Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Common sense springs a leak

Do you get the impression that Tallahassee's asphalt lobby won't be content until the entire state is paved over from Panama City to Key West, resembling one massive Pedro's South of the Border franchise?

How else to explain opposition from some of Florida's most powerful pashas of plywood to proposed new rules to protect the state's delicate (and endangered) springs? Water? We don't need no stinking water — and stinking it is fast becoming.

A state Senate bill would budget $378 million to implement improvements to septic tanks in springs areas and provide help to homeowners using septic tanks to hook up to sewer lines. It would also create "protection and management zones" for 38 of the state's most at-risk prominent springs, which would require homes in those areas to connect with a central sewer line.

To you who live here in reality, this might seem like a perfectly reasonable idea. After all, Florida's delicate ecosystem is dependent on maintaining a thriving, clean labyrinth of subterranean springs.

But this is Florida, where cash, concrete and political conniving trumps common sense in the corridors of Tallahassee's marketplace of ideologues.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman has reported, the state's more than 1,000 freshwater springs are endangered with saltwater infiltration as well as nitrate pollution that fuels toxic algae blooms. It's no surprise that water flow rates for many springs have dramatically declined.

But there is opposition to protecting the springs coming from the state's oligarchs of drywall, most notably Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the Association of Florida Community Developers, the Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and SPECTRE. Okay, the last one was in jest — but not by much.

The masonry cartel speciously argued that, tut-tut, no new rules protecting the springs are needed if only the state would simply enforce existing environmental laws. There's a barnyard word for this sort of disingenuousness, but balderdash will have to do.

Three years ago, the Florida Legislature, at the behest of Gov. Rick Scott, who will never be confused with environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, imploded three decades of growth management laws. The move made it harder for the public to challenge construction plans and wiped away measures requiring developers to consider the impact of their projects on the environment.

In other words, it was "Gentlemen, start your bulldozers," and open season on about any parcel that didn't already have a subdivision named "Scorched Earth Estates."

Since Scott got his air kiss from the Villages, Florida's wildlife and environment have been at the mercy of the capital's deep-pocketed royal Medicis of rebar. Under Scott, even efforts by former Gov. Jeb Bush to save the state's springs have been consigned to the dust-heap of Tallahassee chicanery.

Manatee deaths are rising. What good are they anyway if you can't ride the critters? Mining interests want to blow up Florida panther habitats in order to build more roads. And Florida's precious water supply grows ever more threatened by unrestrained development.

At this point, we might have to start importing water from West Virginia. But just think of all the jobs that would come from building the pipeline through the Ocala National Forest.

Perhaps nothing focuses the optics of Tallahassee officialdom's indifference to protecting the environment more than Attorney General Pam Bondi's decision to meddle in a conservation effort nearly 1,000 miles away. Not content to transform Florida into one vast Trail of Tears Crossings, Bondi has filed a brief opposing the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint — which has the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, six states and the District of Columbia — to improve the water quality of the rivers, streams and estuaries in the region.

The chief law enforcement officer of Florida, not content to turn over the keys to the Everglades to developers, now wants to come to the defense of environmental thugs who regard Chesapeake Bay as their personal toxic waste dump.

Why would Bondi take precious time away from appearing on Fox News to become the attorney general who came to dinner of Chesapeake Bay? Well, blue crabs (or what's left of them) don't vote, and they don't make campaign contributions.

But the American Farm Bureau, the National Association of Home Builders and the Fertilizer Institute (go ahead, insert joke here) do oppose the Chesapeake cleanup and they wield political clout in Florida, too.

And in an election year, this preoccupation with clean water could get out of hand. Where does it end?

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