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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. 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]
  2. Judge tosses out felony murder conviction for man who never touched gun

    Criminal

    For more than eight years, Corey Rocker has been behind bars. While he was a teenager, he was sentenced to life in prison for a murder in which he never touched the gun, much less pulled the trigger.

    On Friday, a judge set him free.

    Instead of a life sentence, "He gets to have a life," said his attorney, Bjorn Brunvand of Clearwater.

    His conviction was thrown out because the state could not prove what he did during the killing met the legal definition of murder....

    Corey Rocker never touched the gun that killed Brennon Days in 2008 but had been with the teen who did.
  3. The 'F' in Florida often stands for 'fake'

    News

    Living in Florida is an adventure, and not just because of the hurricanes, lightning, sinkholes, shark attacks and nudist resorts. A big part of what makes living here so — interesting? is that the right word? — is knowing that much of what you see isn't real.

    We've got pretend mermaids, a phony Fountain of Youth and, off Interstate 4, a Jurassic Park full of fake dinosaurs. One of our biggest parties, Gasparilla, celebrates a pirate who didn't exist. In the Keys, you drive on the Seven Mile Bridge, which is actually about six miles long, to get to the Southernmost Point in the United States, which is actually just the southernmost point civilians can get to....

    FILE - In this April 28, 2015, file photo, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., appears, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Durbin is taking the rare step of weighing in on the states handling of a health insurance rate increase request by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. The state's leading insurer is suggesting price increases for 2017 ranging from 23 percent to 45 percent for individual health plans. Durbin, the state's senior senator, says the company could be more competitive and reduce costs, and he's pressing state regulators to take action. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke File)
  4. Florida's latest environmental headache: Red Tide hits Pinellas County

    Water

    Red Tide, the toxic algae that has plagued Florida's coasts since the days of the Spanish conquistadors, is making a big mess on Pinellas County's beaches this week.

    The sewage that was dumped into Tampa Bay could make it even worse.

    The first report came in Saturday: dead fish washing up on the beach at the Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach. Since then, thousands of dead fish have created a smelly mess at John's Pass, Redington Beach, Treasure Island and Sunset Beach too, said Kelly Redmond of the state's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, which monitors toxic algae blooms....

    Thousands of dead fish and other small marine life lined the beaches of Treasure Island on Tuesday.  [Les Neuhaus]
  5. Mosaic official says Mulberry sinkhole could be much deeper than first reported

    Water

    MULBERRY — The massive sinkhole that opened up last month at a Mosaic phosphate processing plant near the Hillsborough-Polk county line may be even deeper than previously thought.

    The sinkhole — initially reported as being 300 feet deep — may extend much farther down into the ground....

    An aerial of a massive sinkhole that opened up underneath a gypsum stack (top) at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry has dumped at least 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan aquifer over the past three weeks.
  6. After 3-week delay telling public about contaminated sinkhole, Gov. Rick Scott wants faster notice

    Water

    For three weeks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials kept mum about a phosphate mine's 300-foot-deep sinkhole that dumped 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the state's aquifer. When they finally told the public earlier this month, officials said they went "above and beyond" what they were required to do....

    An aerial photo shows polluted water from the gypsum stack plunging like a waterfall into the sinkhole at the Mosaic complex. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection was notified about the sinkhole on Aug. 28 but did not notify the public until Sept. 19. Gov. Rick Scott said Monday that from now on he wants the public to be notified about pollution-related incident within 24 hours. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  7. USF scientists comparing Deepwater Horizon oil spill and a Mexican disaster in 1979 (w/video)

    Water

    For 40 days, scientists aboard a Florida-based research vessel trolled the Gulf of Mexico for signs of the past, hoping to discover hints of the future.

    Now their ship has landed back in St. Petersburg, full of sediment samples and slivers of fish. They think those items will help them predict the long-term effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

    The scientists expect to take months analyzing all of the specimens now stored in freezers at the University of South Florida College of Marine Sciences in St. Petersburg. But they have some preliminary findings that came from just keeping their eyes open....

    Fish liver samples at the University of South Florida research lab wait to be analyzed.
  8. Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary operating under new name, new management

    Wildlife

    INDIAN SHORES — The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a Tampa Bay institution for 45 years, no longer exists.

    In its place, thanks to a legal settlement, is a new organization operating in the same Indian Shores location. It's now called the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary.

    "We have settled the lawsuits and reached an agreement to operate the sanctuary as a successor organization going forward with no affiliation with Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary," Kelly White, a spokeswoman for the new owners, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday....

    &#65279;The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary has reopened with a new name, Seaside Seabird Sanctuary, and new management. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times] &#65279;
  9. DEP: No legal requirement to notify neighbors of phosphate plant's sinkhole

    Water

    Last month, when a 300-foot-deep sinkhole opened up at a phosphate plant in Mulberry, draining acidic waste into the aquifer below, the owner, fertilizer industry giant Mosaic, alerted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Polk County.

    But neither Mosaic nor the three governmental agencies alerted the nearby homeowners who draw their water from the same aquifer. They didn't learn about the 215 million gallons of contaminated water that fell into the aquifer until the incident became public on Friday, three weeks later....

    An aerial photo shows the sinkhole that opened up underneath a gypsum stack at the Mosaic plant in Mulberry.
  10. Carlos Beruff's wetland mitigation bank shot down by federal agency

    Wetlands

    A wetlands mitigation bank like no other in Florida, proposed by developer and former U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff, won't be getting a federal permit any time soon.

    Beruff's wetlands mitigation bank in Manatee County won state approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection after DEP officials overruled the concerns of their permit reviewer.

    But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, based on similar concerns, said in a letter last week that it could not approve Beruff's plans....

    Beruff
  11. Sewage dump may lead to algae blooms, fish kill, lost seagrass, experts say

    Water

    Expect algae blooms. Seagrass die-off. Fish kills. Dead birds.

    Those are some of the environmental consequences that could result from the tens of millions of gallons of sewage that has flowed into Tampa Bay over the past year, according to bay experts.

    "The long-term effects, we will not know for several months," warned Holly Greening, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, which has spent years leading the cleanup of the bay. "We are watching this very carefully."...

    Environmental groups are alarmed by the deaths nearly 50 juvenile black skimmers found recently along St. Pete Beach.
  12. Spilled sewage suspected in mass bird die-off in St. Pete Beach

    Wildlife

    ST. PETE BEACH — A grisly discovery has alarmed environmental groups: 45 juvenile seabirds called black skimmers have been found dead along the beach over the past six weeks.

    Volunteers who have been monitoring the mass die-off suspect the dumping of more than 1 million gallons of municipal sewage into Boca Ciega Bay has something to do with it.

    "We fully expect more to die," said Lorraine Margeson of the Florida Shorebird Alliance, who found the first bird carcass on Aug. 12....

    This was the first dead black skimmer found Aug. 12 in St. Pete Beach. The number of dead birds is now 45, all from the same colony.
  13. David Jolly urges feds to restore Pinellas beaches after Hermine

    Blog

    Even before Hurricane Hermine chopped off parts of Pinellas County’s beaches, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Bellair Bluffs, was trying to get the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hurry up and put the sand back.

    Now that the beaches appear to have lost more sand than at any time in the past decade, Jolly has again sent the Corps a letter urging them to start rebuilding the beaches in 2017 -- a year earlier than planned....

    U.S. Rep. David Jolly
  14. Carlos Beruff withdraws controversial wetlands request

    Blog

    Former U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff has withdrawn his state permit application for an unusual wetland mitigation bank that was challenged by environmental groups.

    Beruff's proposed 262-acre Long Bar Pointe mitigation bank in Manatee County also faces trouble on another front: at least one federal agency has suggested the Army Corps of Engineers should deny its federal permit.

    "In a nutshell, what we recommended was that the bank not go forward as currently proposed," Ginny Fay, assistant regional administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Wednesday....

  15. Ex-U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff withdraws controversial wetlands request

    Wetlands

    Former U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff has withdrawn his state permit application for an unusual wetland mitigation bank that was challenged by environmental groups.

    Beruff's proposed 262-acre Long Bar Pointe mitigation bank in Manatee County also faces trouble on another front: at least one federal agency has suggested the Army Corps of Engineers should deny its federal permit.

    "In a nutshell, what we recommended was that the bank not go forward as currently proposed," Ginny Fay, assistant regional administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Wednesday....

    Republican Carlos Beruff, a building contractor, announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in February but was handily defeated in the GOP primary by incumbent U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Beruff recently withdrew his state permit application for an unusual wetland mitigation bank in Manatee County that was challenged by an environmental group. (Giorgio Viera/El Nuevo Herald/TNS)