Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Swiftmud wants to speed up filling of wetlands by taking over federal permits

Swiftmud chief Carlos Beruff says the corps of engineers is plodding.

Swiftmud chief Carlos Beruff says the corps of engineers is plodding.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District wants to make it faster for developers to get permits to destroy wetlands, the district's governing board members said Tuesday.

The board, commonly known as Swiftmud, which currently hands out most state permits for filling wetlands in the 16-county region around Tampa Bay, said it wants to take over some or all of the federal permitting process, too.

The reason: The board members think the federal permits are approved too slowly. Speeding everything up would better serve the developers who need permits, they contended.

"If it truly is our intention to be a service industry, or bureaucracy, then we should try to take on as much of that jurisdiction as we can," Swiftmud chairman Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County developer, said.

It makes sense for Swiftmud to take over issuing federal permits on wetlands, Beruff said, "so we don't slow down the economic progress in the 16 counties that we say grace over."

Under the Clean Water Act, the federal agency in charge of protecting wetlands is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. When Congress passed the Clean Water Act 40 years ago, it intended that getting permits for destroying wetlands should be difficult.

"The bottom line was to try to stem what the scientific evidence of the day showed was a problem: the dramatic reduction in wetlands habitat around the nation," said Jim Range, who helped write the law as chief counsel for then-Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn.

Yet as of a decade ago, the corps approved more permits to destroy wetlands in Florida than any other state, and allowed a higher percentage of destruction in Florida than nationally, a 2005 Times analysis found.

In Florida, the corps is reviewing about 3,200 permits a year, according to Tori K. White, deputy chief of the corps' regulatory division in Jacksonville. In the past year, White said, she has denied just one permit — the one for SunWest Harbourtowne, the upscale coastal resort proposed for northwest Pasco County.

According to Beruff, though, the corps takes too long to say yes. State wetland permit applications must be approved or denied within 60 days of being deemed complete or they are automatically approved.

There's no law setting a limit on how long the corps can take with a permit, he noted, "so we could issue a (permit) and then the developer sits there trying to get a corps of engineers permit for months."

Board member Todd Pressman suggested contacting Florida's congressional delegation to push through a law limiting the corps' time to deliberate on wetland permits. White says the federal Office of Management and Budget has set guidelines for the corps that call for reaching a decision on at least half of all individual permits within 120 days. Right now the Florida office is "about 38 percent."

White said her staffers have negotiated with state agencies in the past over the corps' giving up its role in permitting smaller wetlands projects — say 3 acres or less. But they always ran into the same problem that blocked such a transfer: the Endangered Species Act, which requires that other federal agencies be consulted to ensure that panthers, manatees and other rare animals are protected before wetlands permits are issued.

Also irritating the Swiftmud board members is that corps officials have started checking the state agency's website. Not every development project needs both state and federal wetland permits. In the past, Swiftmud's staff would send to the corps any permits the staff thought might need both. But ever since Swiftmud began posting its permit applications online, corps officials have been reading those postings and picking the ones they believe require federal permits.

The corps and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are already on the hot seat with politicians both in Florida and nationally because they recently proposed new rules on which wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act. Although the proposed rule was designed to clarify a confusing 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the justices split three ways, it has been portrayed by some as a power grab by overzealous bureaucrats.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com.

>>On the Web

To read the Times' 2005-06 special report on Florida's vanishing wetlands, go to tbtim.es/wetlands.

Swiftmud wants to speed up filling of wetlands by taking over federal permits 05/20/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 10:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'Cavern' closes westbound lanes on E Fletcher Avenue in Hillsborough County

    Roads

    Westbound lanes of E Fletcher Avenue are closed near the Hillsborough River to repair what the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office terms a "cavern" that formed under the roadway.

  2. Joss Whedon's ex-wife accuses him of cheating, being 'hypocrite preaching feminist ideals'

    Celebrities

    Joss Whedon made his name directing cult television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and big-budget action movies, which often featured women in empowering roles. Many applauded him for being a champion of women, a feminist in an industry accused of misogyny and sexism.

    Joss Whedon at the screening of "Much Ado About Nothing" in 2014. Whedon's ex-wife Kai Cole alleged in an essay published by The Wrap on Sunday that Whedon had multiple affairs during their 16-year marriage. (Associated Press)
  3. Pasco school's parents, principal seek compromise on behavior plan

    Blogs

    Leaders of a Pasco County elementary school that has come under criticism for its new behavior plan have offered an alternative model that sticks to its goals while also better considering younger children who might not understand the original terminology.

    This is the original chart that upset parents with wording such as "anarchy" and "conform to peer pressure" without any context.
  4. Jon Gruden, Rex Ryan meet with Jameis Winston on 'Hard Knocks'

    Bucs

    One of the interesting guest stars on HBO's "Hard Knocks", which covers every minute of the Bucs' training camp and preseason, has been Jon Gruden. The legendary former Tampa Bay coach has popped up from time …

    In a teaser clip from episode 3 of "Hard Knocks", Jon Gruden and fellow former coach Rex Ryan meet with Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston to discuss his past and future in the NFL. [HBO/NFL FILMS]
  5. German police seize thousands of 'Trump' ecstasy tablets

    National

    BERLIN — German police say they have seized thousands of tablets of the party drug ecstasy in the shape of Donald Trump's head, a haul with an estimated street value of 39,000 euros ($45,900.)

    This undated  picture provided by Polizeiinspektion Osnabrueck police shows an ecstasy pill. German police say they have seized thousands of ecstasy pills in the shape of President Donald Trump's head, a haul  with an estimated street value of 39,000 euros ($45,900). Police in Osnabrueck, in northwestern Germany, say they found the drugs during a check Saturday evening on an Austrian-registered car on the A30 highway. [Police Osnabrueck via AP]