Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Crist Should Veto SB 2080

“Imagine if a county administrator in Florida could make development decision in secret, without asking the county commissioners?  Only if the administrator denied a request would the commissioners have a say.”  That’s the question the Palm Beach Post asked in a recent editorial.  They were speaking, of course, in reference to SB 2080, which is currently sitting on the desk of Gov. Charlie Crist.

SB 2080 would eliminate public hearings that take place before the governing boards of Florida’s five water management districts and place one individual—an appointed executive director—completely in control over the approval process for removing water from Florida’s aquifer and rivers.  In fact, if this legislation had been passed (and signed into law) during the last legislative session, the hundreds who turned out to oppose the recent request from Seminole County to drain 5.5 million gallons of water per day from the St. Johns river…well, there would have been no hearing for them to speak at.  The withdrawal would have simply been approved by the Executive Director and the public would have had no input.

Volusia County Council Member Andy Kelly is one of those opposed to the new legislation.  He told the West Volusia Beacon that he had concerns over the political pressures that would be exerted on water-management executive directors when large, for-profit developers came requesting permits.

“I know that I wouldn’t want to be in that position,” Kelly told the Beacon.  “I would deny each one, so that it would go back to the Governing Board for public input and broad public discussion.”

Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton has been one of the rare Jacksonville politicians that have spoken up in opposition to this dangerous legislation.  Peyton penned a letter to Charlie Crist asking him to veto the bill.

As Jacksonville’s Riverkeeper so clearly states, this bill is a “poison pill” and should be vetoed.  Voice your concerns with the Governor by e-mailing him at Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com or calling him at 850-488-7146.

Let your voice be heard.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, , , , , , ,

The Ghost of Shipyards Past, Part 1

The Ghost of Shipyards Past is a 3-part series that will run on consecutive Sundays.

News that LandMar Group LLC, the developer of the infamous Jacksonville Shipyards site, had filed bankruptcy this past Wednesday thrust the haunted development back into the center of all things controversial.

In 1992, the storied Jacksonville Shipyards closed its doors forever as a ship-making operation.  Three years later, Jay Hanan, a local developer, announced grand plans for the site and purchased the property.  He went bankrupt two years later.  The property was purchased as part of a bankruptcy settlement by the Spence family.  The family intended to build warehouse facilities on the site for use in their cold storage business.

In the book, “Guts”—written by Susan Brandenburg—Carlton Spence recalled the time when he first approached Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney to share his plans for the long-abandoned site.  The city had recently passed The Better Jacksonville Plan, recalled Mr. Spence, and the Mayor was riding high.

“When we met,” said Spence, “he told me he didn’t care what we did with the shipyard property and there was no money in Jacksonville to assist us in the development.”  Money, Spence had replied, was not what what he was looking for.  He was simply there as a courtesy to let the Mayor know of his plans for the site.  Those plans involved the construction of warehousing that would house the family’s burgeoning cold-storage business.

According to Spence, it was the Mayor who made the next move.  By this time, the city was in the running for the 2005 Super Bowl and plans called for docking cruise ships on the St. Johns River to serve as floating hotels.  The Mayor wanted to use the Shipyards as part of those plans, something that Spence readily agreed to.  Spence also assured the Mayor that the site would be cleaned up in time for the Super Bowl.

It was at that second meeting, Spence says, that John Delaney first suggested that the Spence family scuttle their plans to build warehouses on the site and instead develop the property into a mixed-use site.  Spence says that the Mayor said that the city could possibly help with funding the development or the Spence family could “Just give us the shipyards and we’ll take them off your hands.”

The vision of TriLegacy LLC had been born.  An $865 million development that would forever alter the face of Jacksonville’s riverfront was conceived.  The property would include housing, office, commercial space, boat slips and a public park.  According to Spence, it would be the largest private development in Jacksonville’s history.

Check back next week for the second installment of The Ghost of Shipyards Past.

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Georgia-Pacific’s St. Johns Pipeline Delayed

From the St. Augustine Daily Record:

Georgia-Pacific’s paper plant in Palatka will not be allowed to build its proposed new 40-million-gallons-per-day pipeline into the middle of the St. Johns River until the company lowers its discharge of dioxin, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Monday.
A six-page letter from DEP’s Northeast District Director Gregory J. Strong lists other corrective actions the company must complete before the agency will consider the pipeline permit.
“We have new information as a result of the high-volume sampling conducted last year,” Strong said Monday afternoon.

You can find the full article here.

Filed under: Florida, ,

Jobs May Have Lead Over River’s Health

In his editorial today, Ron Littlepage wonders about the answer to the question that many of us are askng ourselves –  which will the City choose: the river’s health or jobs at Jaxport?  I believe we may already have an indication of which way the Mayor is currently leaning.

In 2006, Mayor Peyton proudly announced the River Accord,  a 10-year, $700 million program to begin restoring the health of the Lower St. Johns River Basin.  According to the City’s River Accord website,the City of Jacksonville, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), the JEA, the Water Sewer Expansion Authority (WSEA) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are members of the Accord. Together, these partners committed $700 million to reduce the amount of nitrogen discharged into the river by closing wastewater treatment plants, improving other wastewater treatment plants and building pipelines necessary to reuse treated wastewater for irrigation of lawns, parks, and golf courses, eliminating failing septic tanks, and capturing and treating stormwater before it enters the river.  JEA committed to contribute $200 million toward the Accord; the SJRWMD, up to $150 million; the city, $150 million; and the remaining $200 million would be sought from various federal and state sources. Their investments would be the largest in the Lower St. Johns River Basin’s history. 

As you may also recall, the St. Johns River Water Management District has already opined that dredging the river to the depth requested by Jaxport would cause more damage than any surface water withdrawals proposed.  In fact, the water management district estimated that the river would become 1/5 more salty in a preliminary report issued back in January.  So one might surmise that the Mayor would be in favor of supporting the river’s health over Jaxport’s channel deepening request – especially in light of the fact that the City has expended close to $600,000 to fight Seminole County’s request to withdraw 5.5 million gallons of St. Johns River water each day. 

But when it comes to the millions upon millions of dollars and thousands of jobs that Jaxport could bring in by deepening the river channel to accomodate post-Panamax ships, I hate to give Littlepage an answer that he may not  like, but…I think jobs will win out.  I say this for several reasons.  According to a Jaxport employee, Jaxport has been planning on post-Panamax ships since 2005 – long before any river withdrawal permits were being considered.  In addition, the Mayor had originally been involved in the discussion and the agreement with Hanjin that guarantees them the ability to bring in a post-Panamax size ship. If you recall, he traveled to Seoul to attend the signing ceremony.  The Mayor and others have been busy putting together requests for stimulus funding for road projects to enhance the roads around the port, as well.  In addition, according to Mayor’s staff E-mails, the Mayor recently accompanied Rick Ferrin, Executive Director of Jaxport, and Herschel Vinyard, Jaxport Board member, to Washington, DC, to meet with Col. Salt, the current Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Works at the Army Corps of Engineers in DC, to discuss port dredging issues.  In fact, the Port has already been busy lining up congressional representatives to support having the channel deepened to 50 feet by 2015  – a project that could cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion. 

While I know Littlepage would like to believe that the Mayor would choose the river’s health over jobs, I believe that all of the signs currently indicate that the Mayor may instead be leaning toward jobs.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Mayor of Jacksonville, ,

Revisiting Downtown Development

Mayor Peyton’s announcement last week that he intends to devote the last two years of his term to a renewed focus on revitalizing downtown Jacksonville has received mixed reviews.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his announcement was the timing of it.  The Mayor, after all, had just left the morning session of Reality Check First Coast, where one of the major topics of discussion centered on how to create a renewed focus on our city’s unique riverfront.

The Mayor’s critics point to a series of incomplete or abandoned initiatives during his term in office, including the Duval County Courthouse project, the Shipyards project, plans to reopen Cecil Field and the “Jacksonville Journey” crime prevention program, to name a few.  In addition, some have noticed that the renewed focus on downtown is strikingly similar to previous ideas floated, and quickly abandoned, not too long ago.  That aside, downtown Jacksonville and the riverfront are community treasures that deserve and desperately need the attention of city leaders.

Few cities in the southern United States can claim a history as rich and unique as Jacksonville.  The St. Johns River, or Rivière du Mai as the French originally named it, has played a central role in our development and emergence as a great city for well over a century.  We have spent millions cleaning it up, and it is therefore natural that our next step should be to expand the public’s access to it.  This goal, however, would be of marginal value without a significant revitalization of downtown Jacksonville.

Adam Hollingsworth, Mayor Peyton’s Chief of Staff, has said that the river will be at the heart of the Mayor’s plans.  “Opening up the park to the river and to the sports/entertainment complex, with a more cohesive and engaging design will create a community destination and gathering place,” he said.   “We need these up and down the river. That’s why the Mayor also talked about Friendship Park, the JEA site and future uses for the courthouse, annex and shipyards properties.

Certainly, a vibrant downtown is a key to a successful, thriving city.  The city’s downtown core and surrounding historic districts are in effect the “glue” that holds the diverse and widespread sections of this city together.  When the city’s core suffers from neglect and disrepair, we begin losing our identity as a unified community and become nothing more than a disparate collection of neighborhoods and suburbs.  Developing new and revitalizing old waterfront parks would serve as a tremendous draw in bringing people back to downtown.  The Mayor realizes that, says his chief of staff.  “He’s been inspired by the success of the Riverside Arts Market, Art Walk and many of the great events hosted week after week and year after year. It’s a density and diversity of activity we need to build on.  It will make downtown Jacksonville the place to be, prompting, we hope, additional retail and commercial activity.  Remember, downtown development is the most efficient for taxpayers.  It is designed for density and already has the infrastructure in place.”

However, how will Mayor Peyton convince the public this cause is one that he is personally committed to and will fully support through any potential opposition until it becomes reality?  This will be a major obstacle requiring the Mayor’s best leadership and persuasion skills, particularly in light of the aforementioned “Jacksonville Journey” initiative that he appeared to abandon several days after assuring community leaders of his support.  People’s memories can be very long in relation to those types of actions, and if the Mayor needs the support of many in that group, as he most certainly will, convincing them that this initiative will be different may prove to be his most daunting challenge.  Another obvious challenge considering today’s economic environment is funding.  In a time of extremely tight budgets across a wide spectrum, how will the city manage to fund public acquisition of private property along with necessary improvements?

None of these reasons should prevent the Mayor from aggressively pursuing this plan, but they do represent the challenges he will face as he works to implement this plan and others in an effort to build a legacy during his final years in office.  One of the first ways he could demonstrate his commitment to this cause would be by opening discussions on strengthening the City’s comprehensive plan and revamping the city’s zoning code in Chapter 656 of the City Ordinance Code.  The Mayor could always follow in the example of Portland or Miami by establishing an urban growth boundary.  He could push for measures that discourage greenfield growth and encourage urban infill.  These actions would send a much louder signal than a press conference ever could.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , ,

Riverkeeper Fighting Water Management District’s Decision

From Riverhugger:

Jacksonville, FL — St. Johns Riverkeeper filed an appeal today with the Fifth District Court of Appeal, challenging the recent decision by the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) Governing Board to allow Seminole County to remove millions of gallons of water a day from the flow of the St. Johns River. The Court is located in Daytona, Florida.

With the filing, St. Johns Riverkeeper makes good on its promise to continue its fight to protect the river and ends Seminole County’s hopes that concerned citizens throughout Florida would pull back from their two-year struggle to prevent the withdrawal of water from the St. Johns. Last year, St. Johns Riverkeeper, the City of Jacksonville, and St. Johns County filed for an administrative hearing to challenge the permit.

The full press release can be read here.  (Hat Tip: The Urban Core)

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

Seminole County Wants More Than Our Water

Seminole County wants more than Jacksonville’s water.  They’ve now decided they desperately need our tourism dollars as well.  Fresh off their victory over Duval, Putnam and St. Johns County in their bid to draw up to 5 million gallons of water per day from the St. Johns River, Seminole County has begun advertising in North Florida’s largest media outlet—The Florida Times-Union—seeking visitors to “Florida’s Natural Choice.”  Of course, the ads don’t mention that they manage to bring “Nature Nearer” by sucking it straight out of North Florida’s most treasured natural resource—the St. Johns River.  I don’t know about you, but until Seminole County has embraced conservation and solved their water shortage issues without causing irreprable harm to Florida’s ecosystem, I think I’ll choose to spend my tourism dollars elsewhere.  The ads are below… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

Seminole County Can Draw Down St. Johns River

From The Florida Times-Union:

A plan to take water from the St. Johns River to supply growing Central Florida suburbs won approval from a state agency Monday despite pleas from scores of opponents.

“This is the most difficult decision that has come to the board in my term,” said Susan Hughes, chairman of the St. Johns River Water Management District board.

She supported the permit, which the board passed on a 5-4 vote.

The decision allows Seminole County’s utility system to take up to 5.5 million gallons daily for drinking water and lawn watering.

Many critics warned that would open a floodgate of communities wanting to take far more.

This decision is disastrous for Jacksonville and all of North Florida.  The results, once other Central Florida communities realize how easy it is to pull one over on the St. Johns River Water Management District, could be devastating for the long-term health of our St. Johns River.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , ,

District approves St. Johns River Water Withdrawal Permit

Following a hearing loaded with hundreds of citizens opposing the proposed permit for Seminole County to withdraw water from the St. Johns River, the St. Johns River Water Management District voted 5-4 to approve the permit Monday evening.

If a legislator wanted to reform the water management districts with plenty of support from the public,  now would be a good time to propose that reform.  Why?  According to the Orlando Sentinel, the water management district received over 19,000 e-mails regarding the proposed permit and the vast majority of them were against the issuance of the permit.

Read the story from the Orlando Sentinel here.

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Florida Politics, Jacksonville, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , ,

Save the St. Johns River!

It’s not too late to make your voice heard on Seminole County’s plan to draw nearly a billion gallons of water from the St. Johns River each year.  The only way for Jacksonville’s residents to make their voices heard on this issue is to attend the meeting of the St. Johns River Water Management District in Palatka on Monday:

 Monday, April 13th at 1:00 p.m. 
SJRWMD Headquarters
4049 Reid Street
Palatka, FL 32177

St. Johns Riverkeeper will be providing bus transportation from Jacksonville to Palatka. To reserve a seat on the bus, e-mail Neil Armingeon, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, at narming@ju.edu and type “Bus Trip” in the subject line.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , ,

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