Tampa City Council weighs in on Wetlands controversy

06/28/07 Mitch E. Perry
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A week after the Hillsborough County Commission voted to eliminate their responsibility in regulating wetlands, the Tampa City Council intervened, because, as City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said, “it’s our water too”.

Mulhern proposed having the Council send a letter to Governor Charlie Crist and the local legislative delegation expressing concern over the County’s vote. (roll tape#1 o.q.”….fair”)

The Board of County Commissioners voted 4-3 to eliminate the $2 million dollar wetlands division at the Environmental Protection Commission.

Several of the Commissioners, notably Brian Blair and Ken Hagen, gave different reasons why they believed wetlands protection needed to be eliminated…They said that the County’s program was redundant, duplicating what the state and Federal government can do.

And they used the Budget cuts mandated by the state as another reason, although EPC staff questioned just how much would be saved by cutting the program.

In her 2nd motion, Councilwoman Mulhern requested that they invite the EPC Executive Director Rick Garrity testify before the Council (roll tape#2 o.q.”and our Hillsborough River”)

Officially, the Hillsborough County Commission has yet killed the wetlands protection program. It will come back for a public hearing later this summer.

However, Executive Director Garrity is reportadley preparing to return to the County Commission to try one last time to save the department. Garrity told the St. Petersburg Times he wants to provide a’hybrid’ option by streamlining the process with other agencies.

Councilwoman Mulhern told her fellow Council members what will be put into the letter sent to Governor Crist (roll tape#3 o.q.”and the city of Plant City”)

Councilman John Dingfelder seconded Mulhern’s motion (roll tape#4 o.q.”and this sort of thing wouldn’t happen”)

Dingfelder said the need to protect wetlands is a need all across the city of Tampa’s limits (roll tape#5 o.q.”to city of Tampa folks”)

The County’s vote to eliminate wetlands protection has been shrouded in controversy…Earlier this week, the director of Hillsborough County's wetlands regulation office, Jadell Kerr, was suspended for 2 weeks, just days after posting critical comments about the County Commission on the blog Stickoffifre.com

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