill their toxic waste after strong storms or prolonged rain events,” the Sierra Club Florida wrote in a brochure about gypstacks.
One example: In September 2004, hurricane-whipped winds churned waves of water over a gypsum stack in Riverview, opening a gap in the surrounding dike and spilling 65 million gallons of acidic wastewater into Tampa Bay — one of the worst local environmental disasters in memory.
The first Florida case settled under the EPA crackdown was in 2010 with CF Industries Inc., which agreed to spend $12 million to reduce the release of hazardous waste and pay a $700,000 fine.
Mosaic bought CF Industries three years later for $1.2 billion.
Negotiators and Mosaic officials are working to hammer out their own settlement now, but the issue could end up in federal court.
“A consent decree is currently actively being negotiated,” said Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection. If no agreement is reached, officials would file a legal action in federal court.
In 2005 and 2006, the EPA issued Mosaic notices of violation related to the handling of contaminated process water at six of its operations: Riverview in Hillsborough County, and Green Bay, New Wales, Mulberry and Bartow in Polk County. As with other cases in the federal crackdown, the notices also were referred to the U.S. Justice Department for potential enforcement action.
In regulatory filings, Mosaic said it is pushing for a “negotiated resolution” but will go to court if needed.
“We intend to vigorously defend these matters in any enforcement actions that may be pursued,” read the company’s annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commissions.
The company says in the filings that a negotiation could include $150 million in upgrades and the placement of $625 million in an interest-earning trust fund to handle the gypsum stacks.
The trust fund payments would be a pre-payment to accelerate the closing of the gypstacks rather than allowing the company to pay for the process over the normal course of business, which it estimates would take up to 30 years.
Despite the hefty price of a potential settlement, Mosaic said in the filings it can easily absorb the cost because of “strong operating cash flows, liquidity and capital resources.”


CBC warns of future Floridian 'climate refugees' fleeing from rising sea levels
Orlando Weekly - by Thaddeus McCollum
Dec 17, 2014
Here in Orlando, we love our Canadian snowbirds — mostly. Getting stuck behind one in traffic may cause you to tear your hair out, but they make up for it by pumping thousands of their loonies (and toonies!) into the local economy. 
This week, though, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation published this article, warning of potential "climate refugees" fleeing Florida in the coming years due to rising sea levels. Harold Wanless, the chair of the department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami, calls much of South Florida "doomed."
As we've reported in the past, the combination of rising sea levels and a rapidly-draining Floridan aquifer poses a real threat to Florida's sustainability in the coming years. We took a good step this past election by passing Amendment 1, which allocates money from real estate sales to conservation efforts, but the state Legislature has yet to address our dwindling fresh water supply. Even scarier, efforts are underway to get fracking approved in the state, which would literally eat away at the aquifer. State Sens. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, are working on a bill that would ban fracking in the state, which will hopefully make its way to the floor for a vote next year.
But even Amendment 1 and a fracking ban may not be enough to alleviate the harmful consequences of rising sea levels and a lack of fresh water. Will we see a mass exodus of South Floridians in the next decade, similar to the migration of the Okies from the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, kind of a reverse snowbird migration ? Only time will tell.


Five environmental stories from 2014 that'll shape our future for years to come
Orlando Weekly - by Erin Sullivan
December 17, 2014
1. Amendment 1 passes
We may not have gotten everything we wanted out of election 2014 (seriously, you guys: Pam Bondi again? And no medical marijuana? Such a disappointment), but we did at least get this one measure passed. Amendment 1 makes sure that a portion of the tax from every real estate sale in the state is dedicated to conservation efforts. Amendment 1 was considered particularly vital by environmentalists, since the state Legislature keeps ignoring the declining quality and quantity of fresh, clean water in the state.
2. Orlando hasn't run out of water ... yet
2014 was the year that Orlando's demand for water was on track to exceed what could safely be pumped from the Floridan aquifer. During the first part of the year, while the Legislature was in session, people were talking about the shortage we could be facing and the Central Florida Water Initiative came up with a draft plan to manage our dwindling supply through 2035. We still haven't run out of water (yet), but we will if we don't get serious about curbing our consumption and finding ways to clean up what we've got (see Amendment 1).
3. Fracking comes to Florida
A Texas company brought fracking to the forefront in the state when it applied for a wastewater injection well permit in late 2013 – basically, it wanted to inject acid into the ground to dissolve rock to get at trapped fossil-fuel deposits; despite a directive from the state to hold off on beginning work, the company went ahead and started fracking anyway, sending everyone into a panic that Florida could become the next frontier for the controversial practice.
4. Legislators contemplate fracking ban
State Sens. Darren Soto and Dwight Bullard teamed up on a bill they plan to introduce during the 2015 legislative session that will ban fracking in the state. Meanwhile, the League of Women Voters of Orange County and students at Barry University Law School came up with a proposed bill that would lay down some regulations for companies that do seek fracking permits here.
5. Florida guts energy-efficiency rebate program
The state's biggest utility companies – Duke Energy, Florida Power and Light, and Tampa Electric – convinced the state that it should scrap the rebate plan for homeowners who make energy-efficiency improvements to their homes (solar panels, energy-efficient water heaters, etc.). Thanks to not-a-scientist Gov. Rick Scott, it looks like Florida will continue to lag behind other states in terms of renewable energy production, despite our reputation as the Sunshine State.


Florida adopts 10-year plan to clean Lake Okeechobee
SE-AgNet - by Randall, The News service of Florida
December 17th, 2014
The state Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday announced the adoption of a 10-year restoration plan for Lake Okeechobee that is expected to reduce phosphorous entering the lake by one-third. The $750 million “basin management action plan” identifies a variety of projects intended to lessen the influx of nutrient-rich water into the lake, create water-treatment areas and establish stormwater treatment areas for both urban and agricultural areas, according to a news release from the department.
  Lake Okeechobee
“Restoring the waters of Lake Okeechobee and the northern Everglades is a key step in preserving the greater Everglades ecosystem for generations to come,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a prepared statement.
Environmental groups, in comments included in the department’s announcement, praised the lake-restoration plan they helped create and noted more work is needed.
“Cleaning up the lake is a huge undertaking, and the (basin management action plan) is a good first step in that effort,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said in the release.
“The plan includes projects that significantly reduce harmful phosphorous entering the lake and requires verification of the effectiveness of pollution control practices,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said in the release. “In future iterations, Audubon will continue to recommend additional measures to control and treat pollution.”
Water issues statewide are expected to get plenty of attention in the 2015 legislative session. A group of senators is expected to again push to increase funding to preserve some of the state’s most endangered natural springs.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how lawmakers will carry out a voter-approved constitutional amendment that dedicates fees from real estate transactions to water-resource projects and land-conservation efforts.

Lawmakers must heed voters on Amendment 1 land conservation
Orlando Sentinel – Editorial
December 17, 2014 
Almost three-quarters of state voters said yes last month to a constitutional amendment requiring lawmakers to spend one-third of the annual revenues from the state's real-estate transaction tax on water and land conservation. Amendment 1 directs more than $600 million to that purpose next year, growing to more than twice as much annually by the time the measure expires in 2034.
The successful citizens' petition drive to put the amendment on the ballot, and the resounding vote in favor of it, took place amid a rising tide of concern among Floridians about depleted land-buying programs; the sudden and shocking decline of the Indian River Lagoon, natural springs and other waterways in the state; and the need to maintain momentum on restoring the Everglades.
But new House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican, recently signaled that leading lawmakers may have other plans for the Amendment 1 funds. Crisafulli told the Palm Beach Post that he believes permissible uses for the dollars include municipal water and sewer projects -- a category where the Legislature allocated $88.5 million this year from other sources.
The speaker said it's up to lawmakers to "interpret the intent" of the amendment. But the language in the measure is not ambiguous: It directs the state to allot funds "to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands."
That broad category includes, according to the amendment, "wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources … and the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams; beaches … recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites."
Missing from this list is any reference to hometown water and sewer projects. As Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, told the Post, "I didn't see any mention of paying for leaky pipes in the amendment."
Voters passed Amendment 1 to guarantee investments in water and land conservation. If lawmakers just use the funds it provides as a pot of money to cover pork barrel projects, they'll be thwarting the will of three-quarters of the electorate.
This would be unfaithful but, unfortunately, not unprecedented. After 63 percent of voters passed the Fair Districts amendments in 2010, barring lawmakers from drawing congressional and legislative districts to benefit candidates or parties, they got caught doing exactly that. Judges in separate cases ordered them to redraw their maps for state Senate and Congress.
Gov. Rick Scott pledged during his campaign, "We are going to invest in the environment." The governor should honor that promise, and use his clout to make sure lawmakers don't stand in the way. They need to listen to voters, and take yes for an answer.


Sierra Club to PSC: say no to FPL’s fracking plans
Palm Beach Post
December 17, 2014 |
Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to invest millions in natural gas fracking in Oklahoma is scheduled to be considered  by regulators Thursday.
Today the Sierra Club of Florida urged the Florida Public Service Commission to reject the proposal FPL wants its customers to fund, calling it a “speculative investment at best.”
“The PSC already gave utilities a huge gift by gutting energy efficiency standards by more than 90 percent last month. It’s time for the PSC to stand up for ratepayers and deny this petition by FP&L,” said Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida’s staff director.
FPL, headquartered in Juno Beach,  is asking the PSC to allow it to charge its customers $191 million to drill for natural gas from shale in the Woodford region of southeastern Oklahoma. It also wants permission to charge customers up to $750 million a year for the project and future gas production ventures.
Earlier this month, FPL witnesses told the PSC that the project would result in customer savings of $51.9 million on fuel costs over three decades.
“At worse FPL customers could wind up footing the bill for an expensive project that will yield nothing, similar to Duke Energy customers who paid for a nuclear power plant that was never built,” the Sierra Club said in a statement.
Fracking for natural gas damages the land, pollutes water and air and causes illness in surrounding communities, the Sierra Club said.
FPL uses more natural gas than any utility in the nation, and most of that comes from fracked sources. Fracking has resulted in a cheaper, more abundant supply.
The PSC is also scheduled to vote on FPL’s request to charge customers in $228,500 fees for lobbying against changes in the Clear Water Act.
A proposal for smart meter-opt out fees for FPL customers who do not want to switch to one of the advanced digital meters is also on Thursday’s agenda.
The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. and can be viewed online at


Expected $1 billion budget surplus draws attention of lawmakers, special interest groups – by Matt Dixon
December 16, 2014
A continuing rebound in Florida’s economy could translate to a nearly $1 billion surplus in the state budget for 2015, economists predict. But legislative leaders are greeting the news with caution as they sort through pricey budget requests from state agencies.
State revenue estimators have predicted that revenues for the fiscal year ending in June will grow by 5 percent more than expected, and next year’s revenue forecasts were increased 4 percent. Those estimates equal roughly $1 billion in additional revenue for the next fiscal year.
Revenues have steadily increased since lawmakers faced a $7 billion budget shortfall in 2009. It’s been welcome news in recent years for lawmakers happy that they have more money to work with, but who also believe they must send a message to special interest groups and state agencies controlled by Gov. Rick Scott’s office that pet projects aren’t guaranteed more money.
“We will continue our commitment to fiscal responsibility with every dollar as we prioritize funding initiatives and seek ways to continue tax relief for Florida’s families,” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said in a statement after the new revenue numbers were announced.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said “there is no shortage of ideas,” but lawmakers need “to remain vigilant and responsibly plan for Florida’s future.”
About one-third of the state’s nearly $80 billion budget is state cash easily controlled by lawmakers. Sales tax revenue, the biggest portion of that money, is expected to grow as a result of increased tourism, consumer sales and low gas prices.
Budget funding can be an important political tool used during legislative negotiations or when members of budget committees are raising campaign cash. Sending a message early that everyone’s projects will be funded removes that leverage.
Historically, the governor releases his proposed budget in January. The newest revenue estimates are important because they are the figures Scott will use to craft his spending proposal.
During his campaign, Scott promised to cut taxes by $1 billion over the next two years and push through record funding for public education next year.
“I look forward to working with the Legislature to continue to cut taxes by $1 billion over the next two years and increase K-12 per-pupil funding to the highest level in our state’s history this coming year,” Scott said in a statement.
Scott said he wanted the state to spend $7,176-per-student, which would be a record high, but included no specific outline for achieving that goal, or even how much state money would be involved.
Lawmakers will use Scott’s budget proposal as a guideline, but have the authority to write the state budget. The governor’s biggest influence comes with the ability to veto specific spending items.
Along with Scott’s funding priorities, budget-writers must also consider requests from state agencies, which offered spending blueprints in October.
• The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is requesting $75 million for Everglades cleanup. The money would be used for land acquisition, construction and water testing to bolster protection plans setup to help Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie River, and Caloosahatchee River.
• The Department of Economic Opportunity is requesting nearly $100 million in economic incentive money that can be used for a host of issues, including business recruitment, and offering tax credits to existing state companies.
• The Department of Education is requesting $238 million for kindergarten through 12th grades, and higher education construction projects.


Person of influence: Bill Hammond
December 16, 2014
New York-born Bill Hammond arrived here in 1961 and has been a factor in almost every major environmental effort since.
As an educator, he’s instilled a love of the environment in generations of Southwest Floridians. He’s helped develop civic leaders, too, through the Monday Group, a seminar he started when he was teaching at Cypress Lake High School in Fort Myers, where he devised a curriculum named one of the nation’s Top 10 by the National Science Foundation.
Cape Coral’s Eco-Park, Six Mile Cypress Slough in Fort Myers, Collier County’s CREW wetlands, east Lee County’s Manatee Park, Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 program and Everglades restoration bear his imprint, as do the region’s water management, manatee laws and bald eagle protection plans.
After more than 40 years of battle, is he discouraged? “The alternative is hardly worth considering,” he said.


Silver Springs

'Silver Springs is dying,' activist Robert Knight says – by Andy Fillimore
December 16, 2014
Environmental scientist and springs researcher Robert Knight told a capacity crowd at the IHMC evening lecture Tuesday that unless current trends are reversed, Silver Springs could be reduced to a dried up algae bowl in as little as 15 years.
“Silver Springs is dying before our eyes. There is a myth that there is an unlimited supply of underground water,” said Knight.
Knight spoke at the latest installment of evening lectures at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a technical research facility with offices in Ocala and Pensacola. The talks, free to the public, cover a wide range of topics and are co-hosted by the College of Central Florida.
Knight, 66, grew up in Jacksonville and now lives in Gainesville. He has visited Silver Springs since 1953 and did his doctorial work there. He is director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute and president of the Silver Springs Alliance ( ). Some of the historically largest springs in the world are located in Central Florida, Knight indicated.
Knight displayed pictures taken in an area of the Silver River over a number of years that showed a deterioration in the clarity of the water.
He said he'd like to see a revitalization of Silver Springs and have it return as an tourist-drawing “economic engine” for the area.
Groundwater pumping from the aquifer to satisfy needs including residential developments and commercial concerns, especially since 1980, have, “like a checking account balance,” drawn more from the aquifer than rain can replace, Knight contended.
“We are suffering from our own development, our own footprint,” he said.
“Many springs are down 30 to 40 percent over the last 80 years. They are unhealthy with a weak heart. Imagine losing 40 percent of your blood,” he said.
Knight explained that springs are an “early warning system” of the health of the aquifer, like water overflowing from the top of a filled bucket. Knight has studied numerous Central Florida springs, including Poe Springs in Alachua County, which he claimed has “stopped” flowing.
“Most of the springs in Central Florida are down by about 30 percent. The aquifer is dropping about two inches per year in North Florida,” he said.
He cited a drop in output of Silver Springs from about 500 million gallons a day to about 300 million gallons per day in roughly the last 50 years and pointed out that White Springs in North Florida has dried up.
Knight made it clear he feels state government has failed to act even when “laws have been in place since 1972” to protect water resources. He indicated that business concerns are attracted by “free water.”
“People just don't know about the issue and the state won't 'fess up. (State government) just keeps kicking the can (the water issue) down the road. They are in denial,” he said.
Knight said that homeowner lawn watering accounts for “about one fourth” of the groundwater pulled out of the aquifer and stopping the lawn and shrub watering would have a measurably positive impact.
People should stand up to homeowner associations that insist on continued lawn watering, he said.
Knight said he served as an expert witness in the request by businessman Frank Stronach for water to operate Adena Springs cattle ranch here.
“I'm very opposed to (allowing) it. The Department of Environmental Protection is still reviewing this and a decision is due in January,” he said.
Stronach's request stood at 13 million gallons daily for some time but was reduced to 5.3 million gallons daily and may be dropped to 1.5 million gallons daily.
Knight said “public pressure” caused the initial requests to be lowered.
Knight drew applause during his talk when he said “Stronach should donate the land back for (a water)  recharge (area)” for Silver Springs.
He also drew a strong positive reaction from the crowd when he suggested the Rodman Dam be removed or breached to return a natural balance to the area.
Knight discussed what he termed potentially cancer-causing levels of nitrates present in Marion County water, especially in the western part of the county.
He indicated the nitrate was traceable to fertilizer runoff and “70 million” septic tanks in the county. He recommended less use of fertilizer, using Florida-friendly plants and avoiding runoff conditions.
Lecture guest Lucia Beale of Summerfield, in the area for 14 years, said she see “more vegetation and less fish” at some of locations here, while attendee Richard Arntzen said he has seen public taste change to where they no longer enjoy just a laid-back visit to the springs.
Lecture attendee former governor Kenneth “Buddy” MacKay said he “agrees strongly” that the state government is not informing the public about water protection issues and not enforcing water protection regulations.
“Robert Knight has a lot of courage and idealism. Protection of Silver Springs is a Marion County issue and if anything brings Marion County together, it should be this,” MacKay said.
In an added touch this month, Ocala Symphony Orchestra violinist Katie McCoy provided some Christmas season music during the reception.


Carp released to eat invasive plants in South Florida canals
Associated Press
December 15, 2014
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — South Florida's water managers are releasing thousands of fish into canals to eat plants clogging those waterways.
The South Florida Water Management District will release about 24,400 grass carp into canals in Fort Lauderdale and Homestead this week.
Officials say the farm-raised carp are sterile and do not spawn. The fish eat hydrilla, an invasive plant that is clogging canals that the district needs clear for flood control.
According to the state wildlife commission, grass carp provide a low-cost, long-term, herbicide-free means of dealing with problem plants.
Hydrilla is a rapidly growing aquatic plant with no natural predators in Florida. The plants grow while submerged in the water and need less sunlight than native Florida aquatic plants. Large amounts of hydrilla can hinder boat navigation and alter fish populations.
Related:           Grass carp released into South Florida canals to eat invasive hydrilla           Palm Beach Post
The South Florida Water Management District will release about 24,400 grass carp into canals in Fort Lauderdale and Homestead this week. Officials say the farm-raised carp are sterile and do not spawn. The fish eat hydrilla, an invasive plant that is clogging canals that the district needs clear for flood control. Hydrilla is a rapidly growing aquatic plant with no natural predators in Florida.


Isn’t Briger biotech village along I-95 preferable to rural sprawl ?
Palm Beach Post Blog
December 15, 2014
Hearing the pleas of the Everglades EarthFirst! protesters, it’s easy to forget that building on Briger was deemed among the most environmentally friendly of options for the biotech city intended to be anchored by The Scripps Research Institute off of Mecca Farms.
That history is important. Recall that in a secret site-selection process in late 2003, Scripps officials had been shown a 2,000 acre-orange grove 10 miles west of the Interstate, next to a wildlife management area, that lacked infrastructure or permits. The Scripps leaders picked the rural site not realizing they were being manipulated by development interests to force homebuilding closer to the swamp.
The commissioners bought Mecca Farms for the inflated price of $60 million, then invested another $44 million to prepare it for construction, only to see litigation ultimately render it unbuildable. In the end, the debacle wound up costing taxpayers about $78 million, for nothing.
Worse, it very nearly caused the LaJolla, Calif.-based biotechnology institute to fold its tent and go home. A decade later, with each Scripps Florida announcement that it has made a research advance in muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Fragile X Syndrome, aging and memory, cancer, immunology and addiction, taxpayers should feel thankful that the biotech dream survived its incredibly difficult birth.
Briger is a piece of land that’s bisected by a highway and surrounded by malls and homes. Isn’t building there preferable to putting a sprawling development 10-miles from everything else in the county, a development that encroaches on the northern edge of the Everglades ?
Related:           Editorial: Build on Briger to help recoup county's biotech investment          Palm Beach Post


West Palm Beach Commissioners to hear long-range water supply plans
Palm Beach Post Blog- by Eliot Kleinberg
December 15, 2014
At a work session this morning, West Palm Beach commissioners will hear an update on how and where they’ll get their water over the next several decades.
In August, assistant city administrator Scott Kelly, who’s the city’s point man on water supply and treatment, told commissioners research showed the population served by West Palm Beach’s water system will increase by 60 percent in the next half century, but average and maximum demand will increase by only about 45 percent.
At the time, Kelly cited tough new restrictions following profound drought, as well as lower water use after the economy tanked.
  Clear Lake
Clear Lake, close to downtown West Palm Beach,
receives LO water to supply the city.
While many South Florida cities draw water primarily from wells, West Palm Beach relies on surface water that flows 20 miles from Lake Okeechobee through canals and wetlands to Lake Mangonia and Clear Lake, just west of downtown. In 2011, the big lake was so low that gravity couldn’t carry water into the city’s system, and water customers had just a 60-day drinking supply.
In November 2013, commissioners, wanting to avoid a repeat, approved a $11.5 million plan to hold water in an existing city-owned natural area west of Florida’s Turnpike, dig a new well field east of existing well fields and recover water that now seeps out to sea.
Today’s meeting is at 10 a.m. at commission chambers at City Hall, 401 Clematis St.

Governor praised for agency appointments - by Lloyd Dunkelberger, Halifax Media Services
December 14, 2014
TALLAHASSEE | Gov. Rick Scott is reshaping his administration for a second term and is surprisingly winning accolades from some of his critics for his choices to lead key state agencies over the next four years.
It may be a sign of experience that Scott, a political outsider who came to Tallahassee four years ago vowing to end business as usual in the state government, has gained after four years in office. And it may reflect the realization that it is easier to change large, complicated state programs by relying on administrators who are well versed in the intricacies of those agencies.
"Thus far, he seems to be making some very good appointments and keeping some people on who have done a good job," said former state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has been one of Scott's toughest critics.
Fasano cited the reappointment of Liz Dudek as the head of the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees the $22 billion Medicaid program, and Julie Jones as the new secretary of the Department of Corrections as positive moves by the governor.

Gov. Rick Scott begins his second four-year term on Jan. 6. Here are some the key appointments he has made for second term:
JULIE JONES, secretary of the Department of Corrections. The former head of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will be the first woman to lead Florida's prison system.
MIKE CARROLL, secretary of the Department of Children and Families. Carroll, who has more than two decades of experience in DCF, was the former interim secretary.
LIZ DUDEK, head of the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees the Medicaid program, was reappointed by Scott.
JONATHAN STEVERSON, executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection — subject to Cabinet confirmation.
JESSE PANUCCIO, reappointed as executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity.
BARBARA PALMER, reappointed as director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
SAM VERGHESE, appointed as secretary of the Department of Elder Affairs.
MELISSA SELLERS, appointed as Scott's chief of staff.
JACKIE SCHUTZ appointed as Scott's communications director.
Fasano, who is now the Pasco County tax collector and supported Charlie Crist in his campaign against Scott, said Scott may be coming to the understanding that he didn't win support from a majority of Floridians in either election.
"Although he didn't get a message the first time he won by a nose, he may have gotten the message when he got re-elected by a nose," Fasano said. "It's good to see what he's doing. I think you're going to see some differences in Rick Scott's philosophy and approach than what you saw in his first term."
Along with state prisons, the Department of Children and Families has been one of the most challenging agencies for any governor to handle. It has been so for Scott, who has gone through three agency heads since he took office.
And problems remain highlighted by the Miami Herald's reporting that some 477 children have died over the past five years despite the effort of the state child welfare system.
Scott has tapped Mike Carroll, who has more than two decades of experience in the DCF, as the agency's new leader. Carroll had been acting as interim secretary since April and has steered the agency through a major crisis in which a Gilchrist County man shot an adult daughter and six grandchildren – who had been brought to the DCF's attention through reports of abuse.
Carroll's appointment is in contrast to Scott's original DCF secretary, David Wilkins, who brought 29 years of experience as an Accenture executive but a scant government background. Wilkins resigned in 2013.
"I don't say necessarily there are things wrong with bringing people from the outside, but they need to have experience in the area that they are coming into," said former state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston.
Rich said Carroll's appointment will bring stability to the agency. "There is a lot to be said for stability," she said.
But Rich also warned that the state has to continue to provide adequate funding for the child welfare system. She said there were budget cuts under Wilkins, including the elimination of "quality assurance" workers who were critical to the system.
Lawmakers increased child protective investigators and reduced their caseloads in the new budget. But Rich said she worries how DCF's budget will compete with Scott's call for another $1 billion in tax cuts, record levels of funding for education and the impact of a new constitutional amendment earmarking environmental spending
"No matter who is the secretary they cannot flourish without the commitment of the governor and the Legislature to provide the resources necessary to keep the children safe," Rich said.
Fasano said he was impressed by Jones when she was the head of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and used to appear before his budget committee. He said Jones, who also spent 26 years at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and has worked as rank-and-file law enforcement officer, was an outspoken advocate for her agency workers, including the Florida Highway Patrol.
"She'll bring the leadership and the no-nonsense approach to that agency," Fasano said.
Jones' appointment is another contrast to Scott's original choice to lead Florida's 100,000-inmate prison system: Edwin Buss. The former head of the Indiana prison system lasted less than a year in the Scott administration.
Jonathan Steverson replaces Herschel Vinyard, who is a lawyer who had an extensive business background before leading the DEP. Environmental advocates have voiced support for appointment of Steverson — which also subject to confirmation by the Cabinet members.
Steverson and the DEP will play a major role in helping the state implement Amendment 1, a constitutional measure backed by voters this fall that will require a certain amount of spending on environmental initiatives, including the Florida Forever land-buying program.
"He knows the budget really well and he knows the issues," said Eric Draper, executive director of Florida Audubon. "He also knows the players. He's got relationships with business and ag and the environmental folks. My experience is he relates well to other people."
Scott's most controversial appointment may be his decision to name his campaign manager, Melissa Sellers, as his new chief of staff — a position that most Floridians are not aware of but is critical to any administration.
Sellers is a relative newcomer to Florida — having joined Scott's administration in 2012 as his communications director. She had previously worked as the communications director for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. But most of her experience has been in the political world, including guiding Scott's successful 2014 re-election campaign.
Sellers' appointment is running counter to an old Tallahassee axiom that it is best to limit campaign people in an administration.
In fact, it was advice given to Scott in a transition workbook put together in 2010 by Florida TaxWatch before Scott's first term.
"Governing is quite different from campaigning; consequently campaigners don't make good staff members," James Apthorp, a former chief of staff to Gov. Reubin Askew, said in the handbook. "No more than one of the three key staff should be from the campaign, maybe none."

Lee County: Water quality should be top priotity  at state house – by Heather Wysocki
December 14, 2014
If Lee County has its way, the wet stuff - protecting it and cleaning it, specifically - will be in the front of legislators' minds in 2015.
At its regular meeting Tuesday, the Lee County Board of Commissioners will discuss and likely approve the list of 2015 legislative priorities the county - and its lobbyists in Washington, D.C. and Tallahassee - will focus on in the coming legislative sessions.
The board's list is dominated by water quality issues, as well as funding requests for restoration projects aimed at protecting the county's water resources, according to the document.
To compile the list of commissioners' priorities, staffers ask commissioners and all county departments about the things they think are important for legislators to address, said County Manager Roger Desjarlais.
The list is comprehensive, but not set in stone - commissioners can add items "if something becomes a hot topic," Desjarlais said.
Amongst the board's 2015 legislative priorities:
*Supporting funding or the C-43 Water Quality Treatment Testing Facility, and the construction of the C-43 reservoir's first cell.
*$6.925 million in funding for water quality projects across Lee County to help "meet pollutant load reductions" and "provide flood control, habitat enhancement, additional water quality improvement and water recharge benefits." The county would match it with $7.525 million, the document states.
*Supporting an allocation policy for the newly passed Amendment 1 that includes local government participation and matching fund for local conservation projects.
*A local government exemption for the Bert Harris Act, which deals with federal flood insurance mapping. Lee County has received 19 notices of inverse condemnation - totaling claims of nearly $44 million in damages - because of the remapping by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to the board's priorities document.
*Funding for an Alico Road widening project and a Big Carlos Pass Bridge project development and environmental study.
Still other priorities on the board's list are "old standbys," said board Chairman Brian Hamman.
"They're things counties need to constantly be vigilant about, like home rule," he said.
Those items include requests to allow the county to continue to regulate taxis and limousines, and have the state "take full responsibility for funding and operation of detention facilities serving juveniles" or create a 50-50 cost split, according to the document.
If you go
*What: Lee County Board of Commissioners meeting
*When: 9:30 a.m. Tuesday
*Where: old Lee County Courthouse, 2120 Main St., Fort Myers 
Click here for Caloosahatchee Watershed Regional Water Management Issues White Paper (pdf 210.53 kB)



New study shows South Florida soft corals may withstand climate change
Miami Herald - by Jenny Staletovich
December 14, 2014
As the oceans absorb more carbon on a planet increasingly choked by greenhouse gases, scientists worry its reefs — the great storm-deflecting rampart for much of the tropics — will crumble an- bd fall.
But for the first time, a new study by the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a team of international scientists has found that at least one soft coral, the shrub-like sea rod found throughout South Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Bahamas, is more resilient to ocean acidification fueled by carbon than previously thought. Unlike hard corals and other marine animals with shells that need less acidic water to build calcified skins, corals with interior skeletons like the sea rod can survive.
For marine biologists, it’s a bit of good news in a growing catalog of risks as they race to manage oceans 30 percent more acidic than a century ago.
 “We had thought this coral was on the front line,” said co-author Chris Langdon, director of Rosenstiel’s Coral Reefs and Climate Change Laboratory. “It’s reasonable to think this will [apply] to a lot of other things.”
Corals have been on the planet for two million years, surviving repeated glacial cycles and rising and falling temperatures. But since the 1970s, reefs have disappeared by about 50 percent, hammered by pollution, over-fishing and disease. An outbreak of white pox nearly wiped out elkhorn coral, one of the fastest growing corals and a chief building block for reefs in the Florida Keys, in the 1990s. The coral have not rebounded, even though white pox has disappeared, Langdon said.
“That’s where climate change could be playing a role,” he explained.
With more greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, the chemistry of the oceans is changing as seas absorb more carbon and become more acidic. Higher acidity makes it harder for species that draw calcium from the water to build skeletons. Langdon and others assumed this would affect all corals — adding to stress already caused by pollution and increasing temperatures — and have been racing to find out which corals would be hit hardest.
“It’s sort of like triage,” he said.
Coral are particularly vulnerable because water chemistry can affect both growth and reproduction. To reproduce, corals send out clouds of eggs and sperm for two months during the summer. Fertilized larvae then drift down onto the reef, attach and grow in a cocoon like a butterfly. When they’re ready, they hatch, feeding on tiny plants that grow inside their tissue. But warming oceans have slowed reproduction by almost half. Hotter oceans can also cause the plants inside coral, called zooxanthellae to die, leaving the coral to starve.
Langdon and other scientists assumed that the sea rod, which is plentiful but grows even more slowly than the elkhorn, would wither in increasingly acidic conditions. To test their theory, they took samples collected from Big Pine Shoals in the Keys and glued them to stands in Langdon’s lab on Virginia Key. For eight weeks, they fed the coral dried fish food and exposed them to rates of acidification projected by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to occur in the future.
But rather than stop growing or die, the coral continued to build skeletons, they found. Even when they subjected the coral to harsh levels of acidification not expected to occur for nearly 300 years, growth slowed, but the coral survived. Knowing that the coral will survive allows scientists to predict what reefs may look like under future conditions and come up with ways to better manage them.
“There’s some first-aid things we can do to help the survival of the coral to give them some time, like cutting [carbon] emissions,” Langdon said, along with cutting nutrients from agriculture and sewage.
“Changes humans are causing now are anywhere between 10 and 100 times faster” than the last century, he said. “We need to admit we have a problem.”


Promised ‘Florida Forever' land purchase lagging; environmentalists unhappy – by Eric Staats
December 14, 2014
NAPLES, Fla. - Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign pulled into Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary last summer with a $20 million promise to buy land for preservation in Southwest Florida.
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Cross State Highway: The Florida highway that never was – by Amy Bennett Williams
December 13, 2014
It's the biggest regional rivalry you've likely never heard of, yet its outcome affects daily life in Southwest Florida.
Every time a motorist shoots across the Caloosahatchee bridge to North Fort Myers or curses the traffic on U.S. 41 in Bonita Springs, they're interacting with the Tamiami Trail, the storied route that slices through the region on its way between Tampa and Miami.
  Tamiami Trailblazers
Completed in 1928 the Trail became Florida's most famous interstate highway, the subject of poems, songs and innumerable news reports.
But had another set of investors and boosters gotten their way, a road named the Cross State Highway would have been the preferred coast-to-coast route, cutting through the state from Arcadia to Miami.
The highway battle and how the Trail won is the subject of a new article by SouthWestern State College professor Theresa Hamilton Proverbs. "We Built That: The Lost Fight for Florida's Cross State Highway," published in the Journal of Planning History, is a rigorously researched academic work, to be sure, but a fascinating read for anyone interested in the region's history.
Though there's no question the building of the Tamiami Trail was "an epic feat of engineering (that)enabled the development of South Florida," Proverbs writes, "historical accounts ignore routinely its rival, the Cross State Highway."
Proverbs, an architect and LaBelle resident, spent several years at work on the article, scouring libraries for old newspaper and magazine accounts from the 1920s and earlier, when the young state was developing its infrastructure, much of it with private investments.
Any town on a major highway was bound to grow differently than a backwater, Proverbs says. "It determined how Southwest Florida developed... If the Cross-State Highway had been chosen as the interstate highway, it would have gone through Arcadia, LaBelle, Bermont and all those little towns that have now disappeared."
Much of the way things played out came down to marketing and politicking.
"The individuals who were building the Cross State Highway didn't have the political savvy that the proponents of the Tamiami Trail had," Proverbs says, plus, they knew how to myth-make. The project was, after all, largely bankrolled by Barron Collier, the New York magnate who'd made his fortune in advertising. Collier and his folks knew how to harness popular aspirations and fantasies, and so "The Tamiami Trail became this romantic, idyllic highway for travelers to drive on but it also represented conquering the Everglades and progress."
The Cross State Highway advocates, on the other hand, never branded their project, never engaged in popular image-making.
"I could not find any evidence that that Cross State Highway group ever attempted any of that," Proverbs says, "and I looked for it. No matter how many newspapers I read and magazines I went through, I could not find anything similar."
That failure to successfully market the idea had major implications for the region's small interior towns.
"The Tamiami Trail would bypass and isolate the small towns in central Florida the Cross State Highway was proposed to serve. Development would concentrate on Florida's coastal cities; and tourism and real estate would direct the economy," Proverbs writes. "The ultimate selection of the TamiamiTrail route over the Cross State Highway would determine Southwest Florida's economic, political, and social landscape, not just its topography."
It also helped solidify a growing precedent in the state for reliance on privately funded public projects. When Trail building slowed, then stalled because of money troubles, Collier stepped in.
"(He) offered to finance the highway and in exchange the Tamiami Trail would be routed through the newly created and eponymously named Collier County," Proverbs writes. "Barron Gift Collier's influence over planning for the Trail and its victory over the Cross State Highway stands at the nexus of this issue... Collier was not the first individual to offer to underwrite Florida infrastructure in exchange for personal benefit. This is a recurring theme in the history of southwest Florida, and it has had a profound impact on planning and development.
In the end, money and marketing won out.
The battle between the Cross State Highway and the Tamiami Trail was a critical juncture in both Fort Myers' and LaBelle's history, Proverbs says, but it remains tempting to wonder what might have happened had things gone the other way.
"We can look for answers in dates, facts, and figures, in old newspapers and fading photographs," she concludes. " But it is the other half of the story that will always be lost. Standing on a back country road, staring at the shadowy outline of a long vanished ghost town is to truly ask what might have been."
Amy Bennett Williams' Field Notes appear Thursdays and Sundays in The News-Press. Listen to her audiocast on WGCU Friday mornings.
Help re-envision Hendry County's past
Theresa Proverbs is working to record the area's older places. If you have a vintage home or building you'd be willing to let her document for a project on local history, please email her at

`Cromnibus' includes money for Everglades, Hoover Dike
Sun Sentinel - by William E. Gibson
December 12, 2014
Eight of ten Florida Democrats in the U.S. House voted against a giant spending bill to keep the federal government funded, despite pleas for passage by the White House.
 But 12 of 17 Florida Republicans voted “yes,” while citing funding for Everglades restoration and for improvements to the Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.
After a series of suspenseful twists, the House finally passed the trillion-dollar bill late Thursday by 219 to 206. The Senate is expected to approve it on Friday or Saturday before adjourning its two-year session.
Many Democrats objected that the bill rolls back regulations designed to prevent another financial meltdown and erodes limits on big-money contributions to political campaigns.
“This spending bill puts hard-working taxpayers on the hook for Wall Street’s riskiest behavior,” said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, who voted “no.” “Big bank gambling caused Americans to lose their homes, their jobs, and retirement funds.”
 She and other critics said the spending bill – nicknamed `Cromnibus,’ a combination of Continuing Resolution and Omnibus -- repeals a critical provision of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act regarding derivatives trading. Frankel said reckless trading of this kind led to the $700 billion bank bailout and the collapse of Florida’s housing market.
 Also voting “no” were Democrats Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Joe Garcia of Miami, Alan Grayson of Orlando, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Kathy Castor of Tampa.
 Voting “yes” were Democrats Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, a centrist, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, a close ally of the White House.
 Some Republicans hailed the bill, saying it frees up money for Florida concerns.
 “By reducing wasteful spending on programs and agencies like the problematic IRS, we are able to fund the areas of government that matter most – like helping our veterans, combating citrus greening, and continuing the much needed restoration of the Everglades,” said Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami.
He said the bill:
- Funds work in the Everglades, including $65.5 million for restoration construction projects and $19.5 million for operation and maintenance.
- Adds $75 million to improve the aging Herbert Hoover Dike.
- Includes additional funds to promote democracy in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
- Provides an additional $4.5 million for the Citrus Health Response Program to help address the damaging effects of citrus greening disease.


Environmentalists fear loss of Amendment 1 money – by Mike Vasilinda
December 12, 2014
One point three million more voters said yes to buying land for conservation than voted for Rick Scott his past November. Amendment one will set aside millions of dollars a year for conservation, but there is a growing fear among environmentalists that voters wishes will be thwarted.
Voters mandated that one of every three dollars raised from taxing real estate transactions go to conserving land. But the election was barely official when the Senate President Andy Gardiner started questioning how the money might be spent.
“That 33 percent is coming from somewhere” gardiner told reporters.
“Water is my number one issue: says House Speaker Steve Cristifulli. He’s floated the idea of using some of the money to fix leaking water pipes for cities.
Both remarks set off fire bells for environmentalists.
Then this past week, Governor Rick Scott was the lone no vote on a land purchase. Scott wanted to offer just ninety percent of the lowest appraised value. “I think we can do a better job for the taxpayers of the state” says Scott.
Now the fear is that the low-balling willing sellers will send them into the arms of developers says Julie Waithmell of Audubon Florida.
Q:”The Governor did not want to pay appraised value. .Do you think that is a problem in the future ?”
“It could be. I mean, we’ll see. It remains to be seen. Once the funding becomes available then we are hoping we will see more projects coming forward too.”
University of Florida environmental researcher Dr. Peter Frederick spent his last day on a little known board that will set priorities for land purchases under amendment one.
“I really don’t think that there’s anything in what we saw as voters that would lead you to use it for other purposes” Frederick told us. We asked:“Including leaky water pipes in some big cities ?” He laughed and said ”that’s right”.
Environmentalists remain skeptical. Their watchword is straight out of Harry Potter novel. Ever vigilant.


new Secretary of the

Scott's pick to lead state environmental agency criticized for lax oversight – by Isadora Rangel
December 12, 2014
TALLAHASSEE — The former executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District will serve as Gov. Rick Scott’s secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, an agency criticized for its lax regulations.
Jon Steverson, who has led the water management district since 2012, will take over the DEP upon the state Cabinet’s confirmation.
He jumps in as the Legislature prepares to allocate more than $600 million this year from Amendment 1, approved by almost 75 percent of voters to assign one third of real estate transaction taxes over 20 years to buy, restore, improve and manage conservation lands. He also will face challenges in Florida’s water supply.
As the head of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, Steverson “oversaw a restructuring of the agency and its budget that resulted in numerous benefits to the natural resources and communities in the Panhandle,” according to a statement from Scott’s office.
“He now takes the helm of an agency that’s right at the top of the list of public interest, and he’s got a great chance to lead,” said Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg, former Gov. Charlie Crist’s chief of staff who worked with Steverson, a former environmental policy coordinator in the governor’s office.
Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida staff director, said the fact that Steverson has been a public servant dealing with environmental matters is a positive change from his predecessor, Herschel T. Vinyard, a former executive of a Jacksonville shipbuilding firm who retired Dec. 1. Under Vinyard’s leadership, the DEP laid off 134 workers and relaxed permit review rules so applicants could get permits quicker.
“(Vinyard) didn’t do a good job,” Jackalone said. “I think we have the opportunity to have somebody who’s an experienced public official and who can step in and reintroduce environmental protection.”
Steverson served at the DEP from 2011 to 2012 on its legal team and was acting deputy secretary for water policy and ecosystem restoration.
During that time, Scott imposed $700 million in budget cuts to water districts, a decision Steverson backed with a letter to the districts, saying in hard economic times, it’s difficult for residents to pay for programs some consider unnecessary, the Tampa Tribune reported in 2011.
“We cannot ask Floridians who are struggling to find work and provide for their families to continue to support the mission of the Department of Environmental Protection or the districts if we are not spending their tax dollars wisely,” wrote Steverson, who has a law degree and a bachelor’s degree in geography from Florida State University.


Spending bill divides Tom Rooney, Curt Clawson
News-Press – by Ledyard King, Washington bureau
December 12, 2014
WASHINGTON – In September, the two House members representing Southwest Florida — Republicans Curt Clawson and Tom Rooney — voted against a temporary spending bill to keep the federal government open past this Thursday.
Their chief reason? The bill, which passed, included funding for President Barack Obama's plan to train and arm Syrian rebels. Clawson and Rooney both called the plan poorly conceived and risky.
But when the House approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill Thursday that would finance most government programs through September of next year — including the Syrian plan — they took opposite sides. Clawson opposed the bill while Rooney supported it.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill by Monday, and the president has said he will sign it.
Rooney, a member of the Appropriations Committee whose 17th District includes a portion of northwest Lee County, remains unhappy with the president's strategy to combat the jihadist Islamic State, also known as ISIS. But he viewed the chance to pass a long-term bill with important spending reforms as too tempting to pass up.
"Our bill brings federal spending to the lowest level in nearly a decade," said Rooney, R-Okeechobee, highlighting cuts to the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. "Instead of punting with another (short-term funding measure) and doing the same things we've been doing for years. ... we're holding federal agencies accountable by cutting spending on programs that don't work, investing in programs that are effective, and ensuring your taxpayer dollars are spent wisely."
In addition, the bill would fund programs key to the state by providing millions to combat citrus diseases, restore the Everglades, and cut backlogs at veterans' health care facilities.
Other reasons the bill won Rooney's support: It bars the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the U.S., requires more oversight of the Affordable Care Act's implementation, and gives local communities more flexibility to implement federal school lunch rules.
But Clawson, R-Bonita Springs, dismissed the bill as an "insider deal."
He noted that it still funds the Affordable Care Act, which he wants to repeal. It also still provides money for the Syrian rebels and for programs that Clawson says are unnecessary with the national debt above $18 trillion.
"We should stay in Washington and get the job done right," Clawson said. "Five years ago, a previous Congress gave the American people a foiled, wasteful, and bloated health care bill for Christmas. This holiday season, let's do what the American people sent us here to do ... use every tool at our disposal to bring our fiscal house in order, defund unconstitutional executive orders, and stop the growth of Obamacare."
The executive order Clawson referred to was Obama's unilateral decision last month to protect 5 million undocumented immigrants — including an estimated 253,000 in Florida — from deportation. The move infuriated congressional Republicans.
They've vowed to neutralize Obama's action by withholding funding for the Homeland Security program that processes those immigrants.
The spending bill before Congress singles out the Homeland Security Department as the only federal agency not financed through the end of fiscal 2015. Instead, the department will receive financing only through February, giving the Republicans in charge of the House and Senate next year time to try and undo Obama's executive order.
Clawson would have preferred to address the immigration order now.
Earlier this week, he and nearly 40 other Republicans tried unsuccessfully to add language to the spending bill that to prohibit any funding to carry out the president's order.
But Rooney, who also opposes the order, thinks the strategy of waiting a short time is better.
"We'll have control of the House and Senate, and (Obama) won't be able to threaten to take away Social Security payments, withhold military pay, or shut down the national parks if he doesn't get his way," he said. "We'll have this fight on our terms, with clear majorities, and with the support of the American people."



Alico to store 34 billion gallons of river watershed water
swFlorida.blogspot - by Don Browne
December 11, 2014
CLEWISTON, FL. -- In an ongoing effort to increase water storage to protect South Florida’s coastal estuaries and natural systems, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board today approved agreements with various land owners including Alico in Hendry county that more than double the overall water retention capacity in its Dispersed Water Management program.
In the largest storage contract, the District reached an agreement with Alico, Inc., on 35,192 acres of ranchland that will retain an annual average of 91,944 acre-feet of water from the Caloosahatchee River Watershed. This is an amount equal to approximately 34.5 billion gallons of water. This property also has the potential of sending water back into the Caloosahatchee River during the dry season.
The approved contracts will add a total potential of 95,812 acre-feet of storage to the program, or about 36 billion gallons annually. This is the equivalent of 1.5 inches of water in Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake at the heart of South Florida’s water management system. The program currently has a retention capacity of 93,342 acre-feet across 43 sites.
“Storing water on ranchlands has proven to be an effective tool in the District’s ongoing effort to protect the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Today’s action shows this agency’s commitment to the Dispersed Water Management program, and we support its continued expansion to protect South Florida’s natural systems.”


Florida will spend millions to store water on ranches
December 11, 2014
State water managers moved ahead Thursday with a water storage initiative that could help solve quality issues in the Caloosahatchee watershed, the river and estuary.
The idea is to pay landowners to legally flood their property.
“Storing water on ranchlands has proven to be an effective tool in the District’s ongoing effort to protect the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries,” said governing board member Daniel O’Keefe. “Today’s action shows this agency’s commitment to ... its continued expansion to protect South Florida’s natural systems.”
Five storage agreements were made official Thursday. WMD officials say the five properties will be able to store 95,812 acre-feet of water, or about 36 billion gallons.
Water quality scientists say the watershed needs about 750,000 acre-feet of storage to mimic historic conditions. The Caloosahatchee River reservoir, a separate WMD project, is expected to hold 170,000 acre-feet of water, or about 55 billion gallons.
New water storage properties in the Caloosahatchee watershed include 1,499 acres owned by Babcock Property Holdings and about 35,000 acres owned by Alico Inc. Both will be leased for 11 years, with costs not to exceed $1.4 million for the Babcock property and $124 million for the Alico land, according to WMD records.
Park considers increase
It may get more expensive to enjoy Everglades National Park as managers are proposing fee increases for everything from vehicle admission (a 7-day pass now costs $10 but may go up to $25) to backcountry camping. A week-long permit for a motorcycle could go to $20 from $5, and bicycle entry for the same timeframe could go to $8from $5.
Public comments will be accepted through Jan. 15 and can be mailed to Proposed Fee Increase care of superintendent, Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, Homestead, 33034-6733.
The National Park Service has not raised fees in ENP since 1997, and managers say the increases are needed to offer similar services found at other parks across the country. Parks of similar size and usage were used to determine the proposed fee increases.


Money for Everglades
Palm Beach Post – Letter by Sandra Safran, Boynton Beach, FL
December 11, 2014
Money for Everglades should not be diverted.
More Floridians voted for Amendment 1 (a 20-year commitment to environmental preservation and restoration of the Everglades) than voted for Gov. Rick Scott.
This amendment raises funds exclusively for Everglades restoration, land purchases, spring protection and wetlands cleanup. The money should not go for any other project. You can find the money for other needed projects.
Please protect the original intention, as voted for by the overwhelming majority.




Agriculture Commissioner

Putnam set for leadership role in convservation debate
Orlando Sentinel – by Aaron Deslatte
December 11, 2014
Ranchers and developers want to shape any new regulations. Environmentalists want reforms in practice and not just on paper. The king-making business lobby in Tallahassee wants to ensure this spring's coming debate over water and land conservation doesn't present any bumps in the road for future growth. And politicians galore are looking for opportunities to claim credit.
Corralling these interests and addressing the state's potentially crippling water shortages will depend on the political leadership of some key figures.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, declared last year the Legislature would act this spring on water policy. Gov. Rick Scott has touted his recommendations for conservation land buying after years of zeroing it out of the budget.
God bless all our Great Republican Leaders !!!
But the politician who will have the some outsized say-so is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The Bartow Republican was proselytizing on Florida's worsening water woes when Scott was campaigning to dismantle Florida's growth and environmental rules.
While environmentalists have long viewed Florida's agriculture commissioner position as a mouthpiece for Big Sugar and agriculture interests, the current occupant is well-respected, and an all-but-declared serious gubernatorial contender. As evidence of his growing clout, look at what happened at a Cabinet meeting last week.
Scott wanted to vote down a proposed easement agreement to protect 322 acres on a central Osceola County cattle operation called Camp Lonesome. The acreage contains wetlands, prairie and pine flatlands that drain into Lake Marion and eventually the Kissimmee River, a prime target of restoration efforts to save the Everglades.
The governor voted against the project, because he said its $549,000 price tag was too close to the appraised value, and the state should try to cut a better deal. But Putnam then respectfully argued for why voting it down would be dangerous.
He argued if the Cabinet planned to keep approving conservation projects as the real estate market recovers – and the Amendment 1 mandate voters approved last month means they basically have to – policymakers should stop making arbitrary judgments based on how close the sale gets to the appraised value.
Panther habitat near Naples and bear habitat outside Orlando are going to be more valuable for either ecosystem protection or more intensive development.
"We either need to consider each individual parcel as it is brought to us, or we need to adopt a policy on what we're willing to pay," Putnam said. "But we can't have ambiguity for the landowner who doesn't know whether they are negotiating in good faith with the state."
Camp Lonesome proved as much for Scott. The Cabinet overruled him, after Putnam was joined by Attorney General Pam Bondi. "I think we can do better for our taxpayers, but the motion carries," Scott said, tersely.
Afterward, he said Florida's 28,000 acres of purchases during his first term showed he supported conservation of environmentally threatened ecosystems.
But this is exactly the kind of land buying that Florida's agriculture and development industries, Republican policymakers, and the business lobby want. It's a vision of how Florida will continue to try and have it both ways: remaining a development magnet for retirees while trying to keep from choking off its most threatened spaces.
And Putnam is clearly going to keep wielding outsized influence over the land and water conservation debate.


new Secretary of the

Scott continues to fill agency vacancies, naming new DEP boss
Palm Beach Post
December 11, 2014
Gov. Rick Scott continued Thursday to complete his lineup of agency heads for the start of his second term next month, naming Jonathan Steverson as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
Steverson has been executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District for the past two years. He had earlier worked as the department’s legislative lobbyist and also for then-Gov. Charlie Crist’s office of policy and budget.
“Jon has dedicated his career to serving Floridians through the protection of our state’s water and natural resources and he is committed to our goal of protecting Florida’s natural treasures so future generations and millions of tourists can enjoy our state’s beauty,” Scott said in making the selection.
Following several high-profile departures, Scott this week has filled top vacancies at the Department of Children & Families and Department of Corrections. Similar to Steverson’s appointment, the governor hasn’t ranged very far in plugging the holes as his Jan. 6 inauguration nears.
The state’s Transportation Commission announced Thursday that it will accepting applications for the post of secretary of the Department of Transportation — but hinted it wouldn’t be a global search.
Applications will be accepted only until Monday, the commission said. DOT’s Ananth Prasad recently announced he’s leaving the agency in January.
Steverson took over at the NWFWMD not long after Scott signed into law a budget that cut $700 million from water management districts and also eliminated the agency which oversaw the state’s growth management laws.
In coming months, DEP is likely to play a key role in guiding implementation of voter-approved Amendment 1, the water and land legacy proposal that will dedicate more than $19 billion in real estate taxes over the next 20 years to conservation efforts.
Amendment 1 grew out of widespread frustration among environmentalists over the steady shrinking of green program funding, including the erosion through budget cuts of Florida Forever, intended to shield critical land from development.
Related:           Gov. Scott appoints water manager as new DEP chief (blog)


Water district may pay ag firm $124 million to let water sit on land
Palm Beach Post
December 10, 2014
The South Florida Water Management District will vote Thursday on whether to give Alico one of the state’s oldest, most profitable and thirstiest growers — $124 million to let rainwater sit on a massive chunk of its ranch land in Hendry County.
The proposed contract is one of six that the district’s governing board will consider Thursday as part of a new program that encourages farmers and ranchers to retain water on their land rather than drain it. However, the contract with Alico — founded by the patriarch of one of Florida’s most politically connected families — has the largest price-tag and some environmentalists question whether the district has done enough research to justify spending so much.


Wittman's bay accountability bill passes House, heads to president - by Dave Ress
December 10, 2014
A bickering Congress ? Not when it comes to Wittman's Bay bill.
Wittman's simple idea: let's get some solid data on Bay cleanup costs
It's been a long road for a former state shellfish sanitation director-turned-congressman, but Rep. Rob Wittman's six-year effort to turn a more sharply focused eye on Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts is finally headed to President Barack Obama's desk.
The Chesapeake Bay Accountability Act that Wittman and and Sen. Mark Warner sponsored sailed through the House of Representatives on a 416-0 vote on Wednesday. The Senate approved it last week.
Wittman, R-Westmoreland, has said it aims to answer a question nobody can right now: How much are we spending to clean up the bay?
The bill requires agencies to break out what they spend on the bay, and allows lawmakers and other officials to know exactly what's spent, so that they can then see if the effort is getting results.
Wittman first introduced a version of the measure in 2008. Warner joined the effort in 2011.
At the heart of the bill is a technique called crosscut budgeting, and Wittman says it has made restoration work in the Everglades and the Great Lakes move faster and more effectively.
"We must ensure that federal, state and local efforts are not working at cross purposes, and that the restoration effort as a whole is coordinated and efficient," Wittman said.
" Americans are understandably frustrated with Washington, and I share that frustration," he said. "But as this bill heads to the President's desk without any opposition in either the House or the Senate, we can see that it is possible for good governing to prevail when we find common ground."
Budgets are huge documents, and Wittman has described his searches for information on bay spending as looking for needles in haystacks.
He said the crosscut budget approach is needed because bay restoration work involves at least 10 federal agencies, Virginia and five other states, the District of Columbia, and more than 1,000 local governments.
The bill also calls for an independent evaluator to assess results. The aim is to have results examined by a scientific body, like the Virginia Institute for Marine Science, rather than a group of government accountants or one of the federal agencies spending bay restoration dollars.
Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, praised the approach, saying that "as a businessman, I know that the execution of any large-scale project requires careful management and planning, and this legislation will bring better oversight and accountability to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup process."
Warner said the bill would "make sure that every dollar spent is making progress towards cleaning up the bay," adding: "I want to thank Congressman Wittman for his tireless efforts over several years to enact this legislation."


Rising seas

Covering Miami’s rising seas: Sensors, Public Data & Politics - by Robert Gutsche
December 9, 2014
Miami, no more.
That’s a scenario we’re facing in South Florida as the world’s seas continue to rise.
Over the “past half-century,” The Washington Post reported in October, “average sea levels in South Florida have risen by 4 to 6 inches, an extensively documented increase that accelerated since the early 1990s.” And based on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, easily one of the most well-respected reports on climate change, by 2100, the world’s sea levels will have risen by two feet more than current levels.
The effects on Miami, where my university is based, will be devastating, a BusinessWeek story reports.
Scientists and government leaders say that they can only slow the effects, which include the silent rise of sea water that continues to push through porous limestone upon which Miami and South Florida are built.
The immediate problem, though, is that civic and economic leaders in South Florida aren’t talking about what’s ahead for us, besides the continued potential for luxury condo business and high-priced living. One might think sea level rise would be a good story for local press, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Addressing The Press As Part Of The Problem
few examples stand apart. But many news outlets continue to publish stories about what the future holds for the high-life, including floating mansions, with little discussion about what life may be like for those who won’t be able to afford to live here as the water gets higher.
Enter, a project of Florida International University journalism students and the Online News Association, the result of our 2014-2015 Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education award designed to change how journalism is taught. (Deadline for the next round of funding is Jan. 15).
Because of that grant, faculty and students in our journalism school have dived into covering issues surrounding rising sea levels in South Florida. Students have taken advantage of new mapping and app courses, as well as traditional broadcasting and writing courses, to build a dialogue around the many challenges to local life brought about by climate change.
Furthermore, through classroom collaboration between our FIU students and 190 students who attend MAST @ FIU, a public high school based at FIU, we’ve focused on journalism innovation, building coqui sensors from Public Lab to create our own data sources related to water quality and salinity during high tides on Miami Beach. With a focus on citizen science and sensor journalism, we’re forming new news sources with which to cover this topic.
Here at FIU, we don’t know if we can solve all — or any — of the problems related to sea level rise. We may not even be able to totally influence how the story is covered in all of the South Florida press.
But we can try.
News about our project’s efforts to conduct crowd hydrology that are designed to increase community engagement has garnered national attention from NBC’s TODAY, the Weather Channel, and from local media, including WPBT2 our local media partner. Other print and online outlets picked up our efforts, too, including the Spanish-language El Nuevo Herald, a sister paper to the Miami Herald. Students from other classes in our journalism school were also stepped-up with their own reporting.
Media were particularly interested in a national press conference we hosted on King Tide Day, the day when tides around the world are at their highest and that often result in water lapping the shorelines and city streets on Miami Beach.
Yet this grant has been an opportunity to do more than just journalism: It’s been about teaching and learning and questioning how far we can push everyday lesson plans, collaborations, and course projects to move beyond even the most integrated of journalism curricula. (The video at the very top of this page, for instance, was produced by public relations and advertising students — not traditional journalism students.)
And, this process has presented several interesting questions to ponder.
Journalism, Advertising & PR: Where Waters Meet ?
While our project has been focused on creating journalism that will result in an increase of programming audiences for our media partner (a 30-minute, student-produced show is scheduled to appear there in Spring or Summer), our group has focused on the civic nature of this project.
Students from advertising, public relations, digital media studies, journalism and broadcasting have spent just as much time planning public events to garner community support and building partnerships by drafting missions statements and project outcomes. Students have worked to brand our project as one that calls for public discussion and dissection of sea level rise.


Crowd-funding campaign to make ‘rain on request’
E&T - by Tereza Pultarova
December 9, 2014
One American start-up has launched a crowd-funding campaign to build an electronic system that would induce rain on request in a drought-stricken Californian region.
Aiming to raise $1m, Florida-based Rain on Request proposes technology that relies on using an electric field to ionise the local atmosphere with the aim of triggering rainfall.
The company said the technology, developed by an Israeli scientist, could help prevent environmental disasters, reduce famine and improve the economic situation in many of the world’s countries struggling with lack of fresh water resources.
"California is in the midst of a severe drought and Rain on Request's ionisation technology supersedes desalination and reverse osmosis technology," said Larry Gitman, campaign manager for Rain on Request, on the company’s Indiegogo page.
"Our technology, which diverts a portion of the 79 per cent of evaporated water that falls back in the ocean, represents an incredible proposition that could alleviate the water crisis in California and beyond."
Ionisation triggers formation of so-called nucleation centres, the building blocks for cloud formation and a prerequisite for rainfall.
The company claims that its ionisation stations can induce rainfall within a 15-mile radius, increasing precipitation levels by 50 to 400 per cent.
The company believes the technology doesn't have adverse side effects on the environment as it doesn’t use any chemical substances, unlike other more commonly used rain inducing techniques such as cloud-seeding.
Also, cloud-seeding techniques involve injecting chemicals such as silver iodide, potassium iodide or dry ice into already existing clouds to trigger rain, but the electrical ionisation system doesn't require pre-existing clouds to make rain as it can create them itself. 
“Once the system is set up, it takes 72 hours to initiate rainfall to produce an increase of 50 to 400 per cent of rainfall in the location, relative to the mean seasonal rate,” the company says. “Rain generated by the system will cover an area of approximately 15 miles radius of the ionisation station. When rainfall reaches the desired level, it takes approximately one hour to shut off the system.”
Rain on Request plans to use the $1m raised in the campaign to install a pilot system in Santa Barbara with a completion date set for six months after the campaign’s end.
The company said it is negotiating with engineering schools to supervise the project and help ensure its safety.


Gainesville (Florida) Sun on Scott's DEP hire:
December 9, 2014
Herschel Vinyard, who has been secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection since 2011, recently announced his resignation.
Gov. Rick Scott asked Cliff Wilson, the deputy secretary for regulatory programs, to serve as the interim secretary. Wilson, 35, has been with the DEP for about three years. Eric Draper, director of Audubon of Florida, said: "We don't know much about Cliff or his background. Not much has happened there to distinguish him."
No offense to Wilson, but Florida deserves a distinguished DEP secretary. After all, Florida is on the verge of spending billions of taxpayer dollars on programs related to the environment. The state's natural assets are legion, and many of them were acquired by the public by forward-thinking programs. Yet too many of those same assets are being stressed by development, population growth, invasions of non-native species and the effects of bad political decisions — including sweeping deregulation during the past four years.
When Scott nominated Vinyard nearly four years ago, a spokesman for Associated Industries of Florida lauded the choice, labeling the nominee "a rock-solid businessperson."
But Floridians seldom felt as though the DEP secretary was dedicated to preserving and protecting Florida's environmental assets, and maximizing the enormous public and private investments in them. Instead, Vinyard's tenure seemed to be about creating a "balance" between the financial interests of business and enforcement of regulations.
Perhaps that is one reason 75 percent of voters recently favored amending the state constitution to require Florida to spend a fixed percentage of documentary tax revenue on land and water conservation, also known as Amendment 1.
Implementation of that amendment will provide billions of dollars for preserving and protecting Florida's environment.
A DEP secretary with a solid conservation record, in addition to top-notch administrative and political skills, could help provide the Scott administration with the credibility it needs to oversee the spending.


Sea-level dilemmas quietly swelling on First Coast as planners chart steps - by Steve Patterson
December 8, 2014
About 75 square miles of Northeast Florida real estate could be inundated by rising seas within 25 years. Or not.
Water to cover that ground might not arrive for another 50 years, maybe longer.
But almost certainly, it will get here.
That realization prompts a corps of First Coast residents – some in local governments, some activists or policy nerds – to chart steps communities can take now to avoid being caught unprepared when the tide rises.
Their answers have run a gamut, from lobbying for coastal property-insurance reforms to moving Green Cove Springs’ police station to higher ground and learning steps to help Fernandina Beach’s historic properties manage flooding, a situation that a prominent science group says could happen dozens of times a year within 30 years in that town – and even more in Jacksonville.
People who backed those projects don’t know how much water to expect. But they’re trying to get ready, just the same.
“It’s kind of like insurance. If you do this stuff, you’re insuring against it,” said David Reed, a JEA employee who chaired a committee of volunteers that researched lessons about sea-levels for the Regional Community Institute of Northeast Florida, a nonprofit started by a regional planning council.
Their findings were adopted almost verbatim last year by the Northeast Florida Regional Council, a seven-county panel of elected officials who agreed they should prepare for seas rising somewhere between six inches and six feet.
When Hurricane Sandy slammed into New York City in 2012, flooding subways and causing an estimated $19 billion in losses, the impact from a 14-foot storm surge was magnified by high tides and by a 20-inch increase in seas since the late 18th century, scientists concluded last year. University of Florida geologists said this month that sea-level rise was helping erode dunes that protect two launch pads at Kennedy Space Center, although NASA has built replacement dunes.
An extra foot of sea-level in Northeast Florida would cover about 75 square miles of private property as well as inundate a lot of parkland, starting with chunks of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. A six-foot rise would cover 123,000 acres of privately owned land – 192 square miles – worth $6.4 billion, according to estimates the Regional Council delivered to a follow-up committee of business people and government types with the wonky name P2R2 (Public/Private Regional Resiliency).
The committee, which meets again Friday, was asked to think about steps to “incentivize population and private development to locate outside of vulnerable areas.”
Talks like that often deliberately sidestep volatile questions about how much man-made pollution is driving climate changes.
Ocean levels are changing, say backers of planning efforts like the Regional Council’s, and how to handle the rising seas is problem enough for today.
“We are experiencing sea-level rise today, and we have been,” said Sarah Owen Gledhill, a St. Augustine-based planning advocate for the Florida Wildlife Federation. “We’re not debating whether sea-level rise was caused by human action or not, but we know it is happening and the scientists say it will get worse.”
Seas rose about eight inches globally since 1880, and are expected to rise another one to four feet by 2100, the federal government’s National Climate Assessment reported this year. Two factors – the fact that water expands when it gets warmer and the melting of polar ice as temperatures rise – are commonly named as main reasons for rising seas. Tide gauge readings taken at Mayport between 1928 and 2006 rose some months and dropped others, but overall suggested changes of about nine and a half inches per century.
Ordinary people haven’t been expected to say much about plans yet, because they haven’t been told much.
“Public education has not really begun in Northeast Florida,” a report produced through Reed’s committee said last year. It described a sort of survey being taken then and said that “the committee consciously designed them for public officials. Planners, city engineers, public works staff and utility staff made up the bulk of participants at assessments.”
But talk about sea level is percolating into more corners of the First Coast, a shift that St. Johns County resident Patrick Hamilton noticed when a staffer from the Army Corps of Engineers office in Jacksonville came to his Rotary club to talk.
“He painted a stark picture,” said Hamilton, a Realtor from Crescent Beach, who said members had split reactions. “When we went outside, some of them said ‘dang,’ and some said ‘I don’t believe that.’”
Hamilton, a longtime environmental advocate, was already thinking about the subject. This year, he wrapped up a role in a three-year review of how higher seas will impact areas around the sprawling Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve in St. Johns and Flagler counties. The answer, in a nutshell, was that water would build up in areas where a barrier stops its advance, then would eventually become high enough to get over that barrier and would start covering another area in a process called “terracing.” Drainage systems and sewer lines built below that terrace would back up and roadbeds would be undermined.
While there’s still time, Hamilton would like to see land preserved – there’s a proposal in the works now – so a Matanzas estuary that currently teems with fish can move inland through undeveloped areas as the ocean advances. To show how coastlines can change, he points to Summer Haven in southern St. Johns, where the road called Old A1A was washed out and closed decades ago, and more recent storms filled the Summer Haven River with enough sand that what’s left is barely a creek.
Others are focused on houses that a rising ocean would soak.
A lot are near the water already, and not building more in vulnerable areas would be a good step, said Gledhill, the Wildlife Federation advocate.
Congress decades ago started blocking federally-backed flood insurance for new homes in so-called “coastal high hazard” areas, but Gledhill said Florida continued to insure new construction in vulnerable areas. That changed in July because of passage of a law backed by a coalition of environmental groups, tax-watchers and business groups including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Florida that barred state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. from insuring houses in environmentally sensitive coastal areas.
Backers say the change could keep investors from building oceanfront homes that can be washed away before mortgages are paid off.
“If you’re going to develop there, that’s fine. But do it on your own dime,” Gledhill said.
St. Johns officials declared a local state of emergency Monday, saying in a release that “recent severe wind, lunar tides, and high waves have caused erosion that poses an immediate threat of substantial property damage to habitable structures.” The declaration triggers a state law letting the county issue temporary armoring permits for homes in imminent danger.
There’s a lot less sea level risk in Clay County, but the chance of flooding beside a rising St. Johns River still helped convince Green Cove Springs officials to put a new police station on Florida 16, well west of the old station beside the town’s Spring Park along the river.
The new station, which opened in April, also houses an emergency operations center, and getting that out of the town’s flood plain just made too much sense, said city manager Danielle Judd.
Fernandina Beach has gone farther than most First Coast towns in thinking about sea-level rise, writing into its comprehensive plan for 2030 that it “recognizes sea-level rise as a potential coastal hazard, and shall work with Nassau County and state and regional entities … to develop strategies for responding.”
Those steps could include analyzing sea-levels effects on wetlands, estuaries and beaches; identifying areas put at risk by higher water; and evaluating effects on the water table, public water systems and sewer systems.
A Jacksonville planner tracks Regional Council action on sea-level policies, but the city hasn’t adjusted any of its own plans yet, said Kristen Sell, a city spokeswoman. The city is working with state emergency management offices to see whether sea-level rise should affect its emergency plans, she said.
JEA had scheduled a review this year of how sea-level rise will affect its water systems, but pushed that back to the utility’s 2015-16 budget year, said spokeswoman Gerri Boyce.
One group is forecasting a lot of work for agencies that deal with flooding in Jacksonville and Fernandina, saying both communities are likely to be affected by changes along the East Coast. The Union of Concerned Scientists said in October that instances of flooding could triple in 15 years at most of the 52 cities its researchers examined between Maine and the Gulf Coast.
The forecast assumed the same sea-level increase for both cities – 4.7 inches by 2030 and 10.5 inches by 2045. That was based on projections about Fernandina by the website .
If that forecast is right, the Concerned Scientists researchers said instances of coastal flooding in Jacksonville could rise from an average of seven per year now to 25 in 2030 – and 101 in 2045.
The forecast said Fernandina would move from two flooding days per year to eight by 2030 and 37 in 2045.
Fernandina’s community development director, Adrienne Burke, said she’d like to arrange for someone from the Concerned Scientists to visit and talk more about the research.
But before the report came out, she was already trying to research how rising tides can be managed in historic areas like Fernandina, where buildings’ foundations have been in place a century or more and can’t get out of the way now. She’s taking advice from places that are already feeling effects, like the 18th-century section of Alexandria, Va., where the Potomac River periodically washes into historic buildings.
The subject came up recently at a project to restore a brick train depot built on Centre Street in 1899. One member of the restoration team was interested in a way to make the building more flood-resistant, while another focused on preserving its original design. The best answer they could settle on was to leave the doors open during floods so the water would pass through, and leave, as fast as possible.
Concerned Scientists raised concerns in the spring about the potential for sea-level damage in a range of historic areas, using St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marcos as its poster child of threatened buildings.
Burke said there’s a lot still to work through about how residents should handle changing water levels, but it’s important to start the conversation.
“We already do see some flood events, and the community is aware of it,” Burke said. “We’re just beginning to talk about it.”
Related:           Sea-Level Dilemmas Quietly Swelling In N.E. Florida          Insurance News Net


Who stood up for science in 2014 ?
Yahoo! News - Op-Ed by Aaron Huertas, Union of Concerned Scientists
December 8, 2014
Aaron Huertas is a science communications officer at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), where he helps scientists represent their work to the public and policymakers. This article is part of UCS's 'Got Science?' series. Huertas contributed this piece to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
While partisanship and rancor have polluted public discussions about science at the national level, an inspiring number of scientists, community groups, and even comedians stood up for science over the past year. To laud their efforts and recognize what they accomplished, here are the UCS picks for 2014's "Got Science" Champions:
Andrew Whelton: Driving science into the West Virginia water crisis
Andrew Whelton is an environmental engineer at Purdue University. When Freedom Industries spilled chemicals into West Virginia's Elk River in January, 300,000 people suddenly found themselves without access to safe tap water. Whelton drove his student and faculty team nearly 900 miles to help, and they did so as volunteers, without the promise of funding for their work.
The public health crisis was immediate: Schools and businesses were closed and people were reporting illnesses related to the spill. There was also an information crisis. While federal and state emergency responders swung into action, their water safety advice left many residents confused.
Whelton and his group teamed up with local nonprofits to test people's water. They found that the recommended method for flushing a home's pipes wasn't helping: instead, it was making people ill. After modifying the method, his team spent days on the ground flushing water pipes and educating residents.
West Virginians took notice. The state's governor, Earl Ray Tomblin (D), tapped Whelton to develop a new scientific investigation, including independent testing of the toxic chemical. Whelton says his student and faculty team continues to make important discoveries, which he takes care to make accessible to local residents by posting information online, offering public talks and one-on-one discussions.
In the middle of a crisis, people need reliable information. That's especially true when it comes to chemical accidents, and Whelton and his team selflessly stepped in to provide it.
Karen Wolk Feinstein: Helping grandmothers act as science ambassadors
Karen Wolk Feinstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, was inspired to create a local chapter of Grandmother Power — a global movement of grandmothers who help improve their communities after seeing a museum exhibit about the group. She also knew which issue she wanted to focus on: the need to vaccinate against HPV , the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease linked to cervical and throat cancer.
Many grandparents remember what it was like before vaccines freed people from polio, measles and other diseases. Now Feinstein is working with grandmothers to help them educate their children and grandchildren about the benefits of vaccinating children against HPV before they become sexually active.
Karen Wolk Feinstein founded a chapter of Grandmother Power in Pittsburgh, Penn., to help local wome …
"It's kind of tragic that we've had this big breakthrough and people aren't aware," she said.
Feinstein sympathizes with parents who might find it difficult to prioritize getting their children the vaccine given everything else on their plates. She says many parents also assume their children will become sexually active much later than they actually do.
Feinstein expects that grandmothers, with their credibility, wisdom and experience, can give parents the extra push they need to vaccinate their children. Indeed, they may prove to be a key ally for scientists who want to prevent new infections.
David Hastings: Proving politicians don't need to be scientists to understand climate impacts
This year, politicians' favorite way to avoid answering questions about evolution, fracking and climate change seemed to be: "I'm not a scientist" — as though that somehow disqualified them from having to address an issue.
One of the elected officials ducking climate-related questions in this way was Florida Governor Rick Scott, who leads a state on the frontline of a climate-driven rising sea level . Thankfully, Florida is also home to scores of scientists who study climate change. One of them, David Hastings, a marine science professor at Eckerd College, joined with several other researchers to respond directly to Gov. Scott. "We are scientists," Hasting and his colleagues wrote, "and we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state."
The effort paid off. Gov. Scott agreed to meet with Hastings and four other climate scientists, and afterward, he changed his tune, at least somewhat. Instead of arguing with other politicians about whether or not climate change is real, Gov. Scott has started arguing about solutions.
By speaking (scientific) truth to power, Hastings and his colleagues helped align the political discussion in Florida with scientific reality.
Kathy Miller: Giving students the facts about human-caused climate change
Misinformation about science creeps into public discourse from many quarters, but nowhere is it more insidious than when it winds up in children's textbooks. Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), helped take on the issue when several major publishers included misleading information that cast doubt about climate science in textbooks they submitted before the Texas State Board of Education. That came just months after Miller's group successfully defended the teaching of evolution in Texas public schools. This year, TFN teamed with the National Center for Science Education and leading climate scientists from Texas, including Camille Parmesan, a University of Texas at Austin professor, and Texas Tech's Katherine Hayhoe, to fight back with a focused grassroots and media campaign as well as a petition drive that garnered some 116,000 signatures. [IPCC Report: Strongest Case Yet for Human-Caused Global Warming ]
Thanks to those efforts, all of the publishers — including big publishing houses Pearson and McGraw-Hill — agreed to remove or correct passages that inaccurately cast doubt on climate science.
By standing up to a state educational system that too often emphasizes the demands of politicians instead of the recommendations of credentialed scientists, Miller helped ensure that kids learn the facts on this vital issue — and not just in Texas, since publishers often sell the textbooks they write for Texas to schools across the country. 
Celebrity Champion: John Oliver, curing misinformation with laughter
Late night comedy shows aren't usually known for their scientific acumen. But John Oliver's Last Week Tonighton HBO has delivered some especially devastating and hilarious critiques of powerful institutions and people who ignore scientific risks.
One of his most popular segments — with more than 4.5 million views on YouTube — lambasted televised debates about established climate science. As Oliver noted, 97 percent of relevant scientific papers find that climate change is happening and caused by human activities. Televised debates in which a science communicator squares off against a contrarian make it look more like a 50-50 proposition, he argued.
To powerfully demonstrate how silly those debates are, Oliver staged a "statistically representative climate change debate." In it, hepitted Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and 96 scientists against three contrarians in a crowded studio. As the scientists all spoke at once, Oliver yelled, "I can't hear you over the weight of scientific evidence! This whole debate should not have happened!"
It was funny, but did it change minds? It's hard to say. But since Oliver's segment aired, the three major broadcast networks and CNN have not aired any misleading debates about climate science.
We can all stand up for science
Often, people who embrace science feel despondent when they look at how society is responding, or failing to respond, to scientific advances: Politicians are still arguing about whether or not climate change is real, after all, and far too many people aren't able to take advantage of vaccines that can prevent terrible diseases.
But these champions, along with the men and women we highlighted in 2013, show that science can and does matter for people's lives. And even when the national political scene seems too far removed from reality, people's ability to bring science to bear at the local and state level remains strong.
Science rarely speaks for itself, especially on contentious issues. But science remains the most powerful tool people have for understanding the world around us. That's why we need to stand up for it; and that's why these champions are so inspiring.


Beach erosion

Winter fronts add to South Florida beach erosion woes
CBS 12 - by J. Israel Balderas
December 8, 2014
JUPITER -- A big cool down is coming to South Florida and forecasted to be the coldest so far this season. But along with the cold air moving into Florida, those Northeast winds can also damage the shoreline.
According to Palm Beach County records CBS 12 News uncovered, just over half of the 45-mile Palm Beach County coastline is slowly eroding.
Some of the damage can be traced back to Hurricane Sandy from 2012.
But these seasonal winds from the North, also sweep away sand.
"Definitely you have to do something about the beach,” said Dayton, Ohio resident Heidi Sipple, who along with family, are vacationing in Jupiter.
Staying close to the beach, so her son can run on the sand, was supposed to be part of the fun.
"We were going to let him play a little bit in the water but up there by the rocks,” said Sipple, “you just can't let the little guy get in.”
From Jupiter Inlet to Boca Raton - with beaches on Singer Island along way - sand erosion is not just an environmental problem.
“It’s important for tourism, of course to have the beaches and the rock exposed is dangerous,” said Larry Ross, who works for Ocean Rescue at Carlin Park.
“Mother Nature always seems to win.”
During the winter months, we get Northeast swells coming thru.
Cold fronts heading south like the one expected this week rip up the coastline.
“Great for surf,” said Ross, “but tough on the beaches.”
And it’s not just people walking along the shore that are in harm’s way.
Property and businesses close to the beach, like the Dune Deck in Lantana, also face future significant damage.
Such costs often fall on tax payers.
Right now, Palm Beach County and other partners just started a renourishment project at Carlin Park.
But as the bulldozers move in 300,000 cubic yards of sand - providing a restored dune - tourists like Sipple may be moved to not come back and visit.
“It’s a beautiful area,” said Sipple, “but I don't know that I would come back to stay.”


Conservation amendment up to lawmakers now; environmentalists worried
Palm Beach Post - by John Kennedy, Capital Bureau
December 7, 2014
TALLAHASSEE — Environmentalists are wary of early reaction by legislative leaders to the water and land conservation amendment, overwhelmingly approved by Florida voters last month including 85 percent of those in Palm Beach County.
The measure would set aside one-third of the state’s existing real estate transaction tax, raising millions of dollars for such conservation programs as Everglades restoration, Florida Forever land purchases and freshwater springs protection.
(Full article only by PBP subscription)


Florida's Year of Water - Commentary by Robert L. Knight, Director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville.
December 7, 2014 
Florida is the nation's "Water State." Surrounded by estuaries and oceans on three sides, receiving an average of about 150 billion gallons each day from rainfall and underlain by trillions of gallons of fresh groundwater, Florida's image is synonymous with H2O.
Water in lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and springs. Water reflecting the sunshine along endless sandy beaches. Water, clean and pure.
Amendment 1, proposed and promoted by the Florida Water and Land Legacy Initiative, received over 700,000 citizen petitions to reach the November ballot and then won the approval of 75 percent of Florida's voters. Environmental issues consistently achieve high public approval in the Water State.
It is no surprise that Floridians know what is important for their futures - a healthy and protected environment is the bedrock of Florida's economy and quality of life. Above all else, the most important ingredient for our state's environmental health is a plentiful supply of pure water.
Unfortunately, within the past few decades, Florida's image has become more like a mirage than a reality. As a result of our mad rush for economic growth at any cost, Florida has significantly impaired its once pristine waters. Polluted and depleted by harmful human activities, Florida's waters are fast losing their aesthetic and economic appeal.
Waterways choked by algae. Dying springs. Desiccated wetlands and dry lake beds. Depleted fisheries. Red tide. Sick manatees and porpoises. And a poisoned aquifer.
While Florida's voters were clear on their support for environmental protection, their election of leaders sent a mixed message. With neither gubernatorial candidate receiving 50 percent of voter approval, it appears that Floridians are confused about who will best ensure a healthy environmental future.
The continuing degradation of Florida's water resources over the past 30 years, under both Democratic and Republican majorities, is a good indication that neither party has a lock on providing effective environmental protection. This observation proves that neither party has had the ability to stand up to the real decision makers in Tallahassee - the special interests. Under the guise of job creation, economic growth, and creation of durable and consumable goods, a relatively small number of individuals and corporations are reaping big profits by polluting and depleting Florida's waters. They include home builders, fertilizer and chemical companies, mining operations, industrial farms, and public and private utilities, to name a few.
These special interests and their lobbyists create the myth that environmental protection and economic prosperity are mutually exclusive. We know this myth is not true. We know that polluting and degrading our waters and lands - in the name of job creation and continuing urban and agricultural development - is not our preferred future. That is why Floridians supported Amendment 1 with a super majority.
We are at a crucial point in Florida's history. Our decisions now will determine if we turn our backs on a sustainable water future, or if we choose to consciously strike off on a new path where we no longer tolerate the depletion and pollution of the public's surface and ground waters.
Our drinking waters. Our parks. Our springs, lakes and rivers. Our beaches. Our future.
Florida's elected and appointed leaders need to be reminded that it is we, the people, who pay their salaries. We will not be fooled by rhetoric, by myths, by promises of elusive wealth. We see the nutrient-fueled algae growth in our rivers, lakes and estuaries; the springs turning from blue to green; and the red tides and dying fish - and that is not the future that we Floridians voted for this fall.
Florida's 2015 Legislature and governor have a new mandate to protect Florida's fragile water environments from over-exploitation and pollution. Let next year be a true watershed moment in Florida's history. Plug the loopholes that have been inserted by special interests and compliant politicians in Florida's Water Resources Act of 1972. Accelerate schedules for water restoration actions. Stress the importance of statewide water conservation. Put new energy into finding ways to stop pollution at its source. And beef up enforcement and public oversight of our water-protection laws. Use Amendment 1 funding to make significant strides toward a healthier environment. And make us proud of our status as the Water State !


FL Capitol

Legislative maneuverings - Editorial
December 7, 2014
This is the time of year when things heat up in Tallahassee. Various and highly influential committee chair positions are announced and Florida senators and representatives learn their committee assignments. Bills begin to be filed, bracing for the start of interim committee meetings in January and the 60-day session in March.
The good news for Southwest Florida residents is our key leaders are well-positioned as chairs or co-chairs on various committees that should have an impact when it comes to funding, especially for crucial water quality projects. This comes on top of a record amount of funding dedicated to projects like the Caloosahatchee Reservoir, as well as Everglades restoration, in the current budget.
How funding dollars are dispersed for water quality, especially our local projects, will be as critical as ever after the passage of Amendment 1 by voters during the November general election. By dedicating more of real estate tax money to environmental restoration and preservation, the state will shift about $600 million into water quality and land projects next year and billions of dollars over 20 years.
The amendment will replenish and preserve funding levels for the Florida Forever program, a conservation land purchasing program, whose budget has been slashed for decades and the money never restored. From 2009 through 2012, when about $1.2 billion would have been generated for Florida Forever, Govs. Charlie Crist and Rick Scott provided only about $20 million combined.
Now, the amendment protects the program funds from being raided for other purposes during poor economic times, as was the case when the housing market started to tumble in 2008.
But shifting $600 million has its ramifications. The environment may benefit — and it should — but other programs, relying on that money in the past, will probably suffer. We encourage our legislators to be very careful and thoughtful in how they look at programs that could face the chopping block, like affordable housing.
As Scott and legislators feed off a fattening budget, buoyed by improved property values, we hope they are mindful of the needs of residents. Scott's focus on the government surplus will be on tax cuts for commercial lease sales, business income tax and manufacturers' equipment sales tax. Scott starts a second term crusading for what dominated his first term — trying to employ more Floridians and helping small businesses and other industries with tax breaks. There is nothing wrong with that, but at a time when the state is looking at replacing $600 million, we hope programs dependent on that funding will get similar attention.
Water quality figures to dominate committee discussions in Tallahassee next year. It remains the state's most important issue as we wrestle with how to clean up thousands of miles of impaired waterways, improve on a water recharge system that will guarantee clean water supplies for centuries, and restore the state's No. 1 environmental engine — the Everglades. Our region's continuing concerns and worry over the polluted waters flowing from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee estuary also should take center stage. We have key people in key positions to make sure we continue to lock up funding for our projects.
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, will remain as co-chair of the appropriations committee and she took the lead role this year in securing the $18 million for the Caloosahatchee Reservoir project, which will provide billions of gallons of water storage from Lake O. But that project needs about $600 million from state and federal funding in order to be completed and we are a long way from that amount. Benacquisto's influence, plus that of Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, who is chair of the very influential state affairs committee, should keep us on track for funding of local projects. Caldwell's committee helps steer funding for water quality projects and pension reform, as well as many other programs, while the Legislature's most important committee — appropriations — distributes those funds.
Benacquisto is coming off what may have been her most effective year as a senator, not only for her work on water quality projects, but also securing the $7.5 million in funding for FGCU's Emergent Technologies Institute, a renewable energy research park.
She also has the reins of possibly her most important assignment since the start of her political career. She will take the lead role for Senate campaigns, raising money for the Republican Party as well as helping get strong conservatives either re-elected or elected. Her assignment is precedent setting because the role usually goes to the future Senate president, but Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, are locked in a battle for the spot in 2016, and neither is willing to budge. Current President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was in no position to wait because of the importance of party fundraising, and named Benacquisto.
Benacquisto, as always, will be very active in committees, serving on nine, including chair of Banking and Insurance, where the role of Citizens as the insurer of last resort, and the impact of private insurers will surely dominate discussions and bring possible legislative action.
Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, will chair the Ethics and Elections Committee, with that group more than likely controlling the fate of what is expected to be another bill allowing Florida voters to register for future elections online. That bill failed last year because of lack of support, but many senators were more inclined to look at it in 2015 after hearing state Supervisor of Elections recommendations.
Southwest Florida delegation meeting
• When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13
• Where: Nursing Building, Room AA-177, 8099 College Parkway SW, Florida SouthWestern State College.
• What happens: Local legislative delegation, representing Florida House and Senate, will have a public hearing on local bills (if filed), and other issues people may have registered to speak. Deadline for submitting local bills is 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19. Proposed bills should be sent to Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, who is chair of the delegation, at 15191 Homestead Road, Building A, Lehigh Acres, FL 33971


Preserve Northern Everglades
Orlando Sentinel – Editorial
December 7, 2014
Call for conservation
In last month's election, Florida voters made loud and clear their passion for protecting and preserving the state's environment. They overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, which will dedicate billions of tax dollars over the next two decades to land and water conservation.
At a meeting set for Tuesday in Tallahassee, Gov. Rick Scott and other members of Florida's Cabinet can show they were listening.
The agenda for the meeting includes the proposed purchase of conservation easements to protect nearly 2,000 acres of environmentally significant Osceola County ranch land from development. The land, within the boundary of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, includes valuable wetlands and habitat for wildlife, including bald eagles and sandhill cranes.
Money for the purchases, about $3 million, would come from funds already set aside for this purpose by state lawmakers. The state dollars would draw down federal grants to help offset the overall cost.
Purchasing easements for the land would keep it in agricultural use at a lower cost than buying the acreage outright, would keep the property on the tax rolls, and would leave the future expense of managing it to its owner.
It's especially vital to the ongoing restoration of Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades to protect the land in the Northern Everglades from development. As money becomes available under Amendment 1, Scott and other state leaders would be wise to make sure that more efforts to preserve this critical area get the funding they need to succeed.


Sea level rise threatening Kennedy Space Centre in Florida
Reuters – Daily Times
December 7, 2014
Rising seas and pounding waves driven by climate change are chipping away at the coast near the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, threatening launch pads and future operations, scientists said on Friday.
 “There’s reason to be nervous now because the problem is so obvious,” Peter Adams, a geology professor at the University of Florida, told reporters.
Adams and fellow University of Florida geologist John Jaeger released their findings on a day when the space centre on Florida’s east coast was celebrating a successful first test launch of the Orion capsule designed to one day fly astronauts to Mars.
Nancy Bray, director of Kennedy Space Centre operations, said in a University of Florida news release, “We do consider sea level rise and climate change to be urgent.”
Bray added that NASA’s plans for dealing with climate change included a “managed retreat” in which it will move infrastructure, potentially including launch pads, as needed.
Florida coastal communities could experience about a 60cm rise in sea level by 2060, the US Geological Survey has previously said. The two main causes are the volume of water added to oceans from glacial melt and the expansion of that water from rising sea temperatures.
The US space agency already has erected a line of manmade dunes to replace eroded natural ones that historically protected the shoreline between launch pads 39A and 39B used by the space shuttle and Apollo missions.
 “Without that secondary dune line, we could have saltwater intrusion at the launch pad,” Bray said.
A series of storms including Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 washed away the protective dunes, Adams said, allowing waves to crest over an old and little-used space centre train track.
A parallel road built over electrical power lines and liquid gas fuel lines could be next, Adams said.


Sugar Hill will only help Hendry County, Glades
Palm Beach Post – Point of View by Robert Coker and Joe Hilliard
December 7, 2014
Re: The Post’s Nov. 30 recent editorial “State right to reject big plan in Everglades,” on the Sugar Hill Sector Plan.
For the record, most of Hendry County and all of the Sugar Hill Sector Plan are west of ongoing Everglades restoration.
The editorial discussed, among other things, flood plains and 100-year flood zones. The majority of coastal and South Florida (including West Palm Beach and The Palm Beach Post headquarters) are in historic 100-year flood plains.
Yet highways, homes and business were able to be accommodated there, and building continues everywhere in South Florida flood plains.
It is important to note that, while the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) retains a legal option to acquire certain properties owned by U.S. Sugar, its three-year exclusive option has expired. The longer-term options cannot handcuff U.S. Sugar, and the company’s rights to utilize its assets, including long-term land planning. Should the SFWMD decide to exercise its options, the land is not going anywhere.
As to environmental concerns, Gov. Rick Scott directed state agencies to make a thorough review of U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers’ Sugar Hill Sector Plan.
Hendry County and Sugar Hill will be working diligently with the state Department of Economic Opportunity and the appropriate reviewing agencies to analyze and address the various issues, concerns and comments — as part of the normal approval process to ensure that the Sugar Hill Sector Plan meets all state requirements.
Hendry County suffers one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. Our rural community needs economic opportunity and development.
U.S. Sugar is the largest employer and taxpayer in Hendry County. The company’s investment, along with Hilliard Brothers, in the sector plan reflects our belief that our community deserves the same economic opportunities that the rest of the state enjoys.
As we move forward in addressing legitimate agency concerns, we are also moving forward in creating an opportunity for Hendry County to diversify its employment base, to increase high-quality jobs and, ultimately, to improve the quality of life in our community.
ROBERT COKER, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs; U.S. Sugar Corp.


Celebrate Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary's 60th anniversary
News-Press – by Cathy Chestnut
December 6, 2014
You can strike out in any direction to shake down your holiday eating — sandy shore, neighborhood sidewalk, regional park or urban green space.
But if you have northern relatives here for a short duration or haven't been out for yourself in a while, consider a visit to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
This Collier County gem was saved 60 years ago from the clutches of Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company, a logging operation intent on converting the world's last expanse of virgin bald cypress into post-war lumber. By the late 1940s, threats to the swamp weren't a new phenomenon: A warden was patrolling in the early 1900s to protect the largest wood stork rookery in the world, as well as showier wading birds that were slaughtered for their plumes for fancy hats.
But it was the logging of centuries-old, goliath trees that caused the National Audubon Society and a stream of others to raise the support necessary to purchase the invaluable stand.
  CLICK to Enlarge
By Dec. 15, 1954, 2,880 acres were secured—with 640 old-growth acres a gift from the logging company.
The "Corkscrew rookery" became Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with Audubon warden Henry (Hank) P. Bennett guiding visitors on canoe excursions through the lettuce lakes.
Around 1957, a boardwalk was completed and a chickee hut welcomed intrepid visitors, who arrived via a 4-wheel drive down the dirt-road entrance.
Today, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary encompasses more than 13,000 acres, with the 2.25-mile boardwalk and the Blair Audubon Center the centerpiece of what's often called the crown jewel of National Audubon Society's environmental centers.
Visitors on the boardwalk in 1958(Photo: Special to The News-Press)
"Every day throughout the swamp, amazing scenes unfold. With patience, luck and silence, I've had the opportunity to see enough to be amazed," says Sanctuary director Jason Lauritsen.
He recounts moments of deep connection with the ecosystem: "It's hard to beat standing statuesque in a foot of water in the heart of the bald cypress forest as four dozen raucous wading birds forage on a dense concentration of fish while four otters engage in carefree play, or laying prone on an old logging trail eye-to-eye with a bobcat as he walks within 20 feet of me, casting a casual but lingering glance, or to witness thousands of diminutive tree swallows descending feverishly en masse on a wax myrtle bush, so oblivious to my presence that I could have reached out and touched them."
The Corkscrew Watershed is part of the Western Everglades, and while it's still home to the nation's largest nesting colony of federally endangered wood storks, the watershed also is connected to the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve and Delnor-Wiggins State Park, and the Estero, Imperial and Cocohatchee rivers along the way. It's also connected with water quality and wildlife habitat at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Currently, Lauritsen says, Audubon is focusing on restoring the health and function of three square miles of Corkscrew's shallow wetlands by 2020 to support the health of the wood storks and other wildlife.
"Corkscrew serves as a benchmark against which people can identify and measure both the scale of man-induced changes in the environment and a measure of the health of the ecosystem," he says.
If You Go
• What: A 2.25-mile boardwalk and the Blair Audubon Center, which has a theater, library, photography gallery, restrooms, nature store, and tea room with healthful and vegetarian lunch options.
• Hours: The 2.25-mile boardwalk is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last admission sold at 4:30 p.m.), 365 days of the year.
• Admission: $12 for adults; $6 for college students with photo ID; students 6 – 18 are $4; and children under 6 are free. Current National Audubon Society members are $6.
• Details: No pets allowed
• Directions: 375 Sanctuary Road W., northeast of Naples, 15 miles from I-75 on Immokalee Road (Exit 111); 239-348-9151;
• Upcoming Events:Corkscrew After Hours, Friday, Dec. 12; World Wetland Day festival, Saturday, Jan. 31

No: Spills pose too great a risk to coastal environment: Front Burner
Orlando Sentinel – by Mark Ferrulo, the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy group.
December 5, 2014
The health of Florida's environment and economy is inextricably linked to the health and well-being of our coastline. Florida's coasts and marine waters provide the economic lifeblood for hundreds of tourism and fishing communities, providing billions of dollars of economic activity and millions of jobs.
That's why for decades, Floridians have successfully thwarted efforts to open our waters to offshore drilling. The risks, we know, are too high; the rewards, far too small.
Those who would reap financial profit from exploiting Florida's coastline and marine waters claim that offshore drilling is a safe, clean process that causes no harm to the environment. This is a fallacy, and one only needs to look at recent news for proof.
The Gulf oil-spill disaster happened more than four years ago, but according to a newly released scientific report, the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico is still coated with a "bathtub ring" of oil nearly triple the size of New York City. How this is affecting the Gulf's marine life and water quality is still being measured, and may not be fully known for decades. Yet BP has done everything in its power to hide the extent of the spill and minimize its ecological and financial impact.
The company has had plenty of practice, as oil spills are commonplace for the offshore-drilling industry. According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, 3 million gallons of oil spilled from offshore oil and gas operations in 73 separate incidents between 1980 and 1999.
Given their track record, how can oil companies reasonably assure Floridians that another catastrophic spill — one that could spoil the ecology and economic value of Florida's coastline for generations — won't happen? Answer: They can't.
We need only go back to Nov. 20 for another example of the risky nature of offshore oil and gas drilling. That day an oil platform exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing one worker and injuring three others. Fortunately, the platform was not in production at the time, and as far as we know, no oil was spilled — this time. But this latest accident further underscores the real human, environmental and financial risks inherent in offshore drilling.
Offshore drilling generates large amounts of routine pollution in the form of toxic-drilling muds, cuttings, heavy metals and other harmful discharges. One temporary Chevron exploratory well off Florida's coast was estimated to have legally discharged more than 23,000 barrels of drilling muds and other production fluids into our Gulf.
Energy efficiency and conservation, along with the use of more renewable sources such as solar and wind, offers us the cheapest, easiest and safest way to meet our nation's and Florida's energy needs. The "Sunshine State" should be leading a solar-energy renaissance, which would be a financial and jobs boon to the state.
Making our homes, offices, cars and trucks more efficient will save energy and money today and far into the future — without risking the economic lifeblood of our state and our world-famous coastline. Instead of relying on volatile and expensive sources of oil and gas, we can use better technology to reduce our energy demand while producing more energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power.
Offshore oil and gas drilling is the slowest, dirtiest and most expensive way to produce energy. Opening our coasts to destructive drilling would do little to lower prices or make us energy independent, but it would threaten our beaches with pollution and potential oil spills and put at risk multibillion-dollar coastal tourism and recreation economies.
Efforts to open our coast to oil and gas drilling were wrong for Florida years ago, and they are wrong for Florida today.


Brown water

Water storage plan may clean up murky Florida water - by Sara Jerome
December 5, 2014
Brown water that plagued the beaches in Lee County, FL last year may be avoided with a new water storage plan.
The problem that led to brown and murky water stems from Lake Okeechobee water releases, according to WINK. But under a plan supported by Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, the storage area of the lake would be increased by six inches.
How would that help ?
The releases are necessary to "ease the stress on the lake’s frail dike system," according to the Naples Daily News. "Lake releases to the west go into the Caloosahatchee River through Hendry and Lee counties, affecting the balance of fresh and salt water along with releasing polluting nutrients."
Adding storage area "would reduce the amount of water sent downstream when a release is needed," the report said.
"If we could hold six more inches up at the lake, convince the Army Corp to do that, that's one way. Then during the dry season when we need water, if we held six more inches, we could release more," Ruane said, per the report.
Florida officials have considered some aggressive options for combating the water pollution problem caused by lake releases.
"While long-term solutions have been in the works for years, other temporary fixes presented [in August] to the Senate Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin included cleaning the water that comes into the lake from the Kissimmee River; reducing nutrients from septic tanks; raising the allowed water levels in canals by a few inches; and getting Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency for the lake to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to re-evaluate the lake protection plan," the report said.
Officials have avoided sending discharges from the lake this year due to concerns about water quality, but they may be necessary anyway.
"After discharges at the St. Lucie Locks devastated the lagoon with fish kills and toxic algae last summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has avoided sending any lake water east this year. However, with the lake swelling from recent heavy rains, the corps may have no other choice," WPBF reported.


Florida DEP funding to expand water storage capacity in Northern Everglades
December 4, 2014
NORTHERN EVERGLADES, FL -- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently announced a $3-million grant award for the South Florida Water Management District to support its thriving Dispersed Water Management Program (DWMP).
The program, which creates additional water storage on private and public lands, provides another tool to reduce the amount of water flowing into Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries during high-water conditions. The funds will cover service payments and operations and maintenance costs for the program.
Every summer, the South Florida region is at risk of experiencing high-water conditions due to seasonal spikes in rainfall. Initiated nearly 10 years ago, the DWMP aims to mitigate some of that risk by identifying, acquiring and using public and private lands to store excess surface water.
The program encompasses a coalition of public agencies, environmental organizations, ranchers, and researchers united in growing the region's storage capacity. Further, it encourages private property owners to retain water on their land rather than drain it, accept and detain regional runoff for storage, or employ some combination of both.
The program has stored an average annual volume of 86,257 acre-feet of water, or approximately 43,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, which is in addition to the regional storage and treatment capacity provided by stormwater treatment areas, reservoirs and other regional facilities.
Of the 43 identified DWMP sites, 29 are operational, with the remaining sites being planned or under construction by the South Florida Water Management District. At the close of the 2014 rainy season, 28 of the 29 sites were full. The total possible retention capacity for all 43 sites is 93,372 acre-feet or approximately 29 billion gallons of water.


Row crops

Miami-Dade agricultural lands becoming wetlands
Miami Herald – by Sam Accursio Jr., Sam S. Accursio & Sons Farms, Homestead
December 4, 2014
Federal, state and local officials say they want to sustain agriculture — an industry plagued with many problems from immigration reform, to pests and diseases and now man-made flooding.
Pests and immigration reform issues are insignificant if we can’t seed the land. Agriculture is the second largest money maker in Florida with over 33,000 acres of winter vegetables alone grown in Miami-Dade.
The Army Corps of Engineers is flooding cropland that has been farmed from way before they thought of canals and flood control. Now our properties are becoming wetlands. The flood criteria over the past six years has been steadily increased resulting in frequent flooding from underground, depleting oxygen from the soil and causing the plants to die.
The criterion has been raised to the point that it is never reached so the floodgates are never opened. It was different in the past. The floodgates are open in north and central Miami-Dade County but dammed here, causing growers to suffer flood damage even though there is no rain. Former local U.S. Reps. David Rivera and then Joe Garcia fought a daily battle for farmers, but with no relief. I hope Carlos Curbelo picks up the fight.
At the state level, our local State Rep. Holly Raschien is fighting for us to save a very important industry, but it seems Tallahassee is more interested in making our ports bigger and deeper for larger ships to import more fruits and vegetables. This negatively impacts agriculture in South Florida.
If you put the people involved in agriculture out of work, Florida’s economy will certainly suffer. Again, if you ask Tallahassee they will say they want to sustain agriculture — but we can’t farm in water.
Locally the county commission is silent in the fight but when asked, they will say they want to sustain agriculture.
To sum it up, the government is making it tougher and nearly impossible to farm in South Miami-Dade County, something my family has done since 1948.
I feel it is an issue of national security to be able to feed ourselves; during the winter, we are fed fresh vegetables by South Florida and California only. When Florida and California are out of business, who do you think will feed us? Do you want to depend on foreign food? That is where our government is pushing us — to rely on others as we do for every other commodity.


Sad news — group whose goal was to protect water disbands
Orlando Sentinel – by Lauren Ritchie
First of two parts.
A death occurred on Nov. 13, and nobody even has noticed. The way things are now, they probably never will.
That's the day the Alliance to Protect Water Resources, an activist group in south Lake, voted to disband, saying few people came to meetings, nobody has time to work on projects and membership had dwindled to a few, mostly older folks who just can't keep it going.
The group simply wasn't able to accomplish much, and its passionate leaders grew weary of a proverbial gun battle in which they were armed with a pen knife.
"We live in the land of God's waiting room," mused President Peggy Cox, 66. "You'd think somebody would have some time on their hands. The minutiae of life consumes them."
Ironically, the disbanding of the Alliance comes at a time when the question of where to get drinking water never has been more important in Florida. In fact, it might be said that the state is on the verge of crisis because over-building has nearly drained the Floridan Aquifer.
Officials frantically are scrambling for "alternate sources" so that even more houses can be built, ignoring the balance between nature's underground water-storage system and how many humans and animals can be supported on the surface.
In his first term, Gov. Rick Scott gutted the water-management districts of roughly 40 percent of their employees and turned agencies that are supposed to protect precious drinking water into bureaucracies whose main task is to enthusiastically rubber stamp every request to build a new subdivision with a water-sucking golf course. This, in the name of being "business-friendly."
Brilliant. We are the champions of our own demise. And now, at least in Lake County, we'll be going down without a fight. It's already started. County commissioners recently approved a plan to dump 40,000 new residents amid a tangle of urban sprawl into the south end of the county without any consideration for where their water will come from. A grand total of four people spoke against the plan, and two of them weren't concerned about either water or the environment.
Yet, something strange is going on here.
Consider that the election last month offered voters in Florida the chance to dedicate 33 percent of net revenue from the existing excise tax on documents to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The purpose is to acquire and improve wildlife-management areas, wetlands, forests, fish and wildlife habitats, beaches and shores, recreational trails and parks, working farms and ranches and lands protecting water and drinking-water resources. The fund was designed to manage and restore natural systems and to enhance public access and recreational use of conservation lands.
This is not something that either state representatives or senators ever would do. They consider those excise taxes sacrosanct, and it took a constitutional amendment to get the idea before voters.
Some 74 percent of Florida voters went for it. Even here in Lake, where the environment is at the top of the priority list for only a rare few, the measure sailed through with 70 percent of voters in favor.
Yet, these same voters sent the single most environmentally harmful governor in memory back into office for a second term. They allow a group like the Alliance to Protect Water Resources to dissolve.
So, what's going on here ? Are we schizophrenic ?
Unfortunately, something even worse is in play. On Wednesday, we'll take a look at what the experts have to say about us.


A fracas over fracking in Florida
Orlando Weekly - Letters to the editor
December 3, 2014
Fracking fracas:  Come on people – I am sure the chemicals and process they use nowadays will not damage anything (“Two draft proposals hope to keep Florida from becoming fracking’s new frontier,” Nov. 26). They have been fracking in Texas for years now and have had no issues at all. I would love to see this happen, could you imagine the JOB creation it would bring to Florida? And not to mention help us become more energy independent.
Cassie Roach, via Facebook
Texas isn’t sugar sand on top of Swiss-cheese limestone. Not only could it poison the aquifer, but it could also cause more sinkholes.
Allan Perez, via Facebook
Because we don’t have enough trouble with sinkholes already! Allowing would be fracking ridiculous!
Kate Coman Adams, via Facebook
Job creation at all costs. Where will we all work when there’s no habitable place to work in? Watch the documentary where the guy’s well water becomes flammable due to fracking. Definitely a mind-changer.
Claire G. Bradley, via Facebook
The greed for money at the cost our health and environment and safety sucks !
Jose Antonio Rodriguez, via Facebook
We NEED our water clean. Send corporate fracking snake-oil salespersons back where they came from.
Brian O’Halloran, via Facebook
“We get the vast majority of our drinking water from the Floridan aquifer, and fracking puts that water in jeopardy.” Isn’t that saying enough right there?
Jabmyeyes, via

Petition seeks to kill shallow injection wells in favor of deep wells for sewage – by Kevin Wadlow
December 3, 2014 
A February state hearing in Key West will look at whether a privately owned company that operates a Stock Island sewer system must dig deeper injection wells.
The petition seeking the hearing was filed Oct. 22 by the Last Stand environmental group, along with Last Stand member George Halloran, a former Key West city commissioner.
Key West Resort Utilities has received tentative state approval for four shallow-water injection wells, which would allow the pumping of up to 1.27 million gallons of treated wastewater per day down the shallow wells reaching 60 to 110 feet below the surface.
Another 1.34 million gallons is planned for re-use, primarily at the Key West Golf Course.
Last Stand contends the state Department of Environmental Protection permits violate state law specific to Monroe County, which requires deep-well injection systems for more than 1 million gallons per day.
Deep-well injection systems could cost millions of dollars, instead of the several hundred thousand dollars shallow wells cost.
The utility and DEP have said the average daily pumping would be below the maximum 1 million gallons if calculated over a full year.
Last Stand also argues that estimates of water reuse are overly optimistic.
"The use of shallow wells for injection of treated sewage effluent in these outstanding Florida Waters will violate existing water-quality standards, further degrade the nearshore waters, interfere with [residents'] beneficial use, and will violate Florida statutes," the petition contends.
State Administrative Law Judge Cathy M. Sellers has scheduled a Feb. 16-20 hearing in Key West.
A similar protest was raised by an informal group called Dig Deep Cudjoe against use of a shallow-water system at Monroe County's Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System treatment plant.
Some of the original petitioners have agreed to increased monitoring of the existing shallow-water wells, but others have not.
A conference on a possible settlement is scheduled for January.


Burmese python infestation a disaster
Sun Sentinel – by Jordan Martinez, Miami
December 2, 2014
It can grow up to 23 feet long and weigh more 200 pounds — and it's knocking at your door. Since the early 2000s, Burmese pythons have established themselves in the Everglades as a result of the exotic pet trade. These seemingly fictional monsters are becoming a statewide disaster. They camouflage well in the swampy landscape and lay 60-80 eggs at a time, making one thing certain — their numbers keep growing.
To solve this python invasion issue, we must try to eradicate this invasive species from the Everglades, thus saving and protecting entire ecosystems. Eradicating the python population will allow for the preservation of the ecological balance that has existed in the Everglades for millions of years. Furthermore, the removal of the python as an over-active predator will ease competition for food between native species like crocodiles, alligators and bobcats.
Economically speaking, eliminating these pythons will reduce the cost of protecting endangered species and dramatically reduce future conservation efforts.


County OKs altering conservation land - C.T. Bowen, Tampa Bay Times Columnist
December 2, 2014
NEW PORT RICHEY — This week, Pasco County commissioners set one of their legislative priorities for the coming year in Tallahassee: Enhance the local quality of life by seeking equitable distribution of new state land conservation dollars authorized by voters in November.
Less than three hours later, a commission majority declined that thinking in approving a request to reclassify 112 acres of conservation land for agriculture use. The proposed change, included as an amendment to the county's comprehensive land use plan, was a precursor to the Southwest Florida Water Management District putting the property on the market.
The water district's board declared the land surplus property in 2013. Changing its land-use designation from conservation to agriculture will allow farming and construction of five homes on the 58 acres of developable land. The remainder of the property, located at County Road 54 and Berry Road, near the Polk County line, is wetlands.
The land, in five abutting parcels, is part of the 17,300-acre Upper Hillsborough Preserve. Swiftmud acquired the site in the late 1960s as part of a major flood control project that never came to fruition. The water district, in declaring the land as surplus 18 months ago, said it would retain conservation easements on the property.
Regardless, commission Chairman Ted Schrader led the opposition Tuesday, saying the change would make the land more valuable for the district to sell, but contradicted the original intent of conserving land.
"I just think it sort of goes against the intent of the purchase and, to some extent, goes against the intent of what we're asking of our legislative delegation,'' Schrader said.
He reminded the board of the public sentiment expressed at the polls last month when 75 percent of Florida's voters approved Amendment 1, redirecting billions of dollars from existing taxes on real estate transactions toward land conservation for the next 20 years. It is that pot of money that commissioners want local legislators to help distribute fairly.
Commissioner Jack Mariano, however, said increasing the value of the land would allow the water district to recoup more dollars for public use.
"I guess I want them to get their biggest bang for the buck,'' Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said in agreement.
The board voted 3-2 to allow the land plan amendment. If the board had rejected the move, it still wouldn't have precluded the water district from selling the land, but it would have meant the property would remain exclusively for conservation use.


FPL wants customers to pay millions for fracking project – by Mary Wozniak
December 2, 2014
Florida Power and Light wants its customers to pay $750 million annually for a proposed partnership with an Oklahoma company to frack for natural gas in Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, State Senators Darren Soto (D-Orlando) and Dwight Bullard (D-Miami) today filed legislation to ban fracking in Florida.
The power company wants customers to pay because they will save on their fuel bills in the long run, according to the Associated Press. The Public Service Commission is expected to rule on the power company's proposal by the end of December.
The state senators filed the bill to pre-empt any such fracking attempts in Florida, according to a statement from Michelle DeMarco, communications director of the Florida Senate Democratic Office
Formally called hydraulic fracturing, the process of fracking involves injecting a well with water, chemicals and sand at high pressure to fracture rock and access previously untapped reserves of oil and natural gas. Opponents say the practice endangers the environment.
Sen. Soto said that Florida's beaches, the Everglades and other natural beauty foster a strong tourism industry and must be preserved. The state's aquifers that provide fresh water for residents and municipalities must also be protected.
Sen. Bullard added: "This bill reinforces the people's will by banning an operation dangerous to both."
The legislation has been filed for the March 2015 legislative session.


Hovnanian buys parkland acreage for $53 million
Daily Business Review – by Eleazar David Melendez
December 2, 2014
A Broward County land assemblage on the edge of the Everglades has sold for $53 million.
TLH-15 Dolly LLC, TLH-18-Salta LLC and TLH-19 Misty LLC, three companies linked to Palm Beach County developers Brian Tuttle and Brian Lulfs, sold 177 acres to national homebuilder Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. on Nov. 24.
The four parcels, which are mostly vacant but include a recycling facility and rock quarry, are located at 15118, 15400 and 15040 Loxahatchee Road in Parkland. The parcels are northeast of Hillsboro Boulevard and the canal separating Parkland from the protected Everglades.
While Parkland was dominated by equestrian facilities, it has attracted the attention of residential builders. The land trading hands in the latest deal at $299,435 per acre is entitled to up to 531 homes.
The price paid by Hovnanian is a steep increase from the $13.36 million that it took to acquire the assemblage from February 2013 to April 2014 before those entitlements were in place.


Over $480M needed for major SWFL water quality projects – by Chad Gillis
December 2, 2014
Several hundred million dollars and a few decades of hydrological work will clean up the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary, in theory at least.
Dozens of water quality scientists, elected officials and environmental groups are now figuring out just which projects should be pushed in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., in the coming legislative sessions. The South Florida Water Management District and other officials met to discuss the options at a Caloosahatchee River forum Tuesday.
“There are a ton of great projects,” said Lee County commissioner Brian Hamman. “They all have merit, but having them ranked is extremely important to decision-makers.”
The group includes the South Florida Water Management District, Lee County, the United States Geological Survey, municipalities within Lee and concerned citizens. The idea is to galvanize various interests to help ensure the federal government will address some of the water quality problems.
  C-43 Reservoir

On their wish list:
•Secure funding for the Caloosahatchee Reservoir
•Restore the north part of Lake Hicpochee
•Test the reservoir and various ways of reducing nitrogen loads
•Reduce stormwater flowing into the river from lands that historically drained into Charlotte Harbor
Those are the immediate, short-term needs — projects that are designed and ready to be constructed. The remaining cost for those four projects is $480 million, with more than $450 million going to the reservoir.
The reservoir is designed to improve salinity balances in the river system and will have a capacity of 170,000 acre-feet, or 55 billion gallons.
Historically, Southwest Florida’s ecology balanced water needs and demands. But water here has been directed by engineers and developers for more than a century. Those changes to the natural hydrology have already cost tax payers billions.
The challenge now is slowing the rate at which water flows to the coast. Holding water on the landscape and discharging it slowly will help mimic historic conditions.
“We have the opportunity of taking water from the lake (Okeechobee) and running it through Nicodemus Slough (preserve lands), down to Hicpochee and back into the (Caloosahatchee) river,” said Phil Flood with the WMD’s Fort Myers office.
Construction on the Hicpochee project is expected to begin in the summer of 2015, Flood said.
Some at the meeting said they’re concerned that water quality and Everglades restoration goals could rob some counties of the ability to develop, which keeps tax rolls low.
“When you talk about taking land for these projects, it ruins the local economy,” said Hugh English, a former WMD board member. “And a lot of the people here (Fort Myers and Cape Coral) are on septic tanks.”
English said people living within the Caloosahatchee watershed should remedy their own water quality problems before turning agriculture lands into storage cells.
Former Lee commissioner Ray Judah agreed with English, partially, at least.
“You are hurting counties like Hendry and Glades when you should be buying lands to the south to help restore the Everglades,” he said.

Water district exec director Blake Guillory: Will he stay or will he go ?
Palm Beach Post – by Christine Stapleton
December 2, 2014
The rumor that Blake Guillory, the executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, is leaving has become so rampant the Guillory held a meeting with his executive staff to deny the rumor, according to district spokesman Randy Smith.
Guillory, a Republican, became head of the state’s largest water management district in September 2013 after the abrupt resignation of former executive director Melissa Meeker, who became executive director in May 2011 after the abrupt retirement of former executive director Carol Wehle.
Guillory had been the executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District before becoming head of the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees flood control, water supply and restoration in 16 counties south of Orlando.
Guillory’s decision to stay at the district comes amid the departure of two other agency heads – Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews and Herschel Vinyard, head of the Department of Environmental Protection – who recently submitted letters to Gov. Rick Scott saying they would not serve a second-term.


DEP challenged over St. Marys water standards
December 1 2014
Two companies with plants in Nassau County have filed a legal challenge against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in a dispute about proposed water standards for the St. Marys River estuary in the northeast corner of the state.
RockTenn CP, LLC and Rayonier Performance Fibers, LLC, which discharge wastewater into the estuary, filed the challenge last week in the state Division of Administrative Hearings.
The companies challenged a proposed rule, approved by the state Environmental Regulation Commission last month, that would set criteria for the maximum amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and chlorophyll that can exist in the estuary, according to the filing.
In the challenge, the companies said the proposed rule would affect their wastewater discharges now or in the future and would require them to reduce current operations or prevent future expansions. The companies raise a number of legal issues, including alleging that the proposed rule is "arbitrary and capricious."
RockTenn operates a pulp and paperboard mill in Fernandina Beach, while Rayonier Performance Fibers manufactures a polymer used in the chemical industry, according to the filing.


Supreme Court to hear Florida's water case against Georgia - by Sara Jerome
December 1, 2014
The U.S. Supreme Court is wading into a decades-old water war between Georgia and Florida.
Florida Governor Rick Scott announced in November that the court would consider the state's lawsuit. Florida is contesting what it sees as Georgia's unchecked use of water that flows between the states, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Specifically, the suit "challenges Georgia’s use of water drawn from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, including Lake Lanier," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over state-to-state disputes.
The fight between the two states goes way back, and Georgia has tried to keep the case out of court. "Georgia had sought to dismiss the suit, filed last October by Florida Governor Rick Scott, that stems from a decades-old fight over Atlanta's daily demand for 360 million gallons of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint river basins," Reuters reported.
  3-State Water War
Florida contends that "Atlanta’s suburbs are sucking dry the river flow that feeds the oyster beds and fisheries of the northern Gulf Coast," according to the Wall Street Journal.
The feds are also involved in the case.
"In the middle of the fight is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls flows and has relied on a 2011 ruling from a federal appeals court that said Georgia has a legal right to water from Lake Lanier, at the top of the river system," Florida News Service reported.
Scott, the Florida governor, welcomed the Supreme Court's decision to hear the case.
“For 20 years, Florida has tried to work with Georgia, and families (on Apalachicola Bay) have continued to see their fisheries suffer from the lack of water,” he said, per the AJC. “The Supreme Court takes up so few cases, and their willingness to hear Florida’s demonstrates the merits of our case before the Court. We are fighting for the future of this region, and we won’t quit until these resources are restored.”
For more on policy and politics, check out Water Online's Regulations & Legislation Solution Center.

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Last year (2013) event that influences and expedites THIS year activities        upward

October 2013

Notable in 2013
wet season :


LO water release

Last year highlight - still a lingering "Good Question" -
  WHY NOT "Move it South" ? Meaning "dirty" water from Lake Okeechobee - and instead of disastrous releases into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, move it where it used to flow - South. Is it possible ? Would the bridge on US-41 do the trick ?  
Good Question: Why not send more Lake O water south ? - by Chad Oliver, Reporter
GLADES COUNTY - "Move it south! Move it south!"
That was the chant I heard last week in Stuart during Governor Rick Scott's visit to the St. Lucie Lock.
He was there to discuss solutions to water releases from Lake Okeechobee that are damaging water quality in Southwest Florida.
It led Terry in Punta Gorda to ask the Good Question:
"Why can't more Lake O water be discharged through the Everglades instead of the Caloosahatchee River?"
Historically, water from Lake Okeechobee did flow south. It slowly moved into the Everglades.
Two things happened to stop that, the Herbert Hoover Dike was built to protect people from flooding. Then came the Tamiami Trail, which is also a man-made structure that basically acts as a dam.
There is a plan in the works to lift part of Tamiami Trail so that more water flows underneath toward the Everglades.
This week, Governor Scott announced his intention to allocate $90 million over three years for the project in Miami-Dade.

The original ABC-7 video with Chad Oliver disappeared from the web - it is replaced here by this 25-WBPF report
Despite the current obstacles, I got a rare view of how water is still flowing south.
As a member of the Governing Board for South Florida Water Management, it's a Good Question that Mitch Hutchcraft has heard often.
"Part of the answer is we now have seven million more people than we used to in a natural condition. We have roads, we have communities. Everglades National Park is half the size it used to be," he said.
Water managers are required by a federal court order to clean what they send south to the Everglades.
"Just moving water south without the water quality component is not beneficial,"
Hutchcraft said.
They're now using former farmland to build basins and treatment areas south of Lake Okeechobee. The dark, polluted water is naturally cleaned as it flows over land.
Our pilot mentioned that it works like a great big Brita water filter.
To the question of why not put more water south, if we put more water in this basin, then the vegetation no longer has the capacity to clean it the way that we do," Hutchcraft explained.
South of Lake Okeechobee, we see field after field of sugar cane.
The State of Florida has the option to buy an additional 180,000 acres of farmland.
That deal expires in October. Proponents of the deal say it would provide more space to send water south. Opponents say it would kill their way of life and cost too much money.
As for Hutchcraft ? He doesn't see the need for more land; his focus is on completing projects already in the pipeline.
"So we could send more water south, but if we don't make those other project improvements, there's nowhere for it to go," he said.
It's a Good Question that's neither easy nor inexpensive


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