Pat Bean: no more nature preserves
County administrator Pat Bean has decided we don’t need any more nature preserves.
Oh, did you want to vote on that? Me too. After all, we always have held a vote to decide whether or not to continue our county’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP), and the voters have always passed ELAPP by an overwhelming majority.
ELAPP is set to expire in 2011 unless we vote to extend the program again. Citizens have begun raising money to poll county residents to see if they want to put the issue on the ballot this year, or possibly wait until the 2010 election. The Trust for Public Lands has offered to conduct the poll, Tampa Audubon and The Tampa Bay Conservancy have offered to help pay for it, and more offers of help are rolling in.
But even though we have not asked the county to fund the poll, the county administrator is against it. Pat Bean has decided — with no poll and no vote — that we don’t need to continue this wildly popular, successful program.
She says the land-buying program has largely fulfilled its purpose by preserving the most valuable natural areas in the county.
Nonsense! We are nowhere near done protecting this county’s environmentally valuable lands.
I myself have recently nominated large tracts of pristine wildlife habitat, with ecologically sensitive riverine wetlands and tributaries whose protection is critical for healthy rivers and clean water resources. There is plenty of still-pristine land worth protecting, and we also need to protect some less-than-pristine land, in order to make connections between the pristine areas for water flow and wildlife corridors.
Continuing this program’s current budget doesn’t require a tax increase, and the economic climate is opening up a window of opportunity to acquire undeveloped land at bargain prices. Without a local conservation program we would lose the state funding which has so far matched ELAPP to the tune of $75 million.
Publicly, politicians are generally supportive of our hugely popular environmental land-buying program, which is win-win for the environment as well as the landowners who sell their property to the county for fair market value.
So what’s got into Bean? Are her bosses, the county commissioners, eyeing our ELAPP money for their own pet projects? Are they using her, again, to take an unpopular stand for them, so they don’t have to take the heat?
Commissioner Rose Ferlita has assured me that she remains a staunch supporter of ELAPP, and said the county administrator was not speaking for her. Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he’d ask today to agenda this item for public discussion on April 16. So who was Pat Bean speaking for?
Hillsborough county’s Strategic Plan, set on March 7, supports ELAPP with this objective on p.10:
Hillsborough County will pursue the acquisition of environmentally sensitive and significant resources by leveraging ELAPP funding with 40% noncounty funding on an average gross annual basis.
It is not Pat Bean’s place to push an agenda that is contrary to the county’s management strategy, set publicly by our elected officials. Her job is to carry out policy, not set policy. As I’ve said here before,
We don’t elect Pat Bean, and she has no authority to act independently of our elected officials.
I’m asking our county commissioners to support ELAPP, now and into the future, (and I’m thanking Ferlita and Sharpe for their support). Here’s some material that might help you compose your own letter of support: my letter, some bulleted points prepared by the Tampa Bay Conservancy which refute Bean’s position, and some facts & figures on the economic value of ELAPP put together by Wildlife Fellowship, Inc.
I’m also asking our commissioners to rein Bean in. I hope you will, too. The voters should decide whether to continue our land preservation program, not Queen Bean.