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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. Annual Florida manatee count breaks record for third year in a row

    Wildlife

    For the third year in a row, the annual attempt to count the manatees swimming in Florida's waterways has broken the previous year's record. Scientists reported finding 6,620 manatees this year, up from the 6,250 last year and 6,063 the year before.

    During cold weather at the end of January and the beginning of February, a team of 15 observers from 10 organizations flew around looking for manatees huddled together at power plants and in springs. ...

    Samantha Staley and her daugher, Sierra, enountered a group on mating manatees while strolling along the beach at Fort De Soto Park last year. &#13;&#13;Photo by Samantha Staley
  2. Hydrologists who accused Mosaic and DEP of missing sinkhole signs say they were wrong

    Water

    Two retired hydrologists who last week accused Mosaic and state regulators of ignoring signs of a sinkhole at a phosphogypsum plant a year before it drained polluted water into the aquifer now say they were wrong.

    "We made a mistake, and we sincerely regret our error," Donald Rice and his wife, Mary Hrenda, of Parrish said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday.

    Rice is retired from the U.S. Geological Survey and Hrenda worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Last week, the pair joined with the environmental group Suncoast Waterkeeper in calling for an investigation of Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection....

    &#65279;The sinkhole was detected in August at Mosaic&#8217;s New Wales plant near Mulberry. It measured 152 feet wide and 220 feet deep.
  3. Mosaic's first post-sinkhole test will be winning approval to expand Manatee mining

    Water

    More than 100 people signed up last month to talk about Mosaic's request to expand its phosphate mine by more than 3,000 acres. But many really wanted to talk about the sinkhole.

    Over and over they brought up the sinkhole that opened up beneath the company's Mulberry's plant in August. They saw the sinkhole as an argument against approving Mosaic's zoning change request.

    They contended that Mosaic's three weeks of silence about the sinkhole problem made them unwilling to trust the company's promises to be a good environmental steward....

    Mosaic's first political test after a sinkhole opened up beneath its Mulberry plant in August will be 50 miles away, where the company must win approval to expand its phosphate mine in Manatee County. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  4. Mosaic, DEP say hydrologists 'fundamentally wrong' that they ignored sinkhole forming

    Water

    UPDATE: Hydrologists who accused Mosaic and DEP of missing sinkhole signs say they were wrong

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Mosaic struck back Friday against allegations by two retired government hydrologists that they should have noticed a potential sinkhole forming beneath Mosaic's Mulberry fertilizer plant a year before it caused contaminated water to leak into the aquifer....

    Two retired hydrologists who last week accused Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection of ignoring signs of a sinkhole at a phosphogypsum plant a year before it drained polluted water into the aquifer now say they were wrong. "We made a mistake, and we sincerely regret our error," Donald Rice and his wife, Mary Hrenda, of Parrish, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
  5. Mosaic, state should have seen sinkhole forming, experts say

    Water

    UPDATE: Hydrologists who accused Mosaic and DEP of missing sinkhole signs say they were wrong

    A year before a sinkhole drained 215 million gallons of contaminated water from the top of a Mulberry phosphogypsum stack, monitoring wells around the stack showed something was already going horribly wrong — something that two experts say indicated a sinkhole was forming....

    A massive sinkhole that opened underneath a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry dumped at least 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan aquifer.
  6. What would happen to Florida if the EPA really did go away?

    Environment

    For years the Environmental Protection Agency has been depicted as a jackbooted thug, a humorless generator of red tape, even the nefarious villain in such films as The Simpsons Movie and the original Ghostbusters.

    Now the agency started by a Republican president, Richard Nixon, faces an uncertain future. The new president who once pledged to eliminate it now promises to refocus it. The man he nominated to be its new leader, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, made his reputation suing it. Meanwhile, a Florida congressman has filed a bill to obliterate it....

    Boats docked at Central Marine in Stuart are surrounded by blue-green algae in the summer of 2016. The Environmental Protection Agency predicted the blooms that plagued Lake Okeechobee and the Atlantic Coast last year, but it now faces an uncertain future in Florida under President Donald Trump. (Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post via AP}
  7. Tampa Bay sea grass saw gains, but that was before the recent sewage crisis

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — A key indicator of the health of Tampa Bay is the spread of sea grass, which has shown more improvement in the past year — although those measurements were taken before tens of millions of gallons of sewage was dumped into the bay since last summer.

    Sea grasses in the bay have increased by more than 1,360 acres, or nearly 3.3%, since 2014, according to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, a bay science and advocacy group first created by the Environmental Protection Agency but now operating independently....

    Seagrass habitat is pictured in Crystal Bay on Wednesday, 07/17/2013. SWFWMD is mapping seagrass habitat ranging fromTarpon Springs to Waccasassa Bay to about 20 miles offshore as a part of the Springs Coast Seagrass Mapping Project. It is a three step process. The first one involved taking aerial photographs of seagrass habitats in December 2012. The second step was using the images to map seagrass habitat. For the third and final phase, researchers go out to cross check the mapped areas from the aerial images. The project costs about $200,000, and SWFWMD expects to map about 450,000 acres of seagrass habit, the second largest in the United States. The final maps should be finalized and released sometime in August (next month). The last time this project took place was in 2007.
  8. Can we get our beloved Publix to take over the business of running Florida?

    Human Interest

    It's no secret that I love Florida. I love our beaches, our gorgeous sunsets and state parks. I especially love our police-beat stories, where you regularly find headlines like, "Accused 'porta potty' puncher popped in toilet tantrum."

    As a Floridaphile, I do my best to patronize the businesses that got their start here:

    • Red Lobster, Beyonce's favorite post­coital seafood joint, started in Lakeland in 1968. Now there are 700 across the country. One early investor was future Florida Gov. "Walkin' " Lawton Chiles, who walked the whole state during a campaign. It's not true he was picking future locations....

    Publix was founded in Winter Haven in 1930 and now has 700 stores around the country. It is the country&#8217;s largest employee-owned grocery chain.
  9. Florida DEP Secretary Jon Steverson going to work for firm that just got DEP contract

    Environment

    At the end of January, two things will change about the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

    One is that Secretary Jon Steverson will leave his post after two stormy years in charge to take a job with the law firm of Foley & Lardner.

    The other is that Steverson's new employers at Foley & Lardner will take over representing Florida in handling the billions of dollars awarded to the state as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster....

    &#65279;DEP secretary Jon Steverson is resigning after two stormy years.
  10. 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)
  11. 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]
  12. 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....

  13. 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....

    Mosaic now knows how big the massive sinkhole that in August opened up at its Mulberry plant is: 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. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
  14. 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....

    A woman walks her dog along Avenida Menendez in St. Augustine, checking out the damage at the Casablanca Inn.
  15. 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