Conservation Report March 2016

By Whitey Markle

I attended 2 solid nights of testimony at Eastside High School on February 16th and 18th and, at that point only 100 people had spoken out of nearly 300. So it looks like at least 2 more nights of testimony before the County Commission can vote on the massive comprehensive plan amendments that Plum Creek is asking for. Our former Chair, Dave Wilson kept a running tally of the speakers’ comments and found that 67 were against the proposed changes and only 24 were in favor of them. If only the commissioners could vote with their constituents the outcome would be satisfactory. We don’t believe that is the case with all the commissioners.

David Cullen, Sierra Club’s lobbyist in Tallahassee, sent me a list of bills in the Florida legislature that are “important for the Florida Sierra Club”.  He listed 106 bills that are on the legislative agenda for the second half of the 2016 session. No wonder they were in such a hurry to pass the Water Bill in the first weeks.  The bills range from Agritourism (That’s a new twist in mind management, huh?) to Waste Management. We often wonder how so much legislation gets dumped onto the legislature. Well, it’s not so complicated if you consider the following facts:

  • No bills are written by legislators.  All bills are written by their campaign donors. Ooops! I meant to say lobbyists. And there is one lobbyist for every 2 legislators on average.  Thus the abundance of legislation before them.
  • The State Lands Bill is 135 pages in itself; takes the better part of a day to read it. If you want to talk about COMPREHENSIVE, this one is comprehensive, alright.   And it’s written in typical legalize so you and I can’t understand it and you can bet the average legislator can’t either. Thank heaven we’ve got people like David Cullen analyzing this stuff as well as he can. He deserves a big pay raise in my opinion.
  • Every legal action environmentalists have taken in recent Florida legislative and bureaucratic history has turned out to be dismissed in the administrative courtroom.  So, even if a legislator  were smart enough to realize he is supporting a bill that is illegal or nearly so, he is probably also smart enough to know the public doesn’t have a dog’s chance of challenging it.
  • Volunteer organizations like ours simply are outmanned and outmoneyed.  It’s just that simple.

So things look more dismal than ever in the Capitol from our point of view.  I keep saying to myself that we must at the bottom of the hole regarding Florida’s environmental situation, but it just keeps getting worse. I try to refer to Winny Churchill’s reference to “our finest hour”, but apparently it ain’t here yet!
Some examples of the ridiculous bills follow:

  • The Water Bill.  Did nothing to improve the water situation. Although it was touted by the good Governor and its “author”, Senator Charlie Dean as historical.  It allows further  overconsumption by the big agricultural interests, utilities, and energy conglomerates.  “Ask and ye still shall receive”,  it seems is the theme, as if we had plenty of free water available. Obviously science is not in the playbook when dealing with our most valuable resources.
  • The Parks Bill, called State Lands .  Plain and simple highway robbery of the taxpayers of Florida. 135 pages of legislative language, made for lawyers.  All of this in the face of Amendment 1.  Apparently the “lobbyists” used magnifying glasses to search the wording and find what they consider loopholes in the constitutional amendment that 75% of the voters sanctioned.  The Florida Sierra Club staged a dozen demonstrations this last month to enhance public awareness of the issue.  CS1075 (PUBLIC LANDS) PASSED THE FLORIDA HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON STATE AFFAIRS ON FEB. 18 WITH ABSOLUTELY NO “NAYS” after a massive effort to reject it on our part.  Something is terribly wrong in Tallahassee.
  • Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and oil. In a state that has eternally opposed oil drilling with a geology that is obviously not right, the legislature moves forward.
  • Energy Policy.  Big energy, using their “access” to the legislature, outlaws citizens’ choice to use renewable energy sources.  What used to be a federal incentive to install solar technology  by individual homeowners is punished by allowing the energy companies to charge such additional fees to solar users that the choice has stopped being used.  The “best public interest” in the law is again interpreted as profits for stockholders.
  • Food Labelling, Waste Management, Expressway Authority, Public Records, Pesticide Registration, Florida Black Bears, Plastic Bags, Hybrid vehicles, Developments with regional Impact, on and on…the list seems endless.

Four well-to-do families in Union and Bradford counties are planning to commence mining of phosphate along the New River. Rebecca Parker, a Union County native alerted us to the issue last week at our EXCOM meeting. Between then and Tuesday evening (4 days), she had gathered 300 signatures on a petition protesting the proposed mining operation in her neighborhood and presented it to the Union County Board of County Commissioners. The evening TV news reported a fine scenario of the meeting in which all 5 commissioners listened to an irate crowd without much reaction. The general consensus from the commission was that they couldn’t comment (by law I suppose) because no formal application has been made for the operation.

The plain and simple fact is nowhere in Florida is phosphate absent in the soil. No phosphate is needed in Florida . It is one of the biggest reasons our water is polluted. Phosphate has always been in our soil, but with the addition of excessive Nitrates, phosphate actually is stimulated and subsequently  fertilizes the algae we see in our surface and ground waters.  Any phosphate that is mined and sold out of this or any other Florida phosphate mine will exit Florida strictly for the profit of 4 families who apparently don’t need the money.

One of the Union County commissioners expressed the philosophy that a person should be able to do what he wishes with his land. This is true with the exception of the fact that he can’t cause harm to his  neighbors. The New River feeds into the upper Santa Fe which is already “impaired” by the federal  Environmental  Protection Agency and the land is proximal to a wetlands area that is owned by the state and should be protected. Likely it is karst and therefore very vulnerable.  Also the local roads will be extremely impacted by the transportation moving the product out of the mining area.

This is just another example of the Florida situation. We hope to mount a good fight against the environmental destruction this operation will cause.  We realize how money works in these situations and we expect a serious battle if the families proceed as they are planning. Our sincere appreciation goes out to the 100 citizens that showed up for the first hearing.

Had the cities of Gainesville and Ocala planned their transportation adequately, there would be beltways around them like there are in Jacksonville and Tampa to handle the local commuter traffic. Such is not the case. So we have eternal “congestion” around these two cities on I-75.  Additionally, the good governor has big plans to move the Florida population, goods, and services out of the big cities and into the hinterlands.  No doubt his donors like Plum Creek and St. Joe Corporation have great influence on his planning.
I’ve heard a dozen theories about where the Tampa-Jax Corridor  will be laid. At this point in time the Suncoast Parkway has been approved to go to a dead-end in mid-Citrus County just south of Dunnellon. Lord knows where it will go from there. Certainly not through Ocala; Certainly not thru Paynes Prairie. Any other locations are conjecture. Marion County Commissioner Stan McLain, the Marion County delegate to the Relief Task Force stated last week that “The maps may be out in 2 months”. We know from the way the Suncoast Parkway extension to Citrus County was designed and implemented that the actual route will be unveiled after it is finalized.

So the rumors fly. Meanwhile FDOT is holding town hall meetings around the area to espouse the greatness of the new massive road . No details are discussed. There is always a 10 minute presentation on the strict adherence to the Sunshine Law. Nothing like a little humor in the proceedings.