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DER to get control of waterfront permits

The Cabinet voted 3-2 Tuesday to hand over approval power for most individual docks, sea walls and boat ramps to the Department of Environmental Regulation.

Two environmental groups dropped earlier opposition and spoke in favor of the plan for streamlined permitting.

The proposal includes a promise to review myriad permit exemptions now in effect, such as one that lets many boat ramps be built without environmental review, said Charles Lee, lobbyist for the Florida Audubon Society.

David Gluckman, lobbyist for the Save the Manatee Club, also spoke in favor of the plan.

Gov. Lawton Chiles and the six elected Cabinet officials currently have the final say on uses of submerged land, which the law says belongs to the state.

Even a small family pier requires a permit from DER, a review by the Department of Natural Resources, and, if there's any objection, a ruling by the governor and Cabinet.

Chiles and the Cabinet asked the departments to draft the new proposal to eliminate duplication.

DNR Director Virginia Wetherell said she and DER Secretary Carol Browner met to work out the plan.

It would give DER sole authority over most applications. With 6,000 applications a year, reviewed by 11 staff members, that will free up more time to spend on major permits such as those for marinas, Wetherell said.

The fragmented permitting system that frustrates businesses also frustrates environmental groups trying to monitor permits, Lee said. "We could do things a lot more efficiently and probably protect the environment a lot better at the same time."

Also at the Cabinet meeting, Attorney General Bob Butterworth said he will launch an anti-trust investigation into why airlines didn't bid on a contract to ferry state employees this year.

Butterworth said he is asking his economic crimes unit to investigate a sudden lack of interest in the state's high-traffic business.

"It is possible that they all decided on their own not to bid," Butterworth said. "It is also possible that is not what happened."

Requests were sent to 17 airlines for bids offering the state a group discount for employee travel. For the first time, none made offers.