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Nancy Smith

Gov. DeSantis, Think Beyond Those Ill-Advised SFWMD Board Resignations

January 12, 2019 - 10:00am

Gov. Ron DeSantis proclaimed in his inaugural address that making water quality a priority in Florida isn't just the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. I absolutely agree with him. I believe the governor has the best of intentions.

But I hope water isn't a priority he will continue to delegate away, particularly in matters concerning Everglades restoration. The new governor could have a devil of a job later walking back some of the decisions he's leaving to men of questionable motives, Congressman Brian Mast of Martin County and Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg.

DeSantis confirmed Thursday it was Mast who recommended replacing all of the SFWMD board members.

"One of the recommendations that Congressman Mast has provided to me was that we really need a fresh start at the South Florida Water Management District, and so today I have sent correspondence to all of the board members thanking them for their service but requesting their resignation,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

A day later, not a single board member was prepared to step down -- not even Miami-Dade farmer Sam Acursio, Lee County engineer Rick Barber or Palm Beach County attorney Jim Moran, the members whose terms expire in March.

Which prompted a thoroughly offended Mast to blast out a press release Friday: 

“Yesterday the Governor made clear that he does what he says," the release stated. "He has a bold vision to fix Florida’s environment and improve our water quality. What’s also clear is that the board members of the South Florida Water Management District do not share this vision. The arrogance displayed over the past 24 hours by the board is indicative of how they have operated for the better part of the last decade -- without transparency and with disdain for the people of South Florida who have been made to suffer through lost summer after lost summer. They have failed to exercise even the most basic, legally-required level of transparency, and therefore, should be removed for cause.”

This statement and others Mast has made suggest that somehow, blue-green algae and Red Tide are the fault of the 16-county volunteer board of governors who don't care about water quality and sneak around behind the public's back to serve "special interests."

I'd like to hear what he bases his accusations on. He never says. SFWMD is among the most efficient, the most wide-open and transparent agencies in state government. Its board meetings are televised, the public is welcome, the District's website fills in the gaps, and a highly professional staff has met every CERP and CEPP deadline it's possible to keep.

Senate President Bill Galvano has said the Senate shortly will follow the procedures outlined in Senate Rule 12 to make a decision on executive suspensions. As I understand it, a Water Management Board governor can only be removed for cause. That generally includes the following: malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, habitual drunkenness, incompetence or permanent inability to perform official duties; arrest for a felony or for a misdemeanor related to the duties of office; indictment for the commission of a federal felony or misdemeanor or state felony or misdemeanor.

It will be interesting to see what the Senate decides here. I believe senators will do the right thing. But, in the meantime, I wish the governor would rescind his order. What a chilling effect suspending the SFWMD Governing Board -- tainting their legacies and long service in the process -- could have on those contemplating service on another volunteer state board.

Mast talks as if he's been following SFWMD business and Governing Board meetings "for the better part of the last decade." Of course he hasn't. He's getting his information from the Everglades Foundation's Eikenberg. 

Eikenberg is mining Mast and DeSantis' antipathy toward sugar for all it's worth. 

The fake outrage by the Foundation over the November board meeting vote on the lease extensions is a perfect example of their outrageous hypocrisy, which I've written about many times before. 

Eikenberg was intimately involved in crafting the language of Florida Statute 373.4598, which specifically required the SFWMD Governing Board to extend the farming lease on land set aside for the EAA reservoir until such time as construction was ready to begin. Yet, Eikenberg and the Foundation still had their knickers in a twist when board members followed the letter of the law that they helped draft. 

As long as I can remember, the environmental community has encouraged Governing Board members to make their own decisions and not be influenced by the governor. Yet, with the lease extension, they wanted members to disregard the advice of their own attorney and hold up on the vote they had been discussing for months, to let the governor weigh in. 

What a grand opportunity for the Foundation's chief exec, with the Sierra Club in tow, to move forward with their plan to shred SB 10 and take more agricultural land:

Get all-new Governing Board members who will take months to get up to speed on District business, install an executive director or Everglades czar who owes allegiance to Eikenberg and a staff afraid to open their mouths. Voila, you have the Everglades Foundation driving SFWMD's agenda.

A letter from the Sierra Club to Gov. Rick Scott, an affront to conservative principles of private property rights, said it plainly last July:

"We need a plan to store, clean and convey the water south in the sugar lands. This has to begin now. The money is there to acquire the land. The voters voted for it. The sugar industry must share some adversity in this time of emergency. Why is it okay to flood the estuaries, but not the land planted in sugar? Why aren’t the sugar growers offering to help? Why don’t you make them? There is too much pain going around. It’s devastating people’s health and their property. It’s killing fish and manatees. It’s hurting Florida. It’s time to send water south for the sake of us all."

And never a word of the larger problem, controlling the majority of pollution, which comes into the lake from the North.

Everglades restoration delays have nothing to do with the Governing Board, its lease, agriculture, the SFWMD staff, the Florida Legislature or the previous governor. Our federal partners are 100 percent to blame.

Mast should return to Washington and unleash his angry rhetoric on the foot-draggers there.

It's ironic our new governor, who wants so much to make a positive difference, would choose a federal official to chair his Transition team on water issues. I'm afraid the new administration at the Capitol ultimately will learn the hard way who the truth-tellers in Florida's Waterworld are.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

For anything to change, the focus must be on the northern Everglades. FDEP reports have proven that the only way to reduce the phosphorus load in Lake Okeechobee is to slow the flow into the lake and clean the water BEFORE it goes into the lake. Lake Okeechobee is the liquid heart of the Everglades. We must protect the lake. Cleaning the water south of the lake does not help the lake or the estuaries. We must clean the water BEFORE it goes into the lake. If we put cleaner water in, we will get cleaner water out. 95 percent of the water that flows into Lake Okeechobee comes from the north. In the past water year, that water was 10 times the phosphorus level set as the maximum by FDEP. We need to control the rapid development at the top of the system (Orlando area), put in stormwater treatment areas to clean the water before it goes into the Kissimmee River, and restore more wetlands to slow the rapid slow south and give nature a chance to clean the water before it goes into the lake and use to recharge the aquifers. The main problem that results in "bombing" the estuaries with freshwater releases is that the water comes in TOO FAST from the north. Before the river was channelized it took about 6 months for water to sheetflow slowly from Orlando/Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee. Now it takes about 2 to 3 weeks. We need to slow the flow into the lake and clean the water before it goes into the lake. We need to quit focusing on problems that were solved in the 1980s and 1990s and start focusing on the problems faced today -- the pollution created by the 8 million humans living in the SFWMD area.

Yes, addressing water issues north of the lake is an important piece of the puzzle as I pointed out over 20 years ago during the deliberations of the Governor's Commission for a Sustainable South Florida when the initially discussed ACOE solutions focused elsewhere . . . . . . . but there's much more to deal with . . . . . . . . . . CERP is basically focused on providing the right quantity of water, of the right water quality, at the right time, to the right locations (i.e. water quantity, quality, timing, and distribution) . . . this includes addressing the periodically water starved areas such as Florida Bay. . . . . . . but the Everglades has other issues that are/will prove difficult to address (e.g. expansion of invasive exotics such as the Burmese Python and impacts from sea level rise/climate change) . . . . . . . . . . Everglades Restoration is truly a "Wicked Problem" requiring us to juggle multiple issues all at the same time before we totally understand the consequences of all our actions . . . . . . .

"A Fresh Start" is a good thing. The spinmeister author of this article should try to achieve the same! One is never too old for "a fresh start"!

"Don't Mess With "Mother Nature" ! Mast is a neophyte wrapped in "adult political clothing"; and the term "big-sugar" is an over-used, worn out, "trigger word" constantly wielded by liberals who mistakenly think that the only water they need fear comes out of their toilet-bowls....mixed with sugar from their morning breakfast... (As liberal, self-appointed, scold, "Frank" habitually says" . . . . . . . . . .PATHETIC. . . . . . . . . . . . . ! )

How is it you know he is taking his lead from the Everglades foundation? You don't, your speculating. He has said that future decisions will be made with the best scientific support and he immediately ponied up the funding to support it. This is something you would have NEVER heard from the previous Scott administration, and I think everyone with a pulse already knows what he did to the funding... I think this is all good news...

Please, he travels with the Everglades Foundation. Take a look at the press photos. EF is definitely the puppet master. Time will tell how that works out. I wonder if there is a rainy season and releases and blue green algae reappear, will Mast insist on replacing the new board of realtors and lawyers? Bad way to govern.

Fix the on-site sewage disposal systems north of lake O that pollute the water. The runoff of the massive developments must stop as well.as the finger pointing that cashed this political Quagmire.

I don't agree with Nancy. The SFWMD board is so influenced by the Big Sugar that they are working for them NOT for the people of Florida. This the toxic board for the Everglades restoration. I think Mast and Governer DeSantis are in the right direction. People don't have faith in this board so they have to go!

This same article at a site called NewsTalkFlorida.com includes an “Everglades” photo credited to AP— and there’s MOUNTAINS in the background.

The names being put out there to replace these dedicated public servants are realtors and lawyers..so ironic. Wrong on so many levels.

i think these board members serve Florida selflessly and do not have any other agenda than wanting to serve the state they love......this is so unfair.....i am ashamed of our government

Like the grandstanding by DeSantis and Mast or not, this is a very dangerous way to govern. This precedent would set in place a system that allows and approves of the governor removing people from office who don’t follow his orders. This is exactly what many here are complaining about, think about what you are supporting. Is DeSantis going to remove all from office that he disagrees with? Unbelievable that people would support dismantling our Republic. His actions seem very much like he is running a dictatorship.

For cause, Nancy, for cause . . . . . . does violating a state statute count, especially when requested not to do so by the incoming Governor (through Rep. Mast)? . . . . . . . Did you even read the law that required a legally noticed meeting? . . . . From 373.093(2), FS --> "Before leasing any land, or interest in land including but not limited to oil and mineral rights, the district shall cause a notice of intention to lease to be published in a newspaper published in the county in which said land is situated and such other places as the board may determine once each week for 3 successive weeks (three insertions being sufficient), the first publication of which shall be not less than 30 nor more than 90 days prior to the date the board executes the lease, which said notice shall set forth the time and place of leasing and a description of the lands to be leased." . . . . . . . I've looked in Chapter 373 (including Nancy's referenced section 373.4598, FS) and SB 10 (including LOF) and have yet to find a specific provision that overrides the above notice requirements for this specific situation . . . . . . so I hope Nancy or resigning SFWMD's Counsel Brian Accardo or the Board members claiming nothing done wrong in noticing the meeting can identify the specific passage in state law that contains the provision that clearly states that as was previously claimed on SSN "that because the lease extension was mandated by state statute, it did not need a series of public hearings" . . . . . . . . . . I'm really looking for such a provision to override the requirements of 393.039(2), FS, but haven't found it so far . . . . . . . . does it exist? . . . . . . . . . procedural violations involved in the lease are a sufficient reason to ask the board to go (not to even mention other board issues) . . . . . . . to argue otherwise . . . . . . . . . is just plain . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . . . . . . . which of course, doesn't excuse the blatant lie that "Our federal partners are 100 percent to blame" for all Everglades restoration delays . . . . . . . . . . . that whopper following the Scott administration just makes all this . . . . . . . . . . . . DOUBLE PATHETIC . . . .

Rick Scott speeded up restoration, Frank. If it weren't for him, we would still be waiting for the Tamiami Trail work. Scott should get more credit for stepping up to the plate on restoration.

Tell that to the DEP and SFWMD scientists and engineers I know and have talked over the past 8 years . . . . . Scott has been a disaster for the state on the environment, despite your previous claim on SSN that "Scott has done more for Everglades restoration and South Florida water problems than any governor in at least 18 years" . . . . . . . . but then, unlike me, you haven't shown yourself to be a scientist, and any attempt to not recognize the environmental disaster Scott has been, and attempt to spin it differently, is clearly . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

You are a Democrat who only comes to this site to whine and show people up. I would expect no more from you than an answer like this.

I see . . . . . . in your Scott/Trumpian world, facts and reality don't matter . . . . . . . . only the partisan political party that you belong to matters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . very American . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . . .

Surly you jest Nancy??? When inefficiency prevails then it’s time for a change! The SFWMD is just another cog in the wheel to clean our waterways! This past summer was yet another lost summer full of green muck algae! No one could go near our waterways for fear of infection, amputation or even death! The board should NOT have granted leading to big sugar AGAIN! Enough already! Martin county has become a cesspool if beauracratic bs! We, the people demand clean water!

The bill REQUIRES it, woman! Why don't you read the law? The Legislature made the lease a promise to farmers, that their jobs would not go away overnight. Your comment is furthering ignorance of the facts on this issue.

“The bill”? The bill written in the dark by the Sugar Lobby? “Farmers” ? You mean the Fanjul family conglomerate? “Jobs”? How many Venezuelans can they exploit, with their Ag Visas? What BS!

The bill written by Eikenberg like Nancy says

“Leasing”

This governing board has been superb to keep its eye on so many balls in the air at once. Grossly unfair that they should be maligned. Thank you board members for trying to keep Loxahatchee clean when the feds wouldn't. Thank you, Nancy, for your bravery in writing the truth. You can do no more than that.

There are more harmful "snakes" in politics than have ever yet been discovered in the "Everglades" !

All the Trolls for big sugar and developers on the SFWMD needed to be replaced. I didn't vote for DeSantis but he is doing the right thing here Start fresh with folk who know and believe in science... are not beholden to any special interest group and will do the right thing to improve water quality in Florida.

Very accurately stated, Nancy. Rep. Mast should be in Washington doing his job to assist in ending this elonged shutdown of our government.

This column is mind-boggling in its spin. The entire SFWMD Board has an atrocious history, of misfeasance, not to mention malevolence, towards the environment. Surely Gov. DeSantis can make some better choices, for qualified people who will work for the public good, not just for a few special interests. If the SFWMD board members had even remotely done their jobs, we would not have the algae and slime mess, and other problems, that we do now. PLEASE do not tarnish your reputation by making excuses for them.

Interesting point, but assuming you are correct, then why keep the Secretary of DEP when he was responsible for suggesting a majority of those that remain on the Board? Seems to me if things have been so bad, why not start at the top.

Totally agree Swiftmud has proved itself to be absolutely useless for the decades I have been in Florida 5th grade kids could do better

I beg to differ its time for Big Sugar to stop interfering with this process. Its over Nancy the new governor realizes that tourism brings in more money that your sugar boss.

Comments are now closed.

nancy smith
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