Florida Ports Council CEO warns that proposed changes to protect the endangered Rice’s whale could harm ports from Tampa to Pensacola

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Rice's whale Or Gulf Of Mexico Whale (NOAA)
Rice's whale Or Gulf Of Mexico Whale. By NOAA.

Backroom Briefing: Whale of an Issue
Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida

By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Ports Council President and CEO Mike Rubin is raising alarms that proposed changes to protect an endangered whale species could economically hurt ports from Tampa to Pensacola.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is nearing the end of a public-comment period on a petition from conservation organizations to establish a year-round 10-knot vessel speed limit in the “core” habitat area of the endangered Rice’s whale.

Rubin wants the petition tossed.

“It’s as if NOAA wants Florida to hang up a ‘closed for business’ sign,” Rubin said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “Florida’s Gulf of Mexico seaports play an enormous role in fueling (providing petroleum products to) Florida, and are essential suppliers of everything from food to medical supplies, and construction materials to build homes, roads and make ongoing hurricane repairs in Southwest Florida.”

The petition, filed in 2021, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Healthy Gulf, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, and the New England Aquarium seeks to create a “vessel slowdown zone” in waters 100 meters to 400 meters deep from Pensacola to south of Tampa to protect the whale from collisions with vessels and noise.

In the petition, the groups contend about 50 Rice’s whales exist and it’s likely that more than one dies every 15 years as a result of a collision with a vessel. They also point to myriad other threats, including “curtailment of habitat due to oil and gas development, oil spills and oil spill response, anthropogenic noise, marine debris, and potential fisheries interactions.”

Rubin takes issue with the speed limits and a proposal to prevent nighttime ship traffic in the zone.

In a request that NOAA rescind the proposed rule, the ports council contends “this rule runs counter to efforts by other federal agencies and the state of Florida to increase the cargo capacity of Florida seaports to ensure an effective and efficient supply chain system for U.S. businesses and citizens. We have seen an increase in other cargo shipments into Florida Gulf Coast seaports because of these efforts to respond to (the) supply chain crisis and COVID impacts.”

NOAA will take written comments on the proposal through July 6.

If the federal agency decides to initiate rulemaking, it will publish a notice in the Federal Register. No timeline was immediately available for that decision.

WHAT CONFEDERACY?

As he runs for president, Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for restoring the Fort Bragg name to a military base in North Carolina that is now called Fort Liberty. But DeSantis said this week he was unaware that the base was formerly named after Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg.

DeSantis said when he first supported reviving the Fort Bragg name, he just viewed the issue as an “iconic base” falling victim to political correctness.

“I didn’t even know it was a Civil War general,” said DeSantis, who studied history at Yale. “I don’t think most people knew it was a Civil War general. … And they’re changing it for political correctness reasons. And so, I don’t believe in doing it for political correctness reasons. And that’s just kind of how we’re gonna roll on it.”

DeSantis first pledged to restore the name of the base June 9 during the North Carolina Republican Party convention in Greensboro.

His comment came shortly after the Department of Defense made the change to Fort Liberty. The base was established as an artillery training ground called Camp Bragg before becoming Fort Bragg after World War I.

The name change to Fort Liberty was part of a series of changes initiated by the Pentagon in 2020 in response to protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

During an appearance Monday in Eagle Pass, Texas, DeSantis was asked if he also would revert the name of Fort Cavazos outside Killeen, Texas, to Fort Hood — after Confederate General John Bell Hood.

Fort Cavazos is named after Gen. Richard Cavazos, a Texan who was the U.S. Army’s first Hispanic four-star general.

DeSantis said he hadn’t “seen what happened with Fort Hood,” then turned to Fort Liberty.

“I think you can look back at anybody and you could find flaws,” DeSantis said, pointing to the relocation of a statue in Boston that included Abraham Lincoln, the relocation of a statue in New York of Theodore Roosevelt and an effort in San Francisco to remove George Washington’s name from a high school.

“But at the end of the day, you know, we have people that have done great things for this country,” DeSantis said. “We wouldn’t be where we were, unless we’ve had some of the people like Washington and Thomas Jefferson and these people. So, I don’t want to erase that.”

He added that we live in a “different time.”

“People make mistakes. There’s different parts of our society, we look back, and can say ‘was a mistake,’” DeSantis said. “But this idea that we’re going to erase history I just think it’s fundamentally wrong. And we’re not going to do that.”

‘WEST WING’ GALA

Actor Bradley Whitford will be the keynote speaker at the Florida Democratic Party’s 2023 Leadership Blue Gala next weekend at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.

Whitford may be best known for playing White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman on NBC’s “The West Wing.”

Party Chair Nikki Fried, describing herself in a news release as a “fan girl” of the actor, said, “In so many ways, West Wing gave us the playbook on ‘doing what is hard and achieving what is great,’ and predicted so much of what we’re facing in our political landscape today.”

TWEET OF THE WEEK

“Susie Wiles, a top adviser on Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign, identified as key individual in classified docs indictment, sources tell @ABC News.” — ABC News (@ABC).

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