Developers attempt to weaken EPC yet again
Everybody is happy!
Last summer, citizens stood strongly against the attempt by four county commissioners to eliminate our wetlands protections, so the commissioners backed down and accepted the “Hybrid” proposal offered by EPC director Dr. Garrity as a solution to the criticisms leveled against the agency.
Commissioners promised at that hearing that the Hybrid would not weaken our wetland protections. Later, in a letter to the Tampa Tribune, EPC chair Al Higginbotham promised the Hybrid would “maintain the strong protections our wetlands enjoy.”
Keeping all of that in mind, the EPC has followed up on those promises and has proposed rule changes that do what commissioners said the Hybrid was supposed to do: builders get a streamlined process (one-stop permitting in many cases!) without weakening our wetland protections.
Your County Commissioners will discuss the proposed rules at a public hearing next Thursday, and I am hoping they pass it as is. Although I have had concerns about some parts of the Hybrid passed earlier, this batch of rule changes accomplishes what our commissioners said they wanted, and we can all be done with this whole Hybrid business.
But it’s not that simple.
Not everybody is happy.
As predictable as death and taxes, developers are once again attempting to make last minute changes, which will weaken wetlands protection. They have plans to show up at the hearing with four main arguments.
I have posted a detailed analysis of the four major demands developers are making, and why commissioners should not cave to them. Go to that page to check out all the details, but here they are in a nutshell:
- Eliminate EPC review from the zoning stage. – It makes no sense to allow builders an initial go-ahead if they will later be denied. EPC should be involved from the beginning.
- Classification of wetlands to allow “low-class” wetlands to be damaged more easily than “high-class” wetlands. – Human regulators at EPC already consider how pristine and ecologically valuable a wetland is. Giving an official classification adds unnecessary red tape and invites lawsuits.
- “Net Environmental Benefit” considered to allow more wetland impacts. – this one has a great title, but is no more than a shell game.
- Expand the “Reasonable Use” criteria to include “Future Land Use.” – Our local wetland rule is stronger than the state’s because it only allows wetlands to be damaged if necessary for “Reasonable Use” of the land. Developers are demanding that we broaden the definition of “Reasonable Use” to include the “Future Land Use” designation, in order to allow more wetland damage.
For more detail on these four demands — especially that last one — please take a look at my full analysis. If no one but developers speaks to our commissioners nor attends this hearing, you can be sure commissioners will try to stick these in. Citizens are strongly encouraged to show up at the hearing to let your commissioners know how you feel.
Again, your Commissioners will decide the matter at a public hearing on Thursday, July 17, 9:00 a.m., at County Center. You can speak if you want, but your presence alone would speak volumes. You can also write your commissioners ahead of the hearing. (Here is a sample letter for those of you who want to keep wetlands protection in place.)