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Sneakily, bill change shreds sea grass sentiment

Here's good news — that is, if you happen to hate sea grass beds, mullet, manatees, speckled trout and redfish and wish there were fewer of them in your part of Florida.

The Legislature passed a law this spring that makes it easier for developers to destroy sea grass beds — a key ingredient in much of Florida's inshore coastal ecology.

All developers have to do is dash off a check to the state. The state will be responsible for supposedly "replacing" the loss by growing other sea grass beds on public property somewhere else in Florida.

Here's the funny part. House Bill 7059 originally was intended to help sea grass beds, with fines for boaters who damage them.

But the Legislature made — how many times have we heard this? — a last-minute change that nobody understood or debated. The bill sailed right through.

This bill is the latest example of a trend called "mitigation." Let's define it this way:

"It's okay to do something bad at Point X, as long as you can claim you are paying to do good somewhere else."

So air polluters can trade "pollution credits," and Al Gore can live in a big house but still feel good about reducing his "carbon footprint."

But when it comes to wiping out the particular sea grasses around Point X … well, that means the environment around Point X is destroyed. The local food chain is destroyed.

It does not make me feel the slightest bit better to think, "Well, at least the state planted some more sea grasses somewhere else."

Besides, we don't even know if it works.

And, double besides — even if it does work, I don't trust the government to carry it out.

Here's a quote from a recent article about a similar program that's supposed to make up for the loss of wetlands:

A St. Petersburg Times investigation in 2006 found that about a quarter of Florida's wetlands mitigation banks had been granted more credits for saving dry land than for anything that helped restore wetlands. Even so, they were still selling those credits to make up for wiping out wetlands.

The final strike against House Bill 7059 is that it was passed sneakily.

Certainly, I do not impugn the motive of the lawmaker who slipped in the change at the last minute, Rep. Will Kendrick, R-Carrabelle. Let's just say the representative may have failed to grasp that such an important change needed a full discussion much earlier.

As a result, many of the same environmentalists who had longed for years for HB 7059 (because of the protections against boaters) now are calling for Gov. Charlie Crist to veto it. They think the bad in it outweighs the good.

Me, too. If I were the governor, I would tell my friends in the Legislature: "I congratulate you on the part of the bill that protects sea grasses, but I encourage you to go through a full, public debate on the part that helps developers."

Then I'd veto it, knock off and go inshore fishing while I still could. There is a little break in the weather right now, and the mornings are especially pleasant.

• • •

Want to talk about sea grasses, Democratic delegates, baseball stadiums or anything else? Join me on my blog for a live chat from noon to 1 p.m. today. The address is blogs.tampabay.com/troxler.

Sneakily, bill change shreds sea grass sentiment 05/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2008 3:57pm]
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