Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Scott's environment team says goal is to 'help make … development happen'

They were told to be bold. They were told to come up with something dramatic to shrink state government and create jobs. They were given 20 days to do it.

So the team that Gov.-elect Rick Scott asked to advise him on how to reform the state's growth and environmental regulations proposed something bold: Merge the state's environmental, growth management and transportation departments into a single agency called the Department of Growth Leadership.

And permitting decisions from any state agency should consider "job creation and economic development" as being just as important as having clean water and air, the regulatory reform committee told Scott this week in a 79-slide report.

Those recommendations spell out a dim future for Floridians who aren't fond of pavement, predicted environmental activist Linda Young of the Clean Water Network.

"The message is, 'We are going to have a feeding frenzy on your natural resources and tax dollars, and you are going to have jack … to say about it, so get used to it,' " Young said.

Getting the Legislature to approve merging the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Community Affairs next year would improve how the state deals with the pressures of development, according to the report from the committee, which is chaired by a former developer.

Instead of regulations aimed at stopping bad development, the committee said, the "regulatory policy objective (would be) to help make good development happen."

"I don't know what they were thinking," said Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida, who contended there is little or no overlap among the three agencies' duties. He predicted that any legislative attempt at merging them is "going to run into a morass very quickly."

But Tampa Bay Water general manager Jerry Seeber, a former New Port Richey city manager who served on the regulatory reform committee, said consolidating at least two agencies, the DOT and Community Affairs, makes sense to him.

"The DOT, from a city manager's perspective, has always done a good job of planning," he said. "They get things done."

The state's environmental and growth management agencies are mired in "regulatory mistrust, competition, duplication and conflict," the committee warned in its slide show.

One slide says the state's environmental regulators had gone from a mission of "protection" in the 1970s to one of "suppression" in the 2000s — even though that was during the two terms of business-friendly Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

"You go into the agencies and it's almost like you're the enemy," complained Doug Manson, a Tampa lawyer who has represented utilities and bottled water companies, and who chaired the environmental subcommittee of the regulatory reform group. He said the regulators' attitude is, "How do we suppress or stop development?"

That's news to environmental advocates like Young, who has spent years battling agencies she viewed as accommodating developers instead of protecting the environment. Once the real estate boom that occurred during Bush's term turned to bust, state officials calculated that Florida had a backlog of more than 300,000 vacant homes, she pointed out.

The report blames that overbuilding spree on a regulatory setup that's too antagonistic to growth. It also blames it for urban sprawl — unplanned growth that spreads beyond the limits of existing water and sewer lines and other public resources.

That argument "doesn't seem to match very well with the actual facts," said Charles Pattison of 1,000 Friends of Florida, a growth management activist group.

To Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who served in the state Senate from 1994 to 2002 and was just re-elected, the proposed merger is "just a real reach" — but mostly based on logistics.

"I think that's far too ambitious a project to undertake with just under 60 days before the start of the legislative session," he said.

The committee offered other proposals:

• Abolish some long-standing rules regulating large projects known as Developments of Regional Impact.

• Prohibit public entities from suing each other, which would end counties battling over access to water supplies or trying to block phosphate mining upstream.

• Streamline even more the state wetland permitting process — which now, by law, must produce a decision in just 45 days.

• Stop local governments like Hillsborough County from enforcing their own, more restrictive regulations protecting wetlands, something developers have been pushing the Legislature to do for years.

"We knew that would be controversial," Manson said.

• Open up the state's award-winning public lands to moneymaking uses — for instance, putting solar panels, windmills or a wood-burning biomass electrical plant in state parks.

The Regulatory Reform Transition Team was chaired by Chris Corr, vice president for planning, design and development for the global builder and designer AECOM. In the 1990s, Corr helped develop the 5,000-acre town of Celebration for the Walt Disney Corp. He then served until 2008 as vice president of the St. Joe Co., which spent the past decade transforming its Panhandle pine forests into residential and commercial developments. He could not be reached for comment.

Two other former St. Joe executives, Peter Rummell and Billy Buzzett, also served on the 29-member committee, along with a sugar company executive and the president of a Sarasota home building company.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8530.

See for yourself

To see the entire 79-slide presentation by Scott's regulatory reform transition team, go to links.tampabay.com.

Scott's environment team says goal is to 'help make … development happen' 12/24/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 24, 2010 8:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. GOP senators blink on a big chance to repeal 'Obamacare'

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — After seven years of emphatic campaign promises, Senate Republicans demonstrated Wednesday they don't have the stomach to repeal "Obamacare" when it really counts, as the Senate voted 55-45 to reject legislation undoing major portions of Barack Obama's law without replacing it.

    U.S. Sen. Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) talks with reporters as he walks to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in Washington, DC. [Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]
  2. Rick Baker's debate answer revives painful St. Pete controversy

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — Former Mayor Bill Foster fired one of his top administrators, Goliath Davis III, six years ago for disobeying an order to attend the funeral of a slain police officer.

    St. Petersburg police officers stand by two caskets before the beginning of the 2011 funeral services for Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz at the First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg. [DIRK SHADD   |  Times]
  3. Plan your weekend July 28-30: Comic Con, Lady Antebellum, Margarita Wars, Tampa's Fourth Friday

    Events

    Plan your weekend

    Geek out

    Tampa Bay Comic Con: The fan convention returns to the Tampa Convention Center this weekend, bringing actors Val Kilmer, Kate Beckinsale, Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek's Lt. Uhura), Khary Payton (Ezekiel in The Walking Dead) and the …

    Ibri Day poses for a photo at opening day of the 2015 Tampa Bay Comic Con at the Tampa Convention Center. (Friday, July 31, 2015.) [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  4. Editorial: Trump assaults rule of law by attacking attorney general

    Editorials

    Jeff Sessions was a terrible choice for attorney general, and the policies he has pursued in his brief tenure — cracking down on immigrants, bullying sheriffs, prosecuting low-level offenders to the max — are counterproductive. But the stinging personal attacks President Donald Trump leveled at Sessions this …

    The stinging personal attacks President Donald Trump leveled at Attorney General Jess Sessions this week assault the integrity of the Department of Justice and the rule of law.
  5. Iowa group sues United over death of giant rabbit, Simon

    Nation

    DES MOINES, Iowa — A group of Iowa businessmen filed a lawsuit Wednesday against United Airlines over the death of Simon, a giant rabbit whose lifeless body was discovered in a kennel after a flight from London to Chicago.

    In this May 8, 2017 file photo, attorney Guy Cook speaks a news conference while looking at a photo of Simon, a giant rabbit that died after flying from the United Kingdom to Chicago, in Des Moines, Iowa. A group of Iowa businessmen have filed a lawsuit against United Airlines over the death of Simon. The businessmen filed the lawsuit Wednesday, July 26, 2017, more than three months after airline workers found the continental rabbit named Simon dead. [AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall]