Gov. Rick Scott says he doesn't care about his low job approval rating, but in a rare concession Friday he scrapped a plan to allow camping on Honeymoon Island because of fierce public opposition.
In a news release sent to reporters Friday night, Scott said: "After seeing the public's reaction, it is clear that this is not the right time to expand camping at Honeymoon Island State Park. . . These natural treasures belong to all the tax-paying citizens of this state and it would be unfair to proceed with a plan that so many Floridians are so adamantly opposed to."
The news elated opponents who rallied to keep the park free from overnight camping sites — including space for recreational vehicles, roads, rest rooms, bathhouses, playgrounds, electric connections, grills and other amenities.
"This is a win for the little guy and gal," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who had written letters to Scott opposing the plan. "That's a good sign that they're listening to the people for a change."
Just last week, despite the growing criticism, Scott had defended his decision to push for campgrounds at Honeymoon Island and 55 other state parks as a way to raise revenue for the state.
"The reason we have parks is so people will use them," Scott said after a July 1 speech to the Florida Society of News Editors in St. Petersburg.
Yet the opposition grew louder, most notably at a public hearing Tuesday that drew hundreds of people to oppose it. Locally, an officer of the Pinellas chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society vowed to lie in front of bulldozers if the plan at Honeymoon went through.
Finally, about 5:30 p.m. Friday, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a letter to state lawmakers stating that it would not recommend going forward with camping at the park. That decision, DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. said in the letter, was made "with the full support of Gov. Rick Scott."
In addition to dropping the idea of adding campsites to Honeymoon Island, the state's most popular park, Vinyard wrote that the DEP will also reconsider and possibly revamp similar plans for three other parks where public hearings drew opposition: Wakulla Springs, DeLeon Springs and Fanning Springs.
Vinyard conceded that complaints about the DEP rushing through the changes sparked a lot of the questions and concerns about its proposals.
"Regretfully the department's desire to meet the demand and provide this amenity to more Floridians was overshadowed by the timing of the process," Vinyard wrote.
As a result, he said, DEP officials will now "be taking a different approach" to the issue — meeting with local community groups and park support organizations before drawing up its plans, not after.
Within an hour of the release of the DEP's letter, Scott issued his statement. The reaction lit up Facebook pages and Twitter feeds across Tampa Bay.
"I am thrilled that they have listened to the outpouring from the public on this issue which is so near and dear to all of us," state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, wrote on the "Save Honeymoon Island" Facebook page he created this week.
Richard Selleg of Palm Harbor, who organized a large e-mail and letter writing campaign, said he was relieved that Honeymoon will be left alone.
"I think it's okay for the DEP to go and examine the potential in each park," Selleg said, "but they have to be sensitive to what the people really want."
Luis Perez can be reached at (727)892-2271 or Lperez@sptimes.com