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Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Kill Destructive Water Bill

The Orlando Sentinel weighs in on the legislation (SB 2080) that would cut out the water management district’s Governing Board members in permitting decisions and turn those decisions over to the district’s executive directors. If the legislation becomes law, the only way Board members would hear permitting decisions were if the district staff recommended denial of the permit. As it turns out Kirby Green, Executive Director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, supports the legislation. Surprise! I guess he doesn’t need 19,000 pesky Floridians trying to weigh in with his Governing Board members anymore on the St. Johns River water withdrawal permit for Seminole County, among other things.  The Orlando Sentinel editorial requests Crist to veto the bill.

It’s a tough slog getting water managers today to meet or even think about meeting their responsibility to safeguard Florida’s water supply. But what’s difficult today would soon become impossible if Gov. Charlie Crist fails to veto a bill that would give unprecedented power to a handful of bureaucrats.

The way it works today, members of the boards that govern the state’s five water-management districts vote at public meetings on requests to take water from the aquifer, rivers, lakes and other sources. At those meetings, they also have to hear from residents, who can bring considerable pressure to bear on the boards’ predisposition to side with developers’ requests for more water.

But Senate Bill 2080 would muzzle the public by leaving decisions on water-permit applications to the districts’ executive directors, out of public view. Only if the directors denied a permit would it ever get kicked to the governing board.

That’s right. Swallow hard. With 2080, executive directors who regularly get lobbied privately by developers to side with their requests would have the final say on their permits. And on the rare occasion where they deny them, the developers would get to appeal their case to the board.

How’d this gift to developers pass the Legislature? Before exiting in disgrace, indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom reportedly posited the idea of speeding water-permit approvals.

It then stayed afloat until the legislative session’s 11th hour, when Polk County’s J.D. Alexander inserted it as an amendment. Until then, the bill didn’t look half bad. For example, it required, and still would require, that regional water managers provide Florida-friendly landscaping ordinances for local governments to use as a model.

And homeowners associations could no longer punish members if they ignored sod-only landscaping rules to plant their own drought-resistant alternatives.

Of course, many developer-friendly legislators, aware of Sen. Alexander’s sleight of hand, had no problem voting for it. Others who most certainly would have fought it, but who didn’t know of its sudden appearance in the bill’s 27 pages, got snookered.

They had no time to rally against it.

Neither will the public on water-withdrawal requests if Mr. Crist, who fashions himself “The People’s Governor,” fails to veto this dreadful bill.

Last week Mr. Crist seemed ready to do the right thing, saying he was leaning toward rejecting it. But others are pushing back, including Kirby Green, the St. Johns River Water Management District’s executive director. Pitiful, but unfortunately what we’ve come to expect from Mr. Green. To their credit, a few other water managers have shown restraint and, in the case of David Still, Suwannee River Water Management District executive director, actual concern. He says the bill would do the public a disservice. Would it ever.

What will Mr. Crist do? The man who also brands himself Florida’s environmental governor let down the entire environmental community last week when he signed Senate Bill 360, which steamrolls sensible regulations to promote sprawl and enable unneeded mega-developments like Destiny in Yeehaw Junction.

Where’s Yeehaw Junction? Precisely the point.

Mr. Crist tried to justify his action by citing other provisions in the bill he called worthy, including ones promoting more affordable housing, green building and storm-resistant construction.

He mustn’t try the same thing over again with this water bill. A few worthy provisions aren’t reason enough to sign a destructive piece of legislation.

He should stick to his stated principles and kill the bill.

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