Will the EPC-BOCC hear you Thursday?
This is no way to go about changing our wetland regulations which have been in place for 20 years.
After voting to eliminate the whole wetlands division of our Environmental Protection Commission (EPC), along with all our local wetlands protections, county commissioners are now whimsically toying with the idea of leaving the wetlands division in place (partly, maybe) IF EPC Director Rick Garrity can come up with a plan to rewrite the regulations to suit developers. Quickly. With the threat of a whole division’s elimination (and the loss of 29 jobs) hanging over his head.
The public feels the threat as well. People have told me we’d better get behind Dr. Garrity’s compromise, his “Hybrid Proposal,” or we might be left with nothing. And the Hybrid Proposal is, certainly, better than nothing.
But who says Hillsborough County’s citizens have to settle for “better than nothing”?
I’ve outlined some problems I see in the Hybrid Proposal here on Sticks, but the biggest issue is that it is being hastily put together under duress without enough public discussion. With a scant 6 months experience in county government, Kevin White (“the developers’ councilman”) makes a surprise motion to eliminate the wetland protections we’ve enjoyed for 20 years, and Badda Bing! 2 meetings later the board is ready to vote on a major rewrite of the wetlands rule — or toss it all out.
The Hybrid Proposal’s rule amendments are still changing every other day. Citizens were allowed only 60 seconds each to address the board at the one public meeting before the coming hearing, and they had to spend most of those seconds pleading for the continued existence of the wetlands division, not discussing the complex rule changes.
Instead of choosing between two hastily proposed alternatives: total elimination or Hybrid compromise (option a or option b) this Thursday, I suggest a more measured course:
In light of Dr. Garrity’s Herculean efforts to compromise, our commissioners should begin negotiating in good faith — with all of us. They should vote, first of all, to take the threat of elimination off the table. Then, accept the initial amendments proposed as first steps toward the Hybrid Proposal. These rule changes satisfy some of the developers’ (& farmers’) major demands, while basically codifying existing policy, spelling out the exemptions for certain small ditches and cow ponds which have been allowed in practice since Roger Stewart was the EPC director. But commissioners should refrain from any further action toward the Hybrid Proposal right away.
Commissioners should stop hollering “Off with their heads!” and give us all some time to work together on any further changes to the wetland rule which has served us so well for so long. Let’s at least consider strengthening our protections in some ways while we’re at it. Why is all the talk about lowering our standards?
If the public were truly involved in the process, I think most of us could agree to this: Make the permitting process more efficient; make it simpler for developers and cheaper for taxpayers wherever we can without weakening our wetlands protections.
Of course some people will never agree with any regulations. Despite Dr. Garrity’s attempts to appease them with his compromise Hybrid Proposal, many developers are still demanding the total elimination of all our local wetlands protections, and they are planning to show up in force at Thursday’s hearing.
To those “green builders” and others in the industry who profess to care about our environment, I say: Speak up! Your silence on this matter has been deafening so far, but here’s your opportunity to defend our wetlands and shatter the stereotype of the dastardly developer.
Everyone can support our wetlands by attending the hearing, August 16, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., county center, 2nd floor, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. You can speak if you want (get the facts first) or simply show your support by being there and letting someone throw a T-shirt on you or wearing a stick-on badge from the U-CAN folks. You can, of course, come and stand with the people on the other side, supporting, um, cement.
I said I was OK with the amendments proposed for Thursday, but now they’ve changed again, opening a couple of loopholes.
1-11.10, (3) (b) now says EPC can’t require proof up front that a project won’t cause flooding problems or impact wetlands — they can only make someone fix the flooding or wetland damage after it occurs. This only applies to misc. activities permits, not major projects, but it’s stupid to write this rule so that even if EPC sees a problem coming, they can’t require someone to provide drainage calculations and have an engineer sign off on it and prevent the problem.
I’m asking my commissioners to delete a couple of the recent revisions that were just posted late last night. But this is all moving too fast for intelligent discussion. We need to slow this freight train down.