New EPC proposal answers wrong question
Hoping to save the wetlands division of our EPC from the county commissioners who are trying to eliminate it, Director Rick Garrity has crafted a proposal which he will present at the next EPC meeting, July 26, 10:00 a.m., in county center.
According to the Tribune:
“The goal of this was to maintain the integrity of our wetlands rule and not compromise that,” said Rick Garrity, executive director of the county Environmental Protection Commission. “But at the same time, we wanted to address the issues brought to our attention by applicants that felt we needed to have a little more flexibility.”
Dr. Garrity’s proposal, titled “EPC Wetlands Protection: Improving the Process, Maintaining the Protection,” would make the process more convenient for developers, but we would lose some protection in the bargain. The document answers this question, “How far can we go to appease developers (and still hang on to the wetlands division)?” Which is the dead wrong question. At this stage of our county’s development we should be asking “How can we increase protections of our wetlands?”
The proposal eliminates 5 staff positions, and slashes $375,473 MORE from the budget, which had already been substantially reduced to meet the state mandated tax cuts. It eliminates review of offsite wetland impacts, as when a development changes the grade or topography of a site so that water flows into or out of nearby wetlands. (Why should we allow development of one site to impact another site’s wetlands?)
Dr. Garrity, with the threat of elimination hanging over his head like the sword of Damocles, has come up with some innovative ways to streamline the development review process. But the suggestion that we remove EPC oversight from some parts of the process could leave our wetlands vulnerable to damage when nobody’s watching.
The proposal that we put into writing some policies we’ve been using all along could be a good thing — on another planet. In this county it is likely to be used as an opportunity to write these policies in a weaker way. Especially given the provision for a new “stakeholders” committee (i.e., “foxes guarding the henhouse”).
With a bunch of “stakeholders” involved, the proposal to classify our wetlands, and treat the “high class” ones better than the “low class” ones, could be used as an excuse to trash half our wetlands. Mitigation — building an artificial wetland to compensate for destroying a natural one — will undoubtedly be allowed more frequently under this proposal than under our current rules.
The special interests around here are yammering the ears off of our leaders about this. They should hear from us, too. You can send your comments to your commissioners and Dr. Garrity’s office. (You could, like ex-commissioner Jan Platt, just tell ‘em to “Back off!”) You can also speak to them directly at the July 26 meeting.
In the Times:
Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who voted to keep the EPC’s wetlands division, said he likes what he sees in Garrity’s report. “He’s done what commissioners have asked him to do,” Sharpe said. “If someone is bound and determined to rid the EPC from its wetlands role, however, then they won’t be satisfied. You never know with this board.”
Dr. Garrity will also present this proposal to the Tampa City Council, at 5 p.m. Thursday, City Hall, 315 E. Kennedy Blvd. The city is in discussions with the state, asking for representation on the EPC board, which is currently comprised solely of county commissioners.
The Temple Terrace City Council voted unanimously this evening to join the City of Tampa by writing a letter to Governor Crist asking him to save the EPC wetlands division, as well asking Crist to investigate the makeup of the EPC — Temple Terrace also wants a seat on the board.