Hillsborough wetlands now threatened by state
At a public hearing next Friday, Hillsborough County’s Legislative Delegation will vote on 7 state laws affecting our county, including one that would allow half-acre wetlands to be destroyed on any land designated Agricultural, without regard for our county’s wetland regulations.
Hugh Gramling, representing the Ag industry, shocked everyone by filing for this sneaky end run around our local wetland protections WHILE he was working with our Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) on changes to our local rules to benefit farmers. In the face of this sabotage, county commissioners (who also act as the EPC) voted to delay the local changes, as requested by citizens —including me.
Commissioner Rose Ferlita felt the Ag lobby’s move was counterproductive:
“I’m very disappointed that the Ag community did that. … to me that gets right in the way of us trying to move forward with what we expected to do through our own local EPC. … That’s, again, such a disappointment to me, and Mr. Gramling, I’m talking right to you.”
State Rep. Rich Glorioso seemed ridiculously misinformed in the St. Pete Times when he tried to justify the bill he is sponsoring:
“Glorioso said some of the EPC’s regulations are unreasonable, pointing out that some farmers have had manmade ditches suddenly designated as wetlands that need protecting.”
Glorioso is wrong. (The Times should have checked). The EPC has already changed the rule to exempt manmade ditches. They voted to do this, as the first step toward the Hybrid, at the public hearing on August 16. (Furthermore, this rule change was simply codifying a long-standing EPC policy that has exempted those ditches for years. And they were not “suddenly designated as wetlands”—the state designated them as wetlands in 1994. Ever since then EPC has exempted them by policy, and now exempts them by law.)
Gramling knows this, and Glorioso should. The Ag industry has been crying about ditches & cow ponds, even though EPC has always exempted them, because it makes a good sound bite in their politicking toward their ultimate goal: NO local wetland regulations for Agriculture —which is exactly what Local Bill #4 would accomplish.
Even our County Commission opposes this environmentally horrid bill (yes, that County Commission). Last year they refused to defend our EPC against a state bill that would have gutted the agency (it died when Gov. Crist promised to veto it), and this year they tried to gut the EPC themselves, but this time they are standing up for our local wetlands protections against this state bill. (We should thank them.)
Maybe our County Commissioners are finally learning that we won’t put up with that stuff from them. Now we have to teach our state legislators that we won’t let them mess with our local wetlands protections, either.
State-level anti-wetlands lobbyists have been trying to eliminate our local wetland protections for years, and they were involved again in the most recent attack on our EPC. We need to make our state legislators believe that we will vote them out of their jobs if they don’t lay off our wetlands. Especially Glorioso.
You can write them now, to ask them to vote NO on local bill #4, and protect our EPC and our natural resources from further attacks. Then, come to the hearing on Friday, Dec. 7, 9 a.m. – noon, at County Center, 26th floor, in downtown Tampa.
This is your once-a-year chance to speak to all 16 state legislators who represent Hillsborough County—all at once, in the flesh, right here at home; instead of having to reach them one by one in Tallahassee. It’s also a chance to watch your elected representatives in action as they deal with your neighbors & local leaders, and vote on 7 local bills affecting our county.
If you want to speak about something besides the local bills (taxes? transportation? growth management?) you must submit this form by noon, Dec. 3. If you want to speak about the local bills, just arrive early on Dec. 7, and fill out a speaker card there. You don’t have to say anything, though. Your presence alone would speak volumes.
I’ve discussed this bill with EPC legal staff this morning, and I now see that it would exempt ALL Ag activities in Hillsborough County from EPC protection — not just half-acre stuff.
The intent is simply that if it is Ag activity as defined by state statute (which includes a lot: logging, beekeeping, fish farming, ornamental plant nurseries, landscape tree farming, and more) then the EPC would not regulate it. Period. So ALL wetland areas could be filled in on AG land, regardless of size or quality, or any other considerations, as long as the state allows it — which they do MUCH more often than our EPC.