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Paying to save Florida’s manatees is the right thing to do | Editorial
Also on this week’s list of highs and lows: The Hillsborough County Commission makes the right call on John Dingfelder, and the governor makes a move on sea level rise.
Manatees in the central Brevard County area of the Indian River will be fed this winter as part of an emergency response.
Manatees in the central Brevard County area of the Indian River will be fed this winter as part of an emergency response.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 7

Manatee help. The state is prepared to spend more than $30 million to help rescue Florida’s iconic manatees, $17 million more than the current budget. It’s a sound and warranted investment. Last year, 1,101 manatees died, more than any year on record, and at least another 527 have died already this year. The deaths are mostly due to human-related activities, including algal blooms fueled by fertilizer runoff that damage manatee feeding grounds. Boaters also hit and killed more than 100 manatees last year. To put it bluntly, humans are killing manatees. We owe it to them to help stabilize the losses and to provide a safer environment in which they can thrive.

The right call. The Hillsborough County Commission chose the smart path in rejecting former City Council member John Dingfelder’s bid to become a land use hearing officer. Only a few weeks ago, Dingfelder took the remarkable step of resigning from City Council after he was caught up in a self-inflicted public records dispute. He wrote that he “engaged in activities that were contrary to the spirit and intent of open government and transparency.” In the settlement, Dingfelder agreed not to run for City Council, mayor or seek an appointed position dealing with city zoning or land-use issues for five years. But he sidestepped that agreement by applying with the county, not the city. The part-time land use hearing officers are paid $75 an hour to conduct hearings on rezoning applications and oversee variance requests, among other duties. The county commission voted 6-1 on Wednesday to extend the contracts of the two current land use officers, a move that denied Dingfelder’s request. That was the right call. A public official who voluntarily leaves office on a serious public records allegation should not be acting in a quasi-judicial governmental role just a few weeks later. Dingfelder made his own bed. For the people making Dingfelder out as a martyr, we’d recommend reading the lawsuit’s depositions.

Taking action. Too many of Florida’s elected leaders in Tallahassee dragged their feet over the last decade when it came to climate change and sea level rise. The state still has a lot to do to prepare, but the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis took a good step by creating the new Statewide Office of Resilience. The office, set up to address the impacts of flooding and sea-level rise, will report directly to the governor, who signed the bill into law this week. The office will also help develop a resilience action plan for the state highway system, a prioritized list of resilience projects that would include costs and timelines, and a database that would identify such things as medical centers, utilities, emergency operation centers and airports threatened by rising sea levels, the News Service of Florida reported. The office cannot be just window dressing or a fount of data that no one acts upon. Florida is already feeling the effects of rising seas, an unfortunate reality that won’t be going away anytime soon.

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Pasco happenings (times three). 1. Great to see the diverging diamond interchange on Interstate 75 at SR 56 in south Pasco finally open on Sunday. The road won’t be at full capacity until later this summer, but the opening signals that the long-awaited and delayed project is coming to an end. 2. It took eight months, but Pasco teachers and support staff finally reached a tentative contract with the district ... for the school year that ends in a few weeks. Here’s hoping the next contract doesn’t take so long. 3. A civil trial over Walgreens’ contributions to the opioid crisis ended in a $683 million settlement with the state. Most of the money — to be paid out over 18 years — will go to fund community treatment, education and prevention programs around the state. The trial was based in Pasco, which state lawyers said suffered Florida’s highest drug overdose death rate from 2004 through 2012. Blame for the opioid epidemic can be spread wide, but the money from the settlement should help keep others from getting addicted to dangerous drugs.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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