You cannot fix it if you don't know how it works, and you cannot restore it if you don't know what it was to begin with. That was the gist of my Dec. 7 testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure when asked to comment on the Restore Act (HR 3096), and that is why two recent Times editorials — one on the president's Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force, the other on the Restore Act — were misleading.
HR 3096 references the president's Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force report, which lists four goals and actions. These actions, however, are mostly directed toward regions peripheral to the Gulf of Mexico (the rivers, beaches and wetlands), versus the Gulf of Mexico itself. As such, the actions cannot achieve the goals. For instance, beach water quality may have nothing to do with local inputs. Instead, water quality may be due to the transport of materials from points distant from the beach. Red Tide offers a case in point, as does the movement of gag grouper larvae.
The reality is that few coastal ocean processes are local; most entail remote connections. If these connections are not understood, then the task force goals cannot be met. While a "robust scientific foundation" is referenced in HR 3096, the basis for that foundation is missing.
I am not alone in identifying such shortcomings. A recent National Research Council report states: "A mechanistic understanding of and model for the complex linkages and interdependencies of the ecosystem being studied would be of immense value."
The coastal ocean (continental shelf) is particularly important because that is where society meets the sea. How it works must be understood if we are to predict the consequences of human actions and distinguish these from natural occurrences. Such understanding comes through observations and hypothesis testing; hence the need for a coordinated program of ocean observing and modeling. Only in this way can we become better environmental stewards and be better prepared for future accidents.
These essential points are lacking in HR 3096 and in the president's Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force report. Moreover, the monies designated for advancing Gulf of Mexico science are a paltry amount of the total penalties that may be realized.
Two modifications are needed. The first is to increase the percentage of money targeted at sustaining a program of research and development for the Gulf of Mexico as a comprehensive system. The second is to remove preconditions, other than mandating that monies be used in a scientifically defensible manner to be developed by a steering committee selected from the academic community, with input from the agencies.
While I appreciate the intent of the editorial writers, unless these modifications are made, in 10 years we will be in the same predicament as we are today.
Robert H. Weisberg, USF College of Marine Science, Tierra Verde
Showing an ID is no hardship | Dec. 28, letter
Don't restrict voters' rights
I have been a poll worker in five elections. We have a very dedicated and conscientious group of poll workers who appreciate the rights we Americans enjoy. These men and women, although paid a pittance, work to ensure all potential voters are treated politely and professionally.
Many of society's fringe citizens — the young, old and minorities — do not have bank accounts or driver's licenses. While well-educated or well-off Americans may find this hard to believe, many of these citizens may not be up to date on which district they now live in. With redistricting this year, taking away same-day registration will force poll workers to turn away voters we previously would have redirected to their correct districts.
By making harsh restrictions on voter registration drives, many first-time voters, most often students, will be denied the opportunity to become more active citizens.
The argument that a photo voter ID is in the same class as requiring a photo ID to cash a check or drive a vehicle is misleading. Cashing a check or driving a vehicle are not rights guaranteed to citizens under the Constitution.
As poll workers, we were repeatedly admonished to not turn away anyone if at all possible. I feel sorry for poll workers in this next election cycle. They will be dealing with many angry citizens when these Americans are told they have no voice in the upcoming election thanks to restrictive new laws that claim to fix a nonexistent problem.
Brian Valsavage, St. Petersburg
For some, ID is a hardship
Showing an ID is indeed no hardship, provided you have the stability and financial resources to obtain and maintain the ID current.
A significant segment of our society is homeless or transient, and without the financial resources to obtain or maintain currently accurate identification. It costs money to obtain a birth certificate necessary to obtain proper ID.
A friend who had an ID with his name misspelled could not get his ID changed without his birth certificate from a distant state. Yet he could not get his birth certificate without a current ID at the address to which the birth certificate was to be mailed. He was in a Catch-22 position. He was transient at the time, with slim financial resources.
He had to wait until he could actually get up north to his city of birth with the help of friends to obtain a valid birth certificate.
If identification is going to be a societal requirement (which is probably a good thing), the process of getting an ID should be available to everyone regardless of financial resources, whether exiting prison, currently homeless, or recently evicted with loss of important papers. When the financial burden of getting ID is shifted solely to individuals who may not have financial resources, there is de facto discrimination against those at the bottom rung of our society financially.
Richard D. Hicks, St. Petersburg
Kentucky okays cranes as prey | Dec. 24
State not worthy of support
We judge a people by the way they treat all kinds of animals in their care. This includes sandhill cranes.
Next time you travel, try to drive around Kentucky, or at the very least drive through without spending a dime in that state until they change their mind on shooting these beautiful birds.
Also, the National Audubon Society should be sounding off to oppose this hunt. If they don't, there will be no support for Audubon this year from this family. We shoot cranes, but we use a camera.
Larry Greenberg, Hudson
Foster's ratings steady in poll | Dec. 28
Passing the problem around
Those of us in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport area cannot vote for St. Petersburg mayor, but some of us still have a very dim view of Bill Foster. We hold the same view of Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, which we will be able to express in the 2012 elections.
Foster and Gualtieri are the main reasons for the Safety Harbor homeless shelter on 49th Street, next to the jail and courthouse. A person cannot go to stores or restaurants on 49th Street, Roosevelt Boulevard and Ulmerton Road without at some point being asked for money. Foster and Gualtieri took Foster's problem and just passed it on to our area in Pinellas County.
Robert Blake, Clearwater
Close sales tax loophole | Dec. 28
Try a new campaign
I get it. You think that all online purchases from Amazon and other vendors should be subject to Florida sales tax. You have made your point ad nauseam.
Some of us do not agree and are tired of the repeated tirades by the Times. Purchases online are now and should continue to be tax-free. This is a blatant grab for unearned funds by the state, which does not host the site of purchase.
Please switch to another horse to ride. May I suggest the fact that water bottlers are draining our aquifers to fill plastic bottles with water that they sell by the millions. The state gets no funds for this activity either, yet I don't see your editorial board all up in arms about this blatant theft of our precious water while Floridians are forced to restrict watering and car washing to accommodate these freeloading water bottlers.
Michael Otto, Oldsmar
What a vote costs
American elections in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were notorious for "ward leaders" and union leaders purchasing the vote. Ballot fraud was so common it developed its own vocabulary. "Colonizers" were groups of bought voters who moved en masse to turn the voting tide in doubtful wards. "Floaters" flitted like honeybees wafting from party to party, casting ballots in response to the highest bidder. "Repeaters" voted early, and sometimes in disguise. A vote could be purchased typically from $1 up to $25.
Spending for the 2012 Iowa caucuses has been estimated at between $7.3 million and $10.4 million. In December there were 102,884 registered Republican voters in Iowa. This means, if all Republicans vote, which is doubtful, the price per vote would range from around $71 to $101. It seems even the cost per vote is subject to inflation.
Jay Hall, Tampa