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Public Must Attend SJRWMD Meeting to Offer Input

The St. Johns River Water Management District has decided that the only way for the public to comment on their pending decision in regards to Seminole County’s efforts to drain millions of gallons of water per day from the St. Johns River will be to attend the meeting in person.  After becoming aware of an effort by the Riverkeeper to encourage citizens to e-mail the District’s Board Members to voice their opposition, the District installed new software that will seek to block all incoming e-mails that address the issue.  The District expressed concerns about Board Members having “ex parte” communications in regards to pending decisions and warned Riverkeeper to stop soliciting e-mails in regards to the Seminole County decision.

Because of their decision, the only way for the public to offer input in regards to Seminole County’s efforts to draw billions of gallons of water each year will be to attend the meeting, which is scheduled for April 13, 2009 at 1pm at the District’s Palatka headquarters.  Mayor Peyton, the St. Johns Riverkeeper and St. Johns County are scheduled to address the Board, as well as Seminole County.  At 2:15, members of the public who have not been involved in the hearing process will be allowed to speak.  The Board is scheduled to reach a final decision by 4pm.

The e-mails that outline the District’s decision to filter e-mails from the public are below:

From: Ken Wright 

Sent: Friday, April 03, 2009 10:49 AM

To: ‘Edward de la Parte Jr.’; Stanley Niego

Subject: RE: Seminole County YL Case

Stan,

Mr. de la Parte has not correctly represented the substance of the web site.  It does not urge members to contact the Board about the Recommended Order in the Seminole County YL CUP case.  Rather, it urges readers of the website, whoever they may be, to let the Board know they “oppose surface water withdrawals and support conservation.”  No one can pretend that the Yankee Lake CUP is the only surface water withdrawal being planned. 

Freedom of speech and the right to petition the government are basic Constitutional rights.  The St. Johns Riverkeeper organization and its members will not tolerate any efforts to limit their rights. 

Kenneth B. Wright, Esquire

***

From: Stanley Niego

Date: Fri, Apr 3, 2009 at 12:25 PM

Subject: RE: Seminole County YL Case

 

We are carefully reviewing this matter.  In order to prevent unlawful ex parte communications, we have implemented a procedure to prevent the Governing Board from receiving e-mail communications related to the pending matter.  These e-mail communications will be provided to the Governing Board after the final order has been rendered so that the Board may be aware of these public comments in taking any future action regarding river issues in general and any future proposed withdrawals from theSt. Johns River.  These comments are public records that will be available for review by all of the parties.  In the event of an appeal and a remand for further proceedings, the parties will have an opportunity to rebut these comments in accordance with section 120.66, F.S., in those proceedings.

In our initial letter to the parties on January 15, 2009, we requested the cooperation of the attorneys for all parties in avoiding ex parte communications.  Pursuant to section 120.66, F.S., ex parte communications include both oral and written communications pertaining to the merits of the case.   The form letter on the Riverkeeper’s website includes the statement:  “Please, do not make any decisions on water withdrawal permits until the cumulative impact assessment that is currently underway is completed.”  Riverkeeper’s Exception No. 15 to finding of fact No. 103 of the Recommended Order involves the ALJ’s determination that an additional two-year delay until the cumulative impact assessment study is completed is “unwarranted.”  Therefore, assuming that counsel for Riverkeeper has reviewed the letter that Riverkeeper is soliciting its members and others to provide to the Governing Board, it is my opinion that Riverkeeper and Riverkeeper’s counsel have been involved in soliciting an unlawful ex parte communication.  However, as discussed above, this communication should not have been received by any Governing Board members.  We will check to ensure that this ex parte communication is not being received by Governing Board members.

 

I would request that Riverkeeper immediately cease soliciting its members to communicate with the Governing Board regarding the pending CUP.  Riverkeeper is represented by counsel in this matter and counsel will have the opportunity to address the Governing Board in accordance with the procedures of chapter 120 that are intended to ensure that all parties are afforded due process.   With regard to Mr. Wright’s comment below that the website is intended to solicit members of the general public to provide comment to the Governing Board, I note that there is nothing on the website indicating that members of the Riverkeeper organization should not contact the Governing Board.  In addition, it is reasonable to conclude that the website is substantially utilized by members of the Riverkeeper organization.

***

From: Michael Howle 

Sent: Friday, April 03, 2009 11:59 AM

To: Stanley Niego

Cc: Kris Davis; Kirby Green; Jeff Cole; Ken Wright; fraziers@gtlaw.com; Teal, Jason; Armingeon, Neil

Subject: Re: District Board Consideration of Seminole County Permit

Stan,

St. Johns Riverkeeper, Inc.  awaits the following outstanding information promised by the District:

1.  General Riverkeeper members’ ability to speak during the public comment period of the Board meeting.

2.  Whether the District disagrees with the position that parties may yield some of their time for argument by Agents or Officers (Ex. Mayor of Jacksonville, the Riverkeeper).

Yours,

 Michael Howle

***

From: Stanley Niego

Date: Fri, Apr 3, 2009 at 2:57 PM

Subject: RE: Seminole County YL Case

 

Michael – We’re all individual citizens.  That has no bearing on the question of ensuring that we have a fair proceeding.  Riverkeeper is represented by counsel in this proceeding.  To allow Riverkeeper members to address the Board will afford Riverkeeper a very disproportionate amount of time in relation to the Respondents.  So, the answer is as clearly stated below.

 

Stan

***

From: Stanley Niego 

Date: Fri, Apr 3, 2009 at 12:53 PM

Subject: RE: District Board Consideration of Seminole County Permit

 

Michael – we have reviewed the matter and concluded that the District will adhere to its standard procedure for these hearings.  Members of the Riverkeeper organization will not be permitted to address the Governing Board.  However, the Riverkeeper, as with any other party, may assign some of its allotted time to a representative of the organization other than its counsel in the proceedings to address the Board.

With regard to Mayor Peyton addressing the Governing Board, the same rule will apply.  I will be contacting counsel for the City ofJacksonville to inquire as to whether the city is seeking additional time for Mayor Peyton or simply interested in Mayor Peyton addressing the Board with a portion of the time allotted to Petitioners.  If it is the latter, the above applies.  Of course, it is up to the parties to allocate between themselves the allotted time for each side.

If, however, the City is seeking additional time for Mayor Peyton to address the Board, I will need to inquire of the Governing Board Chairman as to whether she wishes to allocate additional time for this portion of the meeting.  As you know, we have already increased the allocated time from 40 minutes to 60 minutes and are anticipating that there will be a significant time period for public comment.  If any additional time is allocated for Mayor Peyton to address the Governing Board, a corresponding amount of additional time will be allocated to the respondents.  I hope to resolve this question today or Monday so that the parties will know well in advance of the meeting how much time they will have for their presentations.

If one of the COJ attorneys can call me, I’m in all day today and can be reached at (386) 329-4153.

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