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Nancy Smith

What? Did the St. Pete Times’ Bromance With Charlie Crist Strike Editors Blind?

June 7, 2011 - 6:00pm

Sometimes a newspaper says something so silly, so blatantly, cockamamily wrong, I need 30 minutes in a rubber room to recover.

I was looking for that rubber room on Tuesday after I finished reading the St. Petersburg Times governor-trashing treatise on good water policy. Maybe you saw it -- "Gov. Rick Scott undermines Florida's water policy."

I did a double-take. Gov. who? Does what? Where was this editorial last year and the year before that, when a Florida governor really did not only undermine the state's water policy, he set back restoration of the Everglades so far that it may never recover.

Six impassioned paragraphs and never once did I read the three words that might have given the Times editorial a ring of truth: Gov. Charlie Crist.

Instead, Times editors skewered Rick Scott for forcing water management districts in some cases to fire their executive directors, to slash property tax collections, and to stop buying land they need to protect water supplies.

In the Times' best high-horse tone, the editorial claimed, "Such political interference by a governor is unprecedented."

Baloney. I'll bet even Charlie had a secret snicker at that one.

I'll tell you what interference is.

It's the governor's office putting an incredibly bad, twice-downsized U.S. Sugar Corp. deal together -- $197 million for 26,800 acres -- packing the board with sugar deal-friendly appointees and stuffing the deal down the South Florida Water Management District's throat.

It's the phone call on the day of the vote that came from the governor's office to Melissa Meeker -- then a board member, now SFWMD executive director -- applying so much pressure that she broke down in tears as she cast her vote for the deal.

It's the fact that Charlie left SFWMD worse than land-rich-and-cash-poor. The land U.S. Sugar sold the district, the land Charlie hustled so hard, is mostly poor quality, overpriced and in the wrong place.

I know the Times liked affable Charlie a whole lot, but in the end, the tan guy had to know U.S. Sugar Corp. screwed him and everybody else. Didn't the Times know it, too?

The editorial claims, "Environmental advocates cannot recall a previous administration overruling the technical expertise of water management districts in land-buying decisions. Florida's regional water management districts were designed so that scientists most familiar with natural systems could implement sound policy with minimal political tampering."

Cannot recall? Environmental advocates must have bad memories. There was nothing but tampering on Charlie's watch.

To repeat, the district did not want Charlie's U.S. Sugar Corp. deal. Before board members got so far down the road they couldn't turn back, they pleaded privately for ways to get out of it.

State Sen. Paula Dockery, the day after Charlie's downsized U.S. Sugar deal was approved, said this: We should never have switched from building projects, from a reservoir that was nearly built, that we had already put $300 million into, to buying land that brings us to a halt.

Here we are now, as Dockery said last year, still halted.

Read the New York Times' investigative piece exposing Charlie's deal with USSC as a boondoggle. An examination of thousands of state e-mail messages and records and more than 60 interviews show that USSC dictated many of the terms of the deal. And Gov. Charlie? He desperately needed it to happen -- he needed a legacy, needed a boost up to win the Senate race. So, state officials repeatedly made decisions against the immediate needs of the Everglades and the interests of taxpayers.

Winding it up near the end, the St. Pete editorial says of Rick Scott, ... his disregard for local control and environmental science has damaging consequences for future generations. His administration should not cancel property purchases.

Disregard for local control? Mike Sole at the state Department of Environmental Protection, Charlie's go-to guy on the Everglades, put together the USSC deal without input from the local district and without environmental science.

Rick Scott shouldnt cancel property purchases, but it was OK for Charlie to cancel water projects for meaningless property purchase? Lets talk about damaging consequences for future generations: We're left, as I said before, with no money, no projects, a majority of useless land and scant hope for the only ecosystem of its kind in the world.

Gov. Scott has a long way to go before he can match Charlie Crist for making a mess of the environment and state water policy.

You want to hold Scott's feet to the fire, find another issue. On this one, he's good.

The governor found hoarding, bad management practices, colossal waste and hundreds of thousands of acres of unmanaged land.

No other governor has seen these five fiefdoms -- at least two of them no different than spoiled children -- quite as clearly as Rick Scott. He had the courage tosay "no more." He'll demand fiscal discipline. Give him time.

I just wonder about the St. Petersburg Times. How does one of the best newspapers in the country -- and it certainly is, in my opinion -- look right through Charlie Crist's environmental wreckage without seeing it, as if it isn't there? How much plainer can it be -- if Charlie hadn't made his bed with U.S. Sugar Corp., if the land deal had never happened, never been suggested, and it was quiet business as usual at the WMDs, would Rick Scott have had to swoop in to do damage control?

The Times doesn't see Charlie. I blame him for everything.

This is an opinion column. Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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nancy smith
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