Conservation Report January 2017

By Whitey Markle

State Legislative Configuration

On a good note: State Senator Lauren Book, a Democrat, has been appointed Chair of the Florida Senate Conservation and Environmental Preservation Committee.  Although she appears to have little environmental experience she is probably far more approachable than the former chair of that committee, Senator Charlie Dean.  Also, Senator Rob Bradley who represents  Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee, Union counties and part of Marion county has been appointed Vice-Chair of the same committee. Bradley represented Alachua and other counties previously and has worked with us on some issues in the recent past. He is also the Chair of the Appropriations Committee

New State Senator Dennis Baxley of Ocala has expressed concern for our fragile environment, especially water.  I went on a Silver River cruise with him and Representative Charlie Stone (Ocala) recently and I believe I will be able to at least communicate with them in the future.  

Senator Keith Perry, who bluntly stated on Channel 20 News in 2014, when asked his opinion on Amendment 1 (Land and Water/Florida Forever), that he didn’t believe the taxpayers know enough about how to spend their money so that should be left up to the legislature and their staff, apparently won’t be much help to us on this side of the environmental issues. His blatant misrepresentation of fact during the election (that the Sierra Club rated his opponent, Rod Smith, next to last on environmental legislation) should give us an indication of his personality and tactics.

Representative Clovis Watson won reelection to the house without opposition. We have always worked well with Rep. Watson and he has voted according to our policy.

Representative Elizabeth Porter has voted in favor of fracking and many other poor environmental bills.

Newly-elected Representative Stan McClain has been very cordial in our relationship with him as a Marion County Commissioner.

Pipeline Rolls On

The Sabal Trail pipeline rolls on as you read this article. Although the pipeline is “legal” on paper, it is a disaster. Not only does it run counter to all of Sierra Club’s policy, it is also extremely destructive to the environment.  We know the Environmental Impact Statements that were used by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) were submitted to USACE by Sabal Trail. The Army Corp’s excuse was that their agency, like all other federal environmental protection agencies, was stripped of scientists and researchers by the U.S. Congress over the past years.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) appeared to totally ignore the public input when they held public hearings along the route several  years back.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is also neutered by congress and showed no pushback.

We have seen example after example where the construction of the pipeline has destroyed endangered species and their habitats, totally in disregard of the weak laws that protect those critters. Apparently the law  is written so that the builders can damage and kill the protected species and simply pay a small fine or “mitigate” the violations.

The builders will drill under the Suwannee River in late February or March, and move on to do the same ( toxic to the aquifer and dangerous geologically) operations under the Withlacoochee near Dunnellon.  The cross-Florida Greenway is not considered when routing this baby, not the Green Swamp.  

Federal legislators and executives should be pounded with messages and office visits. Senator Bill Nelson has been very instrumental in situations like these.  It was he who overrode the federal orders to halt the Georgia Pacific Pipeline at the St. Johns River near Palatka.

Bradford/Union Mining

The Union County Commission will hold a public hearing on December 19 at the Union County Courthouse on N. Main St. in Lake Butler at 5:30 PM. They will sit as the Union County Planning Commission and consider an extension to the present moratorium on mining. Input will be taken on whether to extend the moratorium for another year. If an extension  is approved, the County Commission will hold  a final meeting and vote in early January. All interested parties should attend and speak.