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Elimination of Swiftmud stormwater review for small projects fraught with problems

Publix shoppers in south Brooksville find their vehicle underwater during a torrential downpour in August. The Southwest Florida Water Management District and its counterparts around the state no longer review drainage plans for small projects and don’t require them to draw permits.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Publix shoppers in south Brooksville find their vehicle underwater during a torrential downpour in August. The Southwest Florida Water Management District and its counterparts around the state no longer review drainage plans for small projects and don’t require them to draw permits.

When I watched cars plow through headlight-deep floodwaters in the parking lot of the Brooksville Publix in August …

When on that same evening a nearby stretch of State Road 50 suddenly became a fearsome set of rapids …

When I talked to a woman the next day as she sorted through belongings ruined by a second straight year of flooding of her Brooksville mobile home …

I definitely did not think that the state is way too strict about stormwater permitting, that what it really needs to do is just back off.

But that is exactly what has happened, at least for developments on properties smaller than 10 acres and with less than 2 acres of non-porous surface such as asphalt parking lots.

That includes most free-standing drugstores, dollar stores and fast-food restaurants. And though we think of these as "small" developments, they are often strung together in strips of sprawl that are anything but small.

It used to be that the drainage plans for almost all of these projects would be reviewed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and its counterparts around the state.

And now? The districts don't review small projects, don't require them to draw permits.

The idea is to relieve developers of some of the burden of excessive permitting — to "streamline" the process, as its advocates say — and the rule about small developments was in a big bill introduced in 2012 by Tallahassee's foremost streamliner, state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City.

It became law in July of that year, but for reasons too boring and complicated to explain in detail, the Pasco County Commission started talking about it in earnest last month. Also, the urge to streamline is as strong as ever, and the new stormwater rule shows what can happen when this urge becomes law.

The expense and liability of review is bumped to counties and cities that look at plans during the general permitting process.

There is less scrutiny — one set of eyes rather than two on plans that are our main defense against flooding and contaminated runoff that is a major source of pollution.

It also means increasing reliance on the seal of engineers who are paid by developers, who, in turn, generally don't like to see large chunks of their valuable properties taken up by retention ponds.

Instead of state oversight, we have an "honor system" for these small developments, said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida.

And despite the professional risks of certifying inaccurate plans, engineers are not always honorable, a Pasco staffer told the commission last month. The county has received drawings that have failed to show sources of water flowing into proposed developments, plans that indicated the water table, and therefore the risk of flooding, was lower than it actually was.

The flooding in this part of Florida last year was pretty bad. You can imagine, as more developments are built with less oversight, that it could easily be worse.

Actually, thanks to our lawmakers, you won't have to imagine.

Elimination of Swiftmud stormwater review for small projects fraught with problems 11/11/13 [Last modified: Monday, November 11, 2013 5:45pm]
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