Floridians should have known something was up when state lawmakers who act as hand puppets for developers suddenly dropped their objections to a bill that would make destruction of sea grass in an aquatic preserve a crime. A "benign" amendment slipped into the sea grass bill last month by Rep. Will Kendrick, R-Carrabelle, wasn't so harmless after all. The amendment could actually allow more destruction of environmentally important sea grass by creating a questionable mitigation program similar to the one that has failed to save wetlands.
All is not lost, however. The bill has yet to be signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist. Although his own Department of Environmental Protection registered no objection to the sea grass mitigation provision in the bill, he should veto it. Florida shouldn't roll the dice with its coastal environment, and sea grass beds are "nursery areas for much of Florida's recreationally and commercially important marine life," DEP says.
Kendrick wouldn't even talk to the St. Petersburg Times about his sneaky effort. Maybe he's ashamed of undermining an otherwise good bill. If he isn't, he should be.
Until it was altered, the bill would have finally put teeth in enforcement of laws protecting sea grass. Now, for the state to move against a violator, it is a slow-moving, bureaucracy-filled process. Consequently, the state overlooks many small violations, while the damage adds up. Under the bill, the state could simply issue tickets to violators and put the revenue collected from fines into sea grass protection.
That's why DEP still favors the bill. As for the requirement to develop sea grass mitigation banks on state submerged land, the agency notes in its analysis that the provision could be rejected by the governor and Cabinet.
Maybe the current governor and Cabinet — which together have an environmental conscience — would reject a destructive plan to allow developers to destroy large swaths of sea grass under the iffy premise that they could be replanted elsewhere. What about the next group in office?
Too much of Florida's vital wetlands has been lost under a similar mitigation program, a failure resulting in the destruction of tens of thousands of acres, according to a Times investigative project. Sea grass replacement is even more problematic, considering the labor-intensive planting methods and mixed outcomes.
Better to protect the sea grass we have without encouraging further destruction. Crist should veto this bill and tell the Legislature to send him another one next year that cracks down on sea grass destruction without giving developers an out.