Conservation News – Whitey Markle

News from the Conservation Chair: THE CARNAGE CONTINUES IN TALLAHASSEE.

In the aftermath of the Amendment 1 victory, the illustrious legislature is running wide open with the Amendment 1 funds. It is perplexing to see how a few hard-headed politicians run the state government in the face of such public pressure.

As Dr. Bob Knight (Florida Springs Council) said, “Unfortunately, there is little hope that the existing state government will actually strengthen enforcement of environmental laws. This session the Florida Legislature is more concerned about the appearance of increased water resource protection than with passing laws that increase safeguards that adequately protect and restore Florida’s waters. Instead they wish to use this Amendment 1 money to create harmful alternative water supplies by putting more pumps into depleted rivers, and to create more public infrastructure to facilitate additional urban development. Some of them are saying that Florida already has too much conserved land held as a public trust.”

Senator Alan Hays of Umatilla (Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee) quoted “massive emails” that he said endorsed his opinion that the state of Florida owned too much conservation land in introducing his funding proposal of a mere $2 million (out of the $720 million Documentary Stamp projected funding for Amendment 1)for land acquisition. Subsequently, Senator Altman (a fellow republican Senator) scolded the Appropriations committee for acting unconstitutionally and then introduced an amendment to Senator Hays’ bill, proposing $300 million for the Florida Forever funding. That amendment was immediately overruled in the committee and a substitute amendment by Senator Bradley (represents part of Alachua County) was given the sanction of the committee for a mere $30 million stipend. Senator Altman deserves a medal of honor for his bold criticism and attempt to make things right with the voters of Florida.

Senator Hays also said he wants Florida’s 670,000 acres of state parks to be potentially open to low-impact agriculture. Who is guiding the “leaders” here? Are we so lost here in Florida that “growth” is our only focus? Florida will eventually be the new Las Vegas if we continue down this path.

Dr.Bob Palmer (Sierra Club member and Legislative/Chair for the Florida Springs Council) stated last week that: “HB 7003 does nothing for springs (and)   –SB 918 is getting weaker with each iteration.  The 3 most useful provisions in the bill filed by Sen. Dean in February are all gone: (1) new stricter “harm” standard for MFLs, (2) all existing MFLs to be re-done under the new standard, (3) delineation of Springs Protection and Management Zones.  What we’re left with in the bill is a hodge-podge of provisions that slightly accelerate the currently ineffective regulatory regime.  Sen. Dean and his staff vigorously defend the current version, but I have a great deal of difficulty in getting excited about it.

Chris Curry (Editor of the Gainesville Sun) stated in a recent article: “The addition of sections

involving the Everglades and a Central Florida Water Initiative partnership has swelled Senate Bill 918 from 46 pages to more than 150. Lawmakers have removed or loosened some provisions involving springs protections and added concessions for agricultural operations and other groundwater pumping permit holders. With one more committee stop before a full Senate vote, some springs advocates who felt the House water bill did nothing to protect springs but saw promise in the Senate are now pessimistic that any legislation improving the springs will come out of Tallahassee this session. As the bill went through committee, a provision establishing springs protection and management zones in the geographic area around the state’s outstanding springs was removed and replaced with “priority focus” areas around those springs. Some of the regulations on septic tanks in those areas also were loosened. A provision to upgrade or replace septic tanks in those designated areas was changed to require such actions only if the septic tanks are shown to be the cause of at least 20 percent of the nonpoint source pollution — pollution that does not flow from a single source such as an industrial operation or sewage plant — in the springs area.

On a higher, but still depressing note, Gainesville’s John Moran published the following this week: “If I had the ear of the governor, I’d encourage him to use the power of the bully pulpit on Earth Day to inspire us all to embrace a new way of thinking about water in Florida.

“Dear Florida,” the governor could declare. “We have a drinking problem, and we have a substance abuse problem. Yes, my fellow Floridians, we are pumping way too much groundwater, and we are using way too much fertilizer and other contaminants. As Mother Earth has shown us, she can no longer bear the abuse. We are killing our springs and we are poisoning our drinking water.

“I call upon all Floridians to accept that resistance to change is no longer an option. We shall start with the low-hanging fruit and I am today directing all state agencies — and urging all Floridians — to cease the use of landscaping fertilizer and irrigation, for the benefits of artificially enhanced lawns and landscaping come at a cost too high, as seen in the sliming and depletion of our once-lovely springs.”

And if I could have a word with our legislators, I would remind them that the business of government isn’t business; it’s wellbeing.

And to our business leaders, I contend there can be no long-term well being in Florida if we continue to use and abuse water like there’s no tomorrow.” The sad conclusion: For a mere $10 per citizen, all of Florida’s water problems could be solved. How did our state government get into this position?


Tamara Robbins, former SSJ chair, with Karen Arrington and a handful of local activists have demonstrated the kind of activism that all good citizens should show in the City of Alachua. In the March 23, 2015 City of Alachua Commission Meeting in which the purpose of the gathering was to amend their official zoning atlas from a 154 acre planned unit development (PUD) and agriculture to Commercial Intensive, Community Commercial, and Government Facilities, citizens were overruled and dismissed as “unaffected” by the council chair while being chided by Walmart’s lawyer. At the end of that meeting, the Council voted to move forward with the second reading which will have been conducted (April 27th) by the time this article is published.

In the meantime, Alachua County Commissioner Mike Byerly (SSJ member also), with County Attorney, Michele Lieberman, and several county staff, thanks to Tamara Robbins’ communication, appeared at a hearing last week to tell the Council that the voters of Alachua County had endorsed an amendment to the County’s charter in 2002 (with a subsequent ordinance by the Board of County Commissioners) regarding Clean Water Protection. The County’s authority (because it is one of the few Florida Charter Counties) to stand up to municipalities and the legislature on land use decisions is written in this charter amendment, making this is an opportunity to “Flex its muscle” in such issues like this one and the City of Hawthorne’s move to incorporate the eastern half of the county in the Plum Creek case.

So, although the Alachua City Council refused to hear “affected” citizens in the March 23rd hearing, Commissioner Byerly and the county staff were able to establish standing in the deliberations, saying that because the County owns conservation land at Hornsby Spring, it is therefore “affected”. In an official document from the County, County Attorney Lieberman stated that there is indeed a sinkhole on the property in question that links directly to the Floridan Aquifer and therefore the drainage plan will affect County property.

Also the Suwannee River Water Management District has become involved due to the presence of cattle in the property surrounding the T-K Basin (City of Alachua property and the drain hole for the 150 acre proposed Intensive Commercial development and several adjoining properties). It turns out nobody knows who owns the cattle that are apparently not abiding by the District’s Best Management Practices.


 Thanks to Sandra Marafino of the Marion Audubon and the Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club’s Tricounty Working Group, the Halpata Taskanaki tract in Southwest Marion County was taken off of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s surplus land list this month. Nine of our members, headed by yours truly and Nancy Host showed up at a meeting set by the SWFWMD in Brooksville on April 2 regarding “surplus land sales”. Apparently our efforts paid off and, although another very critical tract, the Annutteliga Hammock Tract, was not deleted from the list, the Halpata Taskanaki tract was. We were apparently able to convince the SWFWMD representatives that the Halpata tract was crucial to the Florida Scrub jay which was officially listed as a threatened state species by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 1975 and it was listed as a threatened federal species by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1987. Thanks to good bird-watching by persons such as Mrs. Marafino, the Scrub Jay’s presence was well-documented. Unfortunately such documentation had to be pointed out to the District’s representatives. Congratulations on this small but significant victory.

By Whitey Markle, Conservation Chair