Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cities and counties told there could be no parks money again this year

Representatives of Florida cities and counties were warned Tuesday that there may not be state grant money again this year for their park and open space purchases.

The Florida Communities Trust (FCT) program in 2008 received $63 million for matching grants with cities and counties. But the program didn't process grant applications last year after the Legislature provided no money for the Florida Forever land-buying program for the first time since 1990.

FCT had been receiving 21 percent of the $300 million in bonds approved annually by the Legislature for Florida Forever. The Senate last week put $15 million in its proposed 2010-11 budget for Florida Forever but the House so far has not provided any money for the program.

FCT program manager Ken Reecy told city and county officials and consultants that the program would receive $3.15 million if the Senate budget proposal wins approval from the Legislature. That may be enough for one FCT project depending on the size of the top-rated grant request, Reecy said. The program received 91 project grant applications in 2008.

Under the Senate budget proposal for 2010-11, the Stan Mayfield Working Waterfronts Program would receive $375,000, Reecy said.

The grant applications are due May 26 and the deadline was pushed back to give applicants time to find out whether the Legislature will provide money for the program.

For more information or for a list of FCT workshops around the state, go on the web to .

(Used with permission from The Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Powerful restaurant and hotel group says don't take up drilling

The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association is opposing offshore oil and gas drilling and is asking the Legislature not to take up the issue before the session ends on April 30.

The House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning is expected has been holding hearings on drilling and is expected to consider possible draft legislation next week.

SB 2622 by Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne and the Senate president-elect in 2011, would allow the governor and Cabinet to issue drilling leases in state waters while HM 563 by Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, would encourage Congress to open up federal waters to drilling.

The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association is not targeting any specific legislation, spokeswoman Christina Johnson said. The association has 10,000 members representing an industry with more than 1 million employees and 20 percent of the state's economy, according to the group.

Many questions still remain about drilling despite local town hall meetings and forums that have been held, association CEO and President Carol Dover said in a statement issued Monday.

"We strongly encourage our elected officials to take a measured and thoughtful approach in order to ensure that a fair and accurate assessment of the facts is openly debated," Dover said. "We ask members of our association who oppose oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico to contact their local senator and representative within the next two weeks to let them know we will not support any measure that would be detrimental to Florida's tourism and hospitality industry."

(Used with permission from The Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Snapper season reduced but catch increased

Anglers from Gulf states including Florida will be allowed to catch more red snapper this year but must do so during shortened season under a new federal proposal.

Federal snapper and grouper restrictions have become a political hot-button issue as commercial fishing groups and recreational anglers have protested restrictions imposed to end overfishing under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson last month introduced a bill in Congress that prohibited the Department of Commerce from reducing the length of the red snapper season until a baseline stock assessment is conducted.

HM 553, introduced by Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, calls on Congress to "seek to balance resource protection and economic prosperity in Florida."

The NOAA Fisheries Service said today it is seeking public comment on a proposed rule that would increase the snapper catch from 5 million to nearly 7 million pounds this year for commercial and recreational fishermen. But the recreational fishing season, starting June 1, would remain open only up to 60 days compared to 75 days in 2009.

The season length would be reduced because recreational anglers have exceeded their allocation in the past, said Kim Amendola, spokeswoman in the NOAA Fisheries Service office in St. Petersburg.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect opening date and projected length of the snapper season.

(Reprinted with permission from The Current by The Florida Tribune. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bill would make shoreline fishing free again

Florida last year for the first time began requiring residents to purchases licenses to fish from the shoreline, docks and jetties. Residents could either buy a saltwater fishing license for $17, which allows them to fish from boats or the shoreline, or buy the shoreline-only permit for $7.50.

As of Feb. 28, 59,530 of the shoreline permits have been sold. But now the Senate is considering a bill (SB 1514) that would repeal the permit fee and allow state residents to get a shoreline license for free.

The Coastal Conservation Association Florida says the shoreline license requirement shouldn't be repealed because the group says all anglers should help pay for law enforcement and marine fisheries research and management.

For more on this Florida Tribune story, click here.

(Photo courtesy of Mark Wallhesier and Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mega water bill clears its first stop

A comprehensive bill, dubbed the "mega-water bill" by one senator, received approval from the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation Tuesday despite a variety concerns raised by groups.

The bill, SB 550, sponsored by Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs and committee chairman, would establish septic tank utilities statewide, create a state financing mechanism for local water projects, prohibit the spreading of biosolids in areas that drain towards springs and authorize new statewide stormwater treatment regulations.

Read more from "The Best of the Current" at The Florida Tribune.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Damage, restoration of Florida waters discussed by authors

Florida needs to change the way it manages and uses water in the future as it repairs the mistakes of the past, a panel of environmental book authors suggested on Saturday.

The panel at the Tallahassee Festival of Books and Writers Conference featured Cynthia Barnett, Doug Alderson and Michael Grunwald.

Barnett, author of "Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U. S.," said Florida historically made two big mistakes with its plentiful water: Draining wetlands and over-pumping aquifers, and then over-engineering its waterways with dams, canals and locks.

To plan for the 21st century water needs, she said, Florida seems to be repeating its past mistakes while assuming that more water, rather than conservation, is needed for growth.

"It doesn't have to be this way," she said. Barnett is on leave as an editor of Florida Trend magazine while she works on another global water book.

Instead, Florida and the nation needs to follow a "blue path" of living well while using less water. "Economic prosperity and population growth need not equal this greater and greater water consumption," she said. "It doesn't have to be this way."

"What Florida really needs is a statewide water ethic -- not just for kids brushing our teeth or homeowners watering their lawns," she said. "But really an ethic among all of us to use less, not just us but at every level where you see people valuing water from the governor on down."

Grunwald, author of "The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise," said the Everglades restoration faces challenges despite having support across the political spectrum.

The Everglades is being watched as a restoration model for the Chesapeake Bay, the Louisiana coastal wetlands, the San Francisco Bay delta, Puget Sound and even wetlands in Iraq, Grunwald said. If successful with The Everglades, he said, Florida can help usher in a new era of ecosystem restoration.

"Everyone says they want to save the Everglades," Grunwald said. "If we can't do it here, we really have to wonder where you can do it."

Restoration of the Kissimmee River is drawing visitors from around the world to see the results, said Alderson, author of "New Dawn for the Kissimmee River, Orlando to Okeechobee by Kayak." His book tells of the restoration of the Kissimmee River through a 12-day kayaking expedition.

"I didn't go on this trip thinking I would write a book," he said. But he found so much material while working on a magazine article that it resulted in the book, published by the University Press of Florida in 2009.

The Kissimmee River was diverted into a channel by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1960 and 1971 to reduce flooding. But U. S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat, in 1991 put a bill through Congress that authorized the Corps of Engineers to do environmental restoration.

Now dams have been blown up and a portion of the ditch has been refilled so that the river is flowing again through the old oxbows and spreading across the floodplain during floods.

"The biggest surprise was how quickly the marsh plants came back when it was reflooded -- the seeds were still there," Alderson said. "Very quickly the birds started coming back, the fish started coming back, the gators started coming back. It was an incredible recovery and it was a great lesson if you give nature half a chance nature will do the rest."

(Photos courtesy of the authors. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained at .)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Biomass supporters knock opponents as projects face hurdles

An artist's rendering of the planned Adage LLC plant in Hamilton County, which received a state air permit in January.

As biomass energy supporters complain of opposition to some biomass projects around the state, a company that was proposing to build two in north Florida withdrew its permit application for one in Gadsden County.

Biomass power, which converts wood, crops or waste to energy, is expected to be a key component in Florida's renewable energy future. Although it has support from Gov. Charlie Crist and some environmental groups, biomass is experiencing some growing pains. Some proposed plants face opposition from communities and questions have been raised about the availability of wood supply.

Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson said last week the state should push to produce enough biomass from crops and forests. And he took a swipe at some opponents.

"There are people who were all behind us on this alternative fuel thing until they realized how serious we were going to get in looking at every opportunity," Bronson told legislators. "Now they are more afraid of taking a down a tree that we can replant at any one time and grow it right back again than they are in finding new ways to create fuel and energy sources. That's being pretty short-minded in my opinion."

In response, Gadsden County biomass opponent James E. Maloy Jr. said, "The citizens of the State of Florida are not interested in mechanizing and industrializing our forests and natural ecosystems in order to create energy and huge profits for corporations at the expense of the taxpayers who are already burdened with an unmanageable federal debt. Similarly the idea of achieving the State's 75-percent recycling goal, which allows for the incineration of garbage and other hazardous fuels as a method of reaching that goal, best describes the notion of being 'short-minded.' "

Read more in the Florida Tribune:

See also:
March 8, 2010
State report suggests limits on potential of forests to supply biomass energy.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

House panel approves innovative energy program

The House Energy and Utilities Policy Committee on Wednesday voted to introduce a bill that would allow local governments to finance individual renewable-energy, conservation and wind-resistance projects at homes and businesses.

Committee Republicans and Democrats alike praised the idea of the proposed "Property Assessed Clean Energy" program (PACE). Under the program, local governments can finance programs that allow property owners to borrow money and then repay as part of a non-ad valorem assessment on their property tax bills.

The program would be self-supporting and would not cost anything for taxpayers who do not participate, said Mayor Paul Vrooman of Cutler Bay, which supports the PACE concept.

The bill could go before the committee for a vote at its next meeting scheduled meeting on March 25.

To read more about the program, go to the Florida Tribune site,, or click here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Senate panel recommends springs action

Ichetucknee Springs State Park

A Senate panel is recommending that the Legislature consider establishing local septic tank utilities across the state to protect water quality.

Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-Palm Beach, established the Senate Select Committee on Florida's Inland Waters in October and named Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, to chair it. The committee held six hearings around the state before issuing the five-page report with six findings and 13 recommendations.

The committee found that Florida's watersheds are suffering from excess nitrogen and phosphorus and that new sources of drinking water must be developed to avoid impending water shortages.

For more, read the Florida Tribune story at:

To download the report, go online to:

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Marine waters planning needed to avoid conflicts, panelists say

Coastal and Marine Resources Assessment Prototype

States, industries and scientists should work together to plan for the management and use of natural resources in oceans, panelists at a Florida Oceans Day workshop said Wednesday.

A proposal to allow oil drilling in state waters in the Gulf of Mexico is being crafted by the House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning despite opposition from environmentalists and some coastal cities and counties. The workshop panelists touched on drilling as part of a discussion of "marine spatial planning."

That's a planning process that integrates mapping and data collection of coral reefs, fisheries and other natural resources and uses them in conjunction with planning for commercial and recreational fishing, the location of wind energy farms, oil drilling, fishing and other uses, said Charles Ehler, a Paris-based consultant to UNESCO.

Management of conflicting uses requires state-of-the-art tools to visualize the interactions among human activities and the ecosystem, according to the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council. The Council has sponsored the development of a prototype called the the Coastal and Marine Resource Assessment (CAMRA) System.

Janet Bowman of The Nature Conservancy said competition for use of Gulf waters is an important issue but legislators seem uninterested in planning because of its cost. Ehler said such a planning effort could cost countries up to $4 million a year, which University of Miami researcher Peter Ortner described as "chump change" compared to the costs of poor planning.

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the oil industry already faces numerous permitting processes. "If it is meant to bring those together for greater efficiencies, then it is definitely something that is timely," he said.

As part of the Oceans Day observance at the Capitol, the House voted 112-0 to adopt HR 9013 recognizing Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota for its 55th anniversary.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bronson knocks Florida Forever after Cabinet purchase

University of Florida botany students conduct a field trip along Prairie Creek in February

The governor and Cabinet approved the purchase of a 506-acre addition to Paynes Prairie State Preserve State Park near Gainesville and a new Florida Forever conservation land-buying list.

Florida Forever is the largest land-buying program in the nation, with 2.4 million acres purchased by the state since 1990. But the future of the program is in doubt as it received no money from the Legislature last year.

Both items were approved without objections by the Cabinet. But after voting for the new state purchase list and the Paynes Prairie addition, Agriculture Commissioner Charles H. Bronson renewed his criticism of the program and said he won't vote to approve new purchases.

"From an economic standpoint we're in a real crunch," Bronson said. "That money today that even is available for land could be used for other things."

The purchase of property along Prairie Creek will help preserve a popular canoeing trail and help park managers maintain their property, purchase supporters said. The Cabinet voted to buy the land from Alachua Conservation Trust for $2.1 million.

"It's one of the great gems of Alachua County," said Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson, executive director of Alachua Conservation Trust. "Literally, it's been on acquisition lists for 40 years."

(Photo by Robert Hutchinson. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Report questions potential of biomass energy production

From the Florida Tribune

A new report analyzing the potential of Florida's forests to help produce electricity could raise further doubts about
proposed state goals to increase renewable energy.

The Legislature in 2008 adopted a comprehensive energy bill that directed state agencies to study the economic effects of providing financial incentives for biomass energy production from trees or waste wood.

The report, which was sent Thursday to the governor and Legislature, says that Florida's forests could support a 7-percent renewable energy goal for the state.

But a 20-percent goal by 2020, which has been recommended by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Public Service Commission, could create "dramatic" price increases for wood products and cause forests to be harvested at unsustainable levels, the report said.

Read more at:
(Photo by Rob Davis. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Thousands of contamination sites could be removed from cleanup list

Underground petroleum tanks are being replaced at a convenience store in Tallahassee.

From the Florida Tribune:

The chairmen of key House and Senate committees have filed bills that supporters hope could lead to the removal of hundreds or thousands of low-risk petroleum contamination sites from the state's cleanup list.

The two measures - HB 1385 and SB 2592 - would allow 4,985 contamination site owners to ask the state to declare that no further cleanup action is required if certain requirements are met.

Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach and chairman of the House Natural Resources Appropriations Committee, said removing low-risk sites would allow the state to focus on sites that pose a greater threat to groundwater. There are nearly 14,000 contamination sites remaining in the state.

"We keep spending hundreds of millions of dollars and I don't think we're getting as far as we should," Poppell said. He sponsored the House bill and Sen. Carey Baker, R-Mount Dora and chairman of the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee, sponsored the identical bill in the Senate.

Read more at:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

DEP holding back on cap-and-trade -- for now

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection won't ask the Legislature to approve a proposed carbon cap-and-trade rule in the legislative session that began yesterday, according to DEP Secretary Michael Sole.

Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007 directed DEP to develop a carbon emissions trading rule for electric utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change. HB 7135 in 2008 said DEP must seek approval by the Legislature after Jan. 1, 2010 before adopting the rule.

Sole said the department made a decision in the fall not to seek approval in the 2010 session. He said the department has been watching the progression of federal cap-and-trade legislation and that it could not meet a timeline that included approval by the Florida Energy and Climate Commission.

"I expect it to be a difficult discussion" in the Legislature, Sole said. "I don't want to go in there with something just rushed through."

But he said that doesn't mean the proposal is dead, even though it will require DEP under a new governor to seek legislative approval. Crist decided to run for the U.S. Senate rather than seek re-election as governor this year.

DEP, Sole said, is continuing to investigate the possibility of Florida joining with other southeast states in a regional cap-and trade partnership or joining an existing partnership, such as the Western Climate Initiative or the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeast.

Working within a regional partnership could reduce administrative costs, Sole said. But joining either the western or northeastern partnerships would not prevent utilities from setting up across the state line in Alabama and Georgia to avoid Florida's cap-and-trade program -- while Florida still gets the emissions.

"Florida by itself with cap-and-trade is difficult to work," Sole said. "It can (work), but by itself it's difficult to work."

Susan Story, CEO of Gulf Power, said many states are waiting on the outcome of federal carbon emissions legislation before moving forward on cap-and-trade systems. She said her utility is waiting for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to determine how it will treat biomass plants before it decides on converting its coal-fired plant in Sneads to biomass after 2013.

"I think if the federal law passes, that it is in the best interest to have a federal system -- not a state-by-state system," she said.

Susan Glickman, an adviser to environmental groups, said it's understandable that Florida is waiting to move forward.

"There was just never any drumbeat for Florida to do cap-and-trade independently," she said. "The idea they are not going to bring it up in the Legislature is understandable. And since (Crist's executive orders in 2007), there has been huge progress on the federal level in discussion of creating a cap or some constraints on carbon."

Editors note: This is an expanded version of a story that appeared first in the Daily Current, produced by the Florida Tribune for

(Photo courtesy of the University of Florida TREEO Center. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Oil drilling backer drops lobbying corps

Florida Energy Associates, one of the primary backers of the push to open Florida waters to oil drilling last year, recently trimmed its lobbying force to zero after having more than 30 last year.

The House last year voted 70-43 to open Florida waters within three miles of the coast to drilling, but the bill was never taken up by the Senate. Florida Energy Associates, with largely undisclosed backing, pushed the measure, which emerged late in the legislative session. The firm withdrew the last of its 12 lobbyists during the week of Feb. 15.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a drilling opponent, and David Mica of the Florida Petroleum Council weighed in on opposite sides of a draft report that says Florida's nearshore waters holds less than enough oil reserves to meet U.S. energy demand for a week.

The House Select Policy Council on Strategic and Economic Planning today holds another in a series of hearings towards developing legislation while the Senate is studying the issue.

David Rancourt, a principal in Florida Energy Associates who was one of the last 12 lobbyists, said on Friday the lobbying campaign is going away but the support for drilling is not.

"We're thrilled" with the progress being made, Rancourt said.

"We feel like we've accomplished the mission in helping educate the public." Rancourt, who works with Southern Strategy Group, said he is among those who will continue to support drilling -- not as lobbyists but as Florida residents.

Ron Sachs Communications in Tallahassee no longer is representing Florida Energy Associates.

On Thursday, The Collins Center for Public Policy released a draft report for the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, a 15-member state panel.

The draft report said research shows that the oil and natural gas from peninsular Florida waters within 10.3 miles of shore would produce enough petroleum to supply the nation for less than a week. The estimate does not include potential reserves in the western Florida Panhandle.

In remarks to reporters in Tallahassee on Friday, Nelson reiterated that drilling is a threat to military missions over the Gulf of Mexico -- a message disputed in recent weeks by drilling supporters. "This is just another confirmation that as the Legislature takes up this issue that they should not be hoodwinked by the oil boys," Nelson said.

Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica said the oil and gas reserves may have been underestimated. But he also said the report highlighted the low environmental risk of drilling.

"If the research into that potential resource doesn't justify the risk to capital necessary to move forward, then it won't happen," Mica said.

(Copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)