New EPC rules pass without modifications
Despite a last-ditch effort by developer interests to weaken wetland protections last Thursday, interested citizens prevailed and your county commissioners adopted the final batch of wetland rule changes without any modifications.
Having failed to persuade EPC staff to agree to any weakening of the rules in this last part of the Hybrid, developers frantically lobbied county commissioners to stick last-minute changes into the proposal.
Speaking against those changes were representatives of the League of Women Voters, U-CAN, R-LAND, Sierra Club, Audubon, Tomorrow Matters!, Seffner Community Alliance, Taylor Road Civic Association, and several unaffiliated citizens. A few developers and agricultural interests spoke for looser regulations, but they were outnumbered and outmatched.
A key to the success of the conservationists was that many of their email and letters showed commissioners that they clearly understood the key points included in the changes. Developers’ demands were couched in harmless-sounding doublespeak like “net environmental benefits” or “classification of wetlands,” but citizens pointed out how those innocent-sounding buzzwords would weaken wetland protections.
Still, Commissioner Jim Norman pushed hard for the “classification of wetlands” modification, which would have made it easier to destroy some wetlands deemed “low class.” This idea was opposed by EPC staff, all 3 advisory committees and the non-developer citizens involved.
Commissioner Brian Blair tried to lend support to Norman, but Blair didn’t seem to understand the issues well enough to do more than flail about, finally resorting to reading a letter out loud. Blair wrongly claimed the letter was written by a member of the EPC’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG). In fact, the letter was written by Mike Peterson, speaking for the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, not TAG. Peterson is also known as a lawyer for developers.
(Side note – I wonder if Tampa Realtors approve of their spokesperson calling for weaker wetland protections? He previously led Tampa Realtors to call for the total elimination of EPC wetland protections, and this letter reiterates that position. It’s obvious how it would benefit Peterson’s developer-clients to be allowed to destroy wetlands to build more houses, but how would it benefit Realtors to have neighborhoods flooded by wetland destruction just so their market could also be flooded with more houses for sale, depressing prices?)
Thankfully, Commissioner Mark Sharpe argued firmly against Norman’s pitch for the requests for modifications, noting some of the economic benefits of strong environmental protections.
Likewise, Commissioner Rose Ferlita moved to adopt the rules as proposed, and flatly refused to allow Blair & Norman to pollute her motion with any language that would direct EPC to weaken wetland protections.
If not for the concerted efforts of those above-mentioned groups and other interested parties, it is my belief that the already compromised rules would have been put off again, eventually leading to further weakening of wetlands rules. Instead, the concerns of citizens were heard by your county commissioners, and Mark Sharpe’s compelling arguments thwarted attempts to delay. With no commissioner wanting to be singled out as voting against wetlands (given all the heat the public & press has directed at them on this issue), the motion passed unanimously.
For more, see the Times and Tribune on the hearing, and the Times’ preview. The Tribune also printed an editorial and Denise Layne’s Op Ed before the hearing, both calling on commissioners to approve EPC staff’s proposal as is. At the hearing, all 3 of Blair’s Democratic opponents spoke in favor of EPC’s staff recommendation. Hear them all on this audio clip of WMNF’s excellent coverage. Full captioning of the hearing is here.