EPC adopts wetlands hybrid solution

07/17/08 Seán Kinane
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Thirteen months ago, Hillsborough County Commissioners voted to eliminate the wetlands division of the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC). But environmental activists fought to save the wetlands regulatory arm of the EPC against some developers and agricultural interests who wanted it gutted.

Today, in their role as the EPC board, the County Commissioners unanimously approved a hybrid plan that was suggested last August to save the wetlands division but streamline permitting in what is known as the “delegation rule.”

Andrew Zodrow is assistant counsel for the EPC. “We will issue one permit that will address both the state rules and our local rules. … We’re gong to have truly, for I think the first time in the state of Florida, one-stop permitting.”

Environmental activist Denise Layne said it is important to get the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWIFTMUD) permits delegated to EPC control as well. That puts Layne in the rare position of supporting a suggestion by State Sen. Rhonda Storms, a former Hillsborough commissioner.

Layne is running as a Democrat for County Commission. The two primary opponents she will face next month, Joe Redner and Kevin Beckner, also spoke in favor of the EPC wetlands hybrid plan. The winner of the primary will face the victor in the Republican primary, either Don Kruse or incumbent Brian Blair.

Redner told WMNF why he was speaking in favor of the hybrid plan. “We think that their recommendations should be followed. … We need these protections to protect ourselves and the environment.”

Beckner reminded the EPC board that their role is to protect the environment. “I ask that you adhere to your pledge today and maintain the strength of our wetlands.”

The EPC’s hybrid plan was approved by a 7-4 majority of a Citizens’ Environmental Advisory Committee and a 5-4 majority of a Wetlands Advisory Committee. Before his vote for the hybrid plan, Commissioner Brian Blair said the EPC staff put together a good plan for everyone.

But Blair did get involved in some controversy after the commission voted for the hybrid. He appeared to support Jim Norman’s request that the EPC classify wetlands based on how pristine or ecologically important they are.

The EPC’s Executive Director Rick Garrity clarified that they are recommending against a system of wetlands classification, just like the Technical Advisory Committee recommended.

Bev Griffiths is chair of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club, a group that endorsed the hybrid plan for wetlands. Griffiths said she was “ecstatic” and “very pleased” that the EPC’s wetlands hybrid rule was approved.

Twenty members of the public asked the EPC Board to accept the hybrid wetlands rule. Although six people criticized the EPC in general, only one person asked for the board to oppose the hybrid, Michael Brooks. "My concerns in particular are related to the recognition of Comprehensive plan ... and recognition of net environmental benefit."

EPC board member Mark Sharpe addressed both of those concerns and thanked Garrity. Sharpe said that protecting the environment would help Hillsborough County’s economy. "So what we're doing here by protecting the environment is going to strengthen our economy."

The EPC is holding a workshop tonight until 8:30 at the Children’s Board, 1002 E. Palm Ave. in Ybor City on amendments to the county’s noise rule. There will be a public hearing to consider the Noise Rule on Sept. 18.

EPC – Environmental Protection Commission

SWFWMD - Southwest Florida Water Management District

2008 election candidates

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