Conservation Report for November


By Whitey Markle


A GOVERNMENT OF SECRECY                                                                                                                

Florida’s state government continues a policy of secrecy in its policy-making. The Florida Sierra Chapter’s director, Frank Jackalone, sent me an email last week from a member in the Nature Coast area.  He was asking Jackalone why the Sierra Club (and others) was not opposing the Suncoast Parkway extension which will run thru the nature coast (Hernando, Citrus Counties). “As you know the reason why we couldn’t stop it before is that we waited until after they began construction to oppose it.” The Parkway extension has been opposed since its (secret) inception several years ago. There was a huge public pushback against the Parkway which was ignored by the state agencies and its designer, Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise.  “Suncoast 2” is scheduled to begin early next year. But that is half of the matter: After inquiring to members in Citrus County, I got the following response from SSJ member,Ben Berhauer in Citrus County: “Of course the first phase of the Suncoast 2 is going from US 98 to US 44 near Crystal Oaks Drive.  I was told by a Citrus County Commissioner that the next phase is going to be fast tracked by Governor Scott to head toward Jacksonville.  I was told this at a Citrus County Citizen’s Academy class last week.  I still have not seen this publicly disclosed in the media or the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida’s Turnpike Authority website. Prior to this information the next phase was completely undisclosed by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, as to what the next phase might be.  Originally it was to head toward Crystal River / Red Level in Citrus.  But my sources are now saying it will take the alternative route to becoming an alternate truck route to Jacksonville.   The route of the Suncoast extension beyond US 44 towards Jacksonville is largely unannounced.  We will all have to wait until the Florida Turnpike Enterprise divulges the information.  I will attempt to be one of the first to find out, and will let you know when I do.  I expect it will be yet another fully financed priority project announced by Gov. Scott after it is a done deal, just like the Suncoast 2 was. No one I know in Citrus thinks there is any chance of stopping Suncoast 2.  It was a done deal before the public meeting inviting public input and comment.  I have a Citrus Co commissioner source that told me only last week that Governor Scott has already prioritized and authorized the next extension which will go towards Jacksonville rather than the prior planned route towards NW Citrus Co.  That will also likely be a done deal by the time we formally hear of it.  That appears to be the way Scott and the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, is handling the entire affair.”

  This is a small example of how the present Tallahassee administration works.  The US 301 Corridor, a superhighway from Tampa/Orlando to Jacksonville is a golden opportunity for the outsiders like Rick Scott to destroy the most pristine part of Florida for the sake of growth and, of course, short-term profit, big time.  That’s what this is all about and you know the likes of Plum Creek Corporation is slapdab in the middle of the conniving. The way I see it, when we failed to elect someone else in the last election, the good Governor took it as a “mandate”. My colleagues tell me the developers feel the vacuum and are taking full advantage. They have practically dissolved the sunshine law, dismantled growth management, stripped the Water Management Districts staffs as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and boned the park system to name a few agencies we are concerned with directly. (Since June of 2012, when Ann Shortelle became Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, 41 of 68 employees have been removed without replacement). Shortelle has moved on to the St. Johns River Water Management District to clean house there. Insiders tell me the new Director, Noah Valstein won’t bother moving to Live Oak from Tallahassee. Maybe he has a free helicopter or a future job nearer to his home. That’s what they say.  Where were the voters? I think they are totally despondent. 15% of them voted in the last election.

BEARS ARE THE LOSERS.                                                                                                                                                   Unfortunately the Black Bears don’t have a lobby in corrupt Tallahassee. And the Florida Fish and Wildlife  Conservation Commission (FWC) doesn’t know what Conservation means. Every one of the Governor’s appointees to the commission is an avid hunter and most of them are developers of some sort.  None of them are conservationists. That’s how bad it is in Tallahassee.  As with all the agencies we deal with, the “public input” meetings are merely a requisite for moving business along. In this case: hunting bears. Seriously, that is why this flock of FWC governors got themselves get a trophy bear and weaken the wildlife protection policies that slow development. A serious contingent of conservationists drove across the state several  times to repeat the message that the proposed Bear Hunting scheme didn’t make sense nor have competent data only to be totally (and I mean totally) ignored . As is the case in our present state government, the policy is determined before the public is notified. Period! A coalition of conservationist organizations sued the FWC for injunctive relief only to be denied relief by the courts. So much for Conservation.


Last year at the first of a series of public meetings concerning the management of Orange Lake, I pointed out a study by the Orange Lake Basin Working Group back in the early 90s which recommended, among several alternatives, the removal of the U.S 301 infill across the foot of Orange Lake and its replacement by a “causeway”. Such a construction would obviously allow the poor old lake to cleans itself after having filled with from the highway with muck and pollutants since 1962 when the highway was built in its present form (bridges are expensive compared to dirt underfill).  When I made the case, the citizens were jubilant. The DEP, DOT, and FWC personnel seemed to agree and seconded my thesis.  But unfortunately the thought has disappeared in that short time period. A citizens/landowners organization, The Orange Lake Association, has dropped the subject from their platter as have the governmental agencies. When the Florida Wildlife Commission, who is charged with the conservation of the lake’s habitat, hired Normandeau and Associates to do their data collection last year, the subject of US 301 was not in the book. I was interviewed by Normandeau’s representatives, but not allowed to talk about the real solution: the US 301 Causeway.  Well now, that only leaves the traditional alternative policies: herbicides, harvesting, and shredding. The problem in Orange Lake is a fundamental lack of oxygen. No matter how many Bass fingerlings FWC pays for and stocks into the lake, they must have oxygen to grow. Unfortunately the muck, pollutants, and dead vegetation can’t flush naturally out of the lake with the US 301 highway in its present form. A potentiometric map of the lake clearly shows a teeny nipple of an outlet at the highway box culvert. Old maps of the lake show a flood zone across the width of the original waterway which would allow total drainage. Herbicide spraying contains 2-4-D among some chemicals I can’t pronounce nor spell, and it uses up oxygen from the water, harvesting is somewhat expensive and demands a space for dumping, and shredding puts green debris in the water that rots and uses up the oxygen.  FWC espouses spraying in this day and age of economic austerity. (After all, the good Governor did use some of their funds too to pay off some of the fines he and his surrogates incurred).   The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is lukewarm to cold on the US 301 Causeway idea. The FDOT representative at the last Basin Management Action Plan meeting in Gainesville told me, “something like that has to be in the 5 year plan.” To which I replied, “Well, Mark, I’m only 71 and we’ve been bouncing this idea around now for 15 years, so let’s put it on the table!”  


The Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club has decided to withdraw as a plaintiff in the Adena Springs Consumptive Water Use permit appeal . It was decided that the expense was too high for the risk involved. However, the Chapter will support the St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Florida Defenders of the Environment in their (same) appeal with a $5000 stipend of support. This is probably the best tactic at this point in Florida’s environmental/political history. The Florida Springs Council Legal team believes that the section of the Florida Water Resources Act that regulates water quantity is too vague to fight in court, and therefore the emphasis should be on water quality which is spelled  out in exact numbers (mg/l). If and when the illustrious legislature funds the Nitrate concentration study in the Floridan Aquifer, the law should be much easier to interpret.