By Whitey Markle
LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UP: THE END OF A TERRIBLE YEAR
In 2014, 75 percent of voters said yes on amending the state Constitution to set aside part of the documentary stamp tax to buy fragile lands, important habitat, wetlands and water recharge areas. That’s more people than said yes to Rick Scott, the Cabinet or any member of the Legislature.
But some votes are more equal than others. You’re not Big Ag or Big Frack. You’re not Big Sugar. You voted; the Legislature ignored you. Some legislators appear to be above us and smarter than us voters. My favorite is Representative Keith Perry who said the night before the last election that (to paraphrase), “Us legislators know how your money should be spent and we don’t need you plebeians meddling in our business.” He was referring to Amendment One. Then we have Senator Hays who decided arrogantly that the state owns too much conservation land, regardless of our vote on the amendment.
What amazed me in the State Senate and House proceedings was how EVERY legislator voted “yea” on the pitiful bills that ended up in the final votes. So the Amendment One money that should have been spent on spring sheds or longleaf pine forests or wildlife corridors or aquifer protection will go instead to Workers Compensation claims, car rentals, office furniture, salaries and bonuses, and much more routine expenditures that normally would be paid out of the General Fund. Florida Forever, our conservation land-buying program, got $17 million — a tenth of what that bunch of state agencies received, even though there was $550 million available. Where did that Florida Forever funding go? Into the general budget, where you’ll never see it again. I don’t get it. The Sierra Club and the Florida Defenders of the Environment are still waiting on a decision in circuit court regarding their lawsuit over the Amendment 1 spending fiasco. Senator Thad Altman, a Republican who actually cares about the environment and what his constituents think, tried to put $222 million of Amendment One money back into the budget and should be given a medal for standing up to the Florida senate republicans. His motion was thrown out on the grounds that it was “out of order” because with the money for conservation lands, the Senate budget would be “out of balance.”
A good example of the ineffective legislation was reported by Jim Ash (WFSU news), who wrote on March 18 about tightening water pollution standards and dealing with water shortages in Central Florida: “(Although) the legislators are congratulating themselves, they are giving themselves too much credit,” quoting Dr. Bob Palmer, SSJ member and chairman of the Florida Springs Council’s political committee. “The bill is full of loopholes. For example, it says groundwater withdraws don’t have to be measured if the pipe is less than eight inches in diameter. You can have a six-inch pipe, you could pump a million gallons a day through a six-inch pipe, and you wouldn’t be required to meter that because it’s not an eight-inch pipe. It’s just silly.” House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach tried to add a key goal for the Springs Council. His amendment would have led to limits on the amount of groundwater that can be pumped from a single water management district.“Permits are analyzed individually. Cumulative effects are discounted. Actual data on water flows are ignored in favor of model predictions. There is an inherent bias towards granting permits for economic reasons. “
On a lighter note, a bill was sent to the good governor to be placed on the Florida ballot in the August primary that will exempt renewable energy devices from Ad Valorem taxes on the local level, somewhat of an incentive for solar hardware in Florida. The big energy corporations are adamantly opposed to this type of legislation. We should push for votes on this amendment in August and we should continue to collect the petitions for the Floridians for Solar Choice Amendment while we attempt to counter the “phony” amendment called Smart Solar that is paid for and sponsored by the big power companies that propose constitutional amendments and is presently in Florida Supreme Court being challenged on the grounds that its wording is misleading the voters.
PHOSPHATE MINING IN UNION AND BRADFORD COUNTIES
As of March 22, the Union County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to move a one year moratorium on applications for special use permits for mining in Union County to its third and final reading. This resolution will allow for time to study and plan for a solution to the Union County land use code.
Perfectly timed was a discovery that the applicants had already begun destroying massive amounts of wetlands by ditching and draining and by sinking 38 test wells WITHOUT ANY PERMITS AT ALL. As a solution, the Suwannee Water Management District fined them a whopping $454. This calculates to a charge of a little under $12 for each well in violation of the law. The illegal ditches are yet to be reconciled. So much for state oversight in situations like this. I pointed out in my testimony before the Board of Commissioners that such lax enforcement (they could have been fined up to $10,000) was a good example of the potential danger of referring to the state agencies for guidance during the moratorium.
OVAL PIG TOE MUSSEL
The good news is that several Oval Pigtoe Mussels were discovered in that portion of the New River recently, which means that the federal Environmental Protection Agency could soon be involved in the issue.
The area surrounding the potential mining operation (11,000 total acres within ½ mile of the New River which flows into the Santa Fe River near Worthington Springs) is pristine Florida countryside. Like so many small North Florida towns, the Lake Butler area is inhabited by people who live there because of its ambiance. Unfortunately, the 4 owners of the potential operation also control the local commerce, so many of the local inhabitants tend to be reluctant to speak out against the proposed operation.
A miracle may occur as a result: a Phosphate mining operation that uses state-of-the-art (non-existent today) operation that creates industry without environmental destruction. And if this miracle does evolve we have to look across the New River to yet another, more severe problem: the Bradford County Commission seems to be gung-ho on allowing the operation on their side of the river without a moratorium or regulation through their land use code. Perhaps they will look at Union County as a good example. Stay tuned.
Also, please be sure to purchase your tickets for the fundraiser on the http://SSJSIERRACLUB.EVENTBRITE.COM site. Not only could you win the cottage for five persons with all the amenities on the Withlacoochee River, a pile of fine dining coupons, tour-guided boat excursions, and much more, but you will also be donating to the SSJ treasury to help finance our campaigns, publications, and educational materials and equipment and, most importantly, the economic impact study of the Ocklawaha and Silver Rivers. Without your financial help,many of these would not be possible. Thanks for your participation and good luck.