Crist crumbles on tainted water bill
July 7, 2009
Gov. Charlie Crist seems to be more concerned with campaign contributions than protecting citizens' rights and the state's resources.
Crist, who has always emphasized his environmental commitment, signed a measure that will make it easier to ruin water sources and more difficult for the public to object to the destruction.
Similarly, Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, a few weeks ago signed legislation that undermines some of the growth management laws he claims to support.
Both decisions will delight the land development interests who contribute heavily to campaigns. Voters may have another view.
The latest bill, sponsored by Sen. JD Alexander of Lake Wales, gives the director of a water management district sole authority to grant permits to tap water supplies, or destroy wetlands.
Previously, the governing board in each of the state's five water district had to approve major permit applications. Board members are appointed by the governor.
Now the district director in each region will make the call. There is no requirement for a public hearing.
Should citizens object to a permit approval, they will be required to file a petition for a formal hearing, a costly burden. Yet the legislation allows applicants who are rejected by the director to appeal to the governing board.
The scheme obviously is designed to give developers the upper hand throughout the process.
There is no reason for this change. The current process is not overly burdensome. Only major permits must go before the board.
The director already decides permits on water withdrawals below 500,000 gallons a day or wetland alterations that affect less than an acre.
So complaints about unnecessary delays are not persuasive. More scrutiny and public participation are justified for larger permits, given their potential impacts on water sources.
Another slippery provision would allow landowners to obtain a 50-year water permit. A 20-year permit is the longest now granted to landowners.
Given how rapidly drought, development and other factors can change the state's water conditions, 50 years seems excessive.
But it's the change to the permit process that is most objectionable.
Crist, characteristically, tried to have it both ways. He said he signed the bill because it contains language that prohibits homeowners' associations from banning "Florida-friendly" landscaping.
And he indicated he would encourage the Legislature to revise the part of the law that allows executive directors to grant major permits behind closed doors.
But Crist knows lawmakers are unlikely to cooperate. As a lame duck, he'll have even less influence next year with a Legislature that largely ignored his agenda this year.
The House, under Speaker Larry Cretul and future Speaker Dean Cannon, has been relentless in its effort to scrap environmental protections and planning safeguards.
There was a time when Crist could be counted on to counter such shenanigans. No longer. With his eyes on Washington, Crist no longer appears willing to stand up to either short-sighted lawmakers or opportunistic special interests.
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