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Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer

Craig Pittman

Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. He graduated from Troy State University in Alabama, where his muckraking work for the student paper prompted an agitated dean to label him "the most destructive force on campus." Since then he has covered a variety of newspaper beats and quite a few natural disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires and the Florida Legislature. Since 1998 he has reported on environmental issues for the Times. He is a four-time winner of the Waldo Proffitt Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism in Florida and a series of stories on Florida's vanishing wetlands that he wrote with Matthew Waite won the top investigative reporting award in both 2006 and 2007 from the Society of Environmental Journalists. He is the author of four books: "The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid" (2012); "Manatee Insanity: Inside the War Over Florida's Most Famous Endangered Species," (2010); and, co-written with Waite, "Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss," (2009). His new book, < a href="http://www.amazon.com/Oh-Florida-Americas-Weirdest-Influences-ebook/dp/B019CB3UNQ"> "Oh, Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country,"hits stores in July 2016. He lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and two children.

Phone: (727) 893-8530

Email: craig@tampabay.com

Twitter: @CraigTimes

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  1. Chickee hut rises from waters near Anclote Key, but builder claims it's exempt from state rules

    Environment

    TARPON SPRINGS — Veteran inspectors from the state Department of Environmental Protection had never seen anything like it.

    Near the northern tip of Anclote Key Preserve State Park, in about 1 ½ feet of water, someone was building a traditional thatched-roof Seminole Indian chickee hut — but on stilts.

    The owner, Indian Rocks architect Stephen J. Spencer, hadn't applied for any state or federal permits, either....

    A trust controlled by local architect Stephen J. Spencer is constructing a chickee hut without state or federal permits in shallow waters it owns near Anclote Key Preserve State Park.&#65279;
  2. Butterflies and moths at Florida museum offer clues to changing climate

    Global Warming

    GAINESVILLE — In a lush garden planted outside the Florida Museum of Natural History, more than 1,000 butterflies and moths flutter from plant to plant, occasionally landing on delighted tourists. There are owl butterflies whose wings look like unblinking eyes, vivid blue morpho butterflies that turn a dull brown when they light on a leaf, and swallowtails and monarchs galore.

    Beyond the museum's 6,400-square foot butterfly rainforest, though, is the real treasure. Inside the museum are 80,000 glass-topped drawers of butterfly and moth specimens. ...

    Also in the collection is this drawer of Parnassius&#65279; tianschanicus, a butterfly primarily found in Asia.
  3. Biggest critic of rancher losses to Florida panthers is first to get government reimbursement

    Wildlife

    Nobody has been as vocal about Florida panthers killing cattle as state wildlife commissioner Liesa Priddy, whose family has owned the JB Ranch in Immokalee for decades.

    On Wednesday, during a meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in St. Petersburg, Priddy spent about 20 minutes going on about how much the endangered cats cost ranchers in lost calves, even though ranchers "are providing the best panther habitat in Florida." She complained about how slowly scientists are responding to her request for new population estimates....

    Liesa Priddy, an Immokalee rancher, was appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by Gov. Rick Scott in 2012. At a commission meeting this week, she complained about Florida panthers killing ranchers' calves, but did not mention that she is the first Florida rancher to be reimbursed by the federal government for those losses. [Photo  courtesy of FWC]
  4. Florida agency approves 'critical wildlife areas' around the state

    Wildlife

    ST. PETERSBURG — State wildlife commissioners on Wednesday approved creating new "critical wildlife areas" off-limits to humans or expanding existing ones in 13 areas.

    These designated areas protect places where wildlife congregates to breed, nest, roost and feed. In the Tampa Bay area, new critical wildlife areas are the Dot-Dash-Dit Islands at the mouth of the Braden River in Manatee county, home to the bay area's only coastal colony of wood storks, and six caves in the Withlacoochee State Forest in Citrus County that are home to several species of bats. ...

    State wildlife commissioners on Nov. 16, 2016 approved creating new "critical wildlife areas," including six caves in the Withlacoochee State Forest in Citrus County. The caves are home to several species of bats like the one pictured here. Some of the caves are fenced off and closed to protect the bats while they are hibernating and breeding, but people still sneak in, officials say. The new designation would give law enforcement a way to keep humans away.
  5. First female panther spotted north of Caloosahatchee River in more than 40 years

    Wildlife

    For the first time in more than 40 years, a female Florida panther has been spotted north of the Caloosahatchee River, long regarded as the northern limit for the sole remaining population of the endangered state animal.

    "This is a big deal for panther conservation," said Kipp Frohlich, deputy director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's habitat and species conservation division. "An expansion of the panther's breeding range should improve the prospects for recovery."...

    &#65279;The sighting of a female Florida panther has raised biologists&#8217; hopes for a recovery of the species&#8217; population.
  6. Bird deaths, bacteria may have resulted from sewage spills into Boca Ciega Bay

    Water

    The seabirds began dying soon after the sewage began flowing.

    The culprit may be some very nasty bacteria in the water.

    In all, 48 fledgling black skimmers died in September after two Pinellas County cities dumped sewage into Boca Ciega Bay, according to Elizabeth Forys, an Eckerd College professor studying the birds.

    Official laboratory tests on the cause of those deaths are still under way, but one of the birds was confirmed to have died of salmonella, she said. The salmonella appears to have resulted from bacteria found in the water after St. Petersburg and Gulfport dumped sewage in the bay, she said....

    The discovery of 45 black skimmers found dead along St. Pete Beach in the past six weeks, has alarmed environmental groups.
  7. Don't hold your breath trying to sue Mosaic over the massive Mulberry sinkhole; it takes a while

    Water

    In September, a week after fertilizer giant Mosaic finally revealed to the public that a sinkhole at its Mulberry plant dropped 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the aquifer below, three of the plant's neighbors filed suit against the company.

    Suing Mosaic takes some patience. Just ask St. Petersburg native Howard Curd.

    Curd, 69, is the lead plaintiff in another lawsuit against Mosaic that also involves a massive spill of polluted water. Curd and his fellow fishermen alleged in the lawsuit that the acidic water destroyed the marine habitat in Hillsborough Bay that their livelihoods depended on....

    Mosaic&#8217;s New Wales plant in Mulberry is where the company discovered a sinkhole that allowed 215?million gallons of contaminated water to go into the aquifer this summer.&#65279; &#65279;
  8. Florida controls the road to the White House, so why not the White House?

    Human Interest

    You, as a Florida voter, hold the fate of the world in your hands.

    If you've lived here for a while, you're probably used to this terrible responsibility. Every four years, the rest of the nation gives us the side-eye, wondering how we wound up holding so much power and how we'll drop the ball.

    Thanks to our explosive population growth, we now control 29 electoral votes. Both major-party presidential candidates have said we're a must-win. The two of them have visited here so much, they now qualify for the Florida resident discount at Disney World....

    Let's put a Florida man, or woman, in the White House. (Times illustration  |  Ron Borresen)
  9. As polluted water disappeared in sinkhole, Mosaic avoided saying the 's-word'

    Water

    MULBERRY — The first sign something had gone wrong at Mosaic's phosphate plant happened on a Saturday. Workers on Aug. 27 checked the water level in a 78-acre pond of polluted water sitting atop a 190-foot phosphogypsum stack and discovered it had dropped by more than a foot.

    At first, records show, they believed it was just the wind blowing the water around. But around 11 a.m. Sunday, they realized the level had now dropped 3 feet....

    In late August a sinkhole 45 feet wide and 220 feet deep opened up beneath a 190-foot phosphogypsum stack at Mosaic's phosphate plant in Mulberry. That's how 215 million gallons of contaminated water drained into the aquifer below. During the crisis, it took 10 days for Mosaic officials to use the word "sinkhole" in its officials reports, and 19 days to tell the public. But officials told the Tampa Bay Times the company should have known right away what it was dealing with. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
  10. DEP works out deal with Mosaic requiring sinkhole cleanup

    Water

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced late Monday that it had worked out a consent order with Mosaic requiring a cleanup at the massive sinkhole that opened at its facility in Mulberry this summer.

    To guarantee its cooperation, the order says, Mosaic is required to put up $40 million in financial assurances — something usually posted as a performance bond. And if it fails to follow through on the entire order, the company will face fines of up to $10,000 per day....

  11. Mosaic's laser-beam measurement of sinkhole reveals it's 220 feet deep, up to 152 feet wide

    Water

    Mosaic, the world's largest phosphate company, now knows exactly how big the sinkhole at its Mulberry plant is, company officials said Monday. It's 152 feet across at its widest, and 220 feet deep — making it one of the deepest sinkholes in the state.

    And so far, phosphate company officials say, testing has found no indication that the 215 million gallons of contaminated water that poured down the hole when it opened in August have spread through the aquifer to taint the drinking water of their neighbors. Three wells have turned up with somewhat elevated levels of pollutants, but those pollutants do not match anything from Mosaic....

    This photo released by Mosaic on Monday shows the LiDAR device that workers used to measure the sinkhole that opened at its Mulberry plant in August. Mosaic used the device to measure the depth and width of the hole. It's 152 feet across at its widest, and 220 feet deep - making it one of the deepest sinkholes in the state. Mosaic hopes to seal the hole before the 2017 rainy season begins. [Courtesy of Mosaic]
  12. Storm surge from Hurricane Matthew inundated historic part of St. Augustine

    Hurricanes

    ST. AUGUSTINE — Every year, more than 6 million tourists fill the streets of St. Augustine, oohing and aaahing at the historic artifacts and attractions of the nation's oldest continuously occupied city.

    On Friday, instead of tourists, those streets were filled with surging water pushed ashore by Hurricane Matthew.

    "There are houses that will probably not ever be the same again or not even be there," St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver lamented during a televised news conference Saturday....

    National Guard units restrict access to cross the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia Island in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in St. Augustine, Fla. on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016.
  13. Scientists: Climate change made Hurricane Matthew stronger

    Hurricanes

    You can't blame climate change for creating Hurricane Matthew. But two Florida scientists say you can blame a warmer world for making the storm get so strong so fast.

    Hurricanes and tropical storms gain their power from absorbing the heat of warm water. That's why hurricane season runs from June to November, when the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico are at their warmest....

    This satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Matthew moving past Florida's Atlantic coast early Friday, Oct. 7, 2016.  Matthew was downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane overnight, and its storm center hung just offshore as it moved up the Florida coastline, sparing communities its full 120 mph winds.   (NOAA via AP) NY108
  14. Officials try to ready Lake Okeechobee for dangerous rain from Hurricane Matthew

    Hurricanes

    Every time a major hurricane threatens South Florida, one of the big questions is: What about the dike?

    A 143-mile-long earthen dike named for former President Herbert Hoover surrounds Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake in the United States. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the lake level, trying to keep it between 12.5 feet and 15.5 feet. The higher the level, the greater the risk of the dike collapsing, sending a massive wave of floodwaters into towns around its edge....

    As Hurricane Matthew approaches, officlas are carefully watching Lake Okeechobee, which is already at a high level.LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  15. First company to test Gov. Scott's new pollution notice rule is one that inspired it, Mosaic

    Water

    On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott unveiled a new system for reporting chemical spills. No more waiting for weeks to see if it spreads beyond the landowner's property line before telling the neighbors. Instead, the public must be alerted within 24 hours, he said.

    By week's end, the new system was put to a test — by the same company that spurred the change, Mosaic, the world's largest phosphate company....

    &#65279;An aerial of a massive sinkhole that opened up underneath a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry has dumped at least 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan aquifer over three weeks. Gov. Rick Scott toured the sinkhole in late September and Mosaic officials said the hole is bigger and deeper than first thought &#8212; 700 feet as opposed to about 300 feet. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]