Gov. Lawton Chiles admitted in federal court Monday that the water in the Everglades was dirty, possibly breaking a legal logjam in the federal environmental lawsuit against the state. "I'm here with my sword," the governor said after the pretrial hearing. "I want to give that sword to someone, I want to surrender. We want to start cleaning up the Everglades. Don't make us keep fighting."
State officials had gone to court to ask U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler to delay the two-and-a-half-year lawsuit against the Department of Environmental Regulation and the South Florida Water Management District.
Chiles, who asked to speak to the court not only as a governor but as a registered lawyer, requested a 14-month stay. He said the new Everglades cleanup bill passed by the Legislature last month should be given a chance to work.
The federal government has accused the defendants of failing to enforce state water quality laws and allowing farm runoff to pollute Everglades National Park and Loxahatchee National Wildlife Reserve.
"I'm ready to stipulate today that that water is dirty," Chiles said, pointing to a glass of water sitting before U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen, who said he had scooped the water from an Everglades canal polluted with phosphorus.
Lehtinen said Chiles' admission was the first time the defense had stated in court that the Everglades are polluted.
But the state's attorneys and DER Secretary Carol Browner later said Chiles was not necessarily admitting the state and district were responsible for the pollution. Both sides agreed to delay further depositions in the case until July 8 to sort out what the governor meant.