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Environmentalists take issue with cost of list

Published Oct. 4, 2005

State regulators are offering a list that environmental watchdogs love to read: applications for dredge and fill permits, docks, marinas, sea walls and the like.

But those environmentalists aren't rich. They're suffering sticker shock at the price.

The Department of Environmental Protection said in a letter last month it would charge $1,516 a year for the list of permit applications from all 67 counties. Any subscriber who wanted one county at a time or any number could get those for less.

But environmental groups say the charges will put the information off limits because of budget constraints.

"It's out of the question for me," said Linda Young, an environmental activist who publishes a monthly newspaper on the environment, the Pro-Earth Times. "It means exactly what they want it to mean. I'll have less access information to share with the public."

That's not the intent at all, insists Janet Llewellyn, a DEP official who helped develop the list.

"I was afraid this might cause a fuss, but people need to understand this is a new service. We're not charging for something they were getting free before."

In 1993-94, the agency had 5,439 applications for construction in wetlands. At that rate, the cost come out to roughly 30 cents a page. Each application contains about four or five pages of explanation and drawings, Llewellyn said. Because of the consolidation of permitting functions in 1993, the DEP is able to compile the list for the first time and send it out.

"Our concern is it takes an awful lot of time and clerical work to do these mailing lists," she said. "It's a good service to provide to get that information out."

The agency started out with a price list of $32 for 1 to 5 counties, $109 for 6 to 10 and so on to the top charge of $758 to get all the permit applications statewide. The rates are for a six-month subscription. That turned out to be "too simple," Llewellyn said. Ever-vigilant agency attorneys said that method would create inequities. So looking at actual number of applications for each county, the agency came up with county-by-county prices.

"The price went up when we did it with real data," she said.

The updated price list will go out soon, likely infuriating environmentalists again.

The Audubon Society has already asked for an exemption, saying "just that they don't have a lot of money," Llewellyn said. But there is no way to grant an exemption, she said.

Environmentalists like Young counter that other agencies, including the state water management districts and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, provide such lists free. Llewellyn emphasized that Floridians don't have to pay to see the documents.

"All of our applications and all of our files are public records. Anyone can come into our office at any time and look at them," she said. "If people come into the office and they want a copy of one or two pages we usually do that gratis."