|Public could be squeezed out of South Florida water permit decisions|
|Written by Marjorie Holt|
|Thursday, July 9 2009|
South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
6:56 PM EDT, July 8, 2009
A debate over whether state legislators meant "and" when they wrote "or" could leave South Florida residents with "less" opportunity to fight water permits needed for new development and agriculture.
The South Florida Water Management District's appointed board on Wednesday agreed to hand over more permitting powers to the agency's executive director -- going beyond what was specifically required by state legislation approved this year.
Now the district's top administrator, instead of the district board, decides whether to approve water use permits and environmental permits.
The moves were prompted by a change to legislation quietly approved this year by Florida lawmakers as part of a host of updated water management rules.
The problem is, the legislation calls for the state's five water management district boards to hand over the approval powers for one type of crucial water permit, called a consumptive use permit, "or" the other -- called an environmental resource permit. Legislators, however, maintain that they meant to use an "and" in the legislation, to include both the water use permits and environmental permits.
The South Florida district board in a 4-3 vote decided to do both.
Environmental groups fought the changes, arguing they threaten to cut the public out of the decision-making process.
"If this passes, I might as well pack up and really retire," longtime environmental activist and water watchdog Rosa Durando told district board members. "All your hired advice is not always correct."
A stalled golf course west of Boca Raton will be one of the first water permits tested under the new process.
The golf course at South County Regional Park has been on hold since 2007 when the district rescinded a water permit for the facility amid backlash that the permit was approved during a drought.
Cutting irrigation areas by 25 percent and using new turf are among the changes the county proposes. Executive Director Carol Wehle now has two weeks to decide whether to approve the water permit.
South Florida water managers agreed to a series of steps to encourage public involvement in the new permitting process, including public meetings with the executive director.
District Board Chairman Eric Buermann opposed delegating more permitting authority than was specifically called for in the Legislature's "mandate." Buermann along with board members Shannon Estenoz and Patrick Rooney voted against the proposal.
"You are still putting it in the hands of one person versus a board," Buermann said.
Board Member Jerry Montgomery said legislators intended for the executive director to handle the permits and that because legislators are elected, the legislators are the "best representatives" of the people.
Montgomery along with board members Charles Dauray, Melissa Meeker and Michael Collins voted for delegating the permitting powers.
Legislators contend that expediting the permitting process would help move along proposals that could stimulate the stalled economy.
Copyright © 2009, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
|Last Updated ( Thursday, July 9 2009 )|
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