June 22, 2018

FLERA President-Elect Lisa Foster Wins National Award of Excellence in Floodplain Management
FLERA President-Elect Lisa Foster has won a National Award of Excellence from the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Association, a Division of FEMA, for her work in floodplain management.  Lisa’s work has reduced floodplain insurance premiums for unincorporated Pinellas County by 25% and is saving flood-insured residents and businesses in Pinellas County more than $5 million annually.  Congratulations to Lisa for this impressive accomplishment!

Circuit Court Rules for Environmental Groups on Land Acquisition Trust Fund Spending
Second Judicial Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson ruled in favor of environmental groups last week in litigation challenging the Legislature’s appropriation of Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) dollars following implementation of Amendment 1, Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Amendment, which passed in 2014.  Judge Dodson ruled that LATF monies can only be appropriated for acquisition of conservation lands.  This has resulted in confusion and speculation regarding land management and other environmental programs, such as springs and Everglades restoration, as well as beach nourishment, although Judge Dodson’s written order has not yet been released.  While the ruling may be a short term victory for land conservation, it will likely be appealed.

Public Service Commission
The Public Service Commission recently released a draft report on power outages caused by recent hurricanes.  The Commission came under political fire following its release because the draft contained barely any mention of undergrounding utility lines.  Additionally, Commissioner Gary Clark has been a vocal proponent of the tree preemption bill that died last session.  The report has now been revised to contain a section on storm hardening that discusses undergrounding utility lines.  Commissioner Julie Brown recommended a softer approach than preemption that would include a “right tree, right place” policy as well as an educational effort.  The revised draft report will be considered at the next PSC internal affairs meeting, scheduled for July 10.  You can view a copy of the initial report here and a copy of the revised report here.

Section 404 Dredge and Fill Permitting Delegation
Environmental groups have submitted a letter to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requesting a more robust public process related to delegation of certain wetlands permits under the 404 program.  The group expressed concern that most of the application materials were developed and submitted with little to no public input.  Groups signing the letter included Audubon Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, and the League of Women Voters.  DEP responded that, prior to receiving delegation, the Department must show that its program will be as stringent or more stringent than the federal program.  The public comment period for the state rulemaking has been extended to June 29.  You can view a copy of the letter from environmental groups here.  

Lake Okeechobee Discharges Generate Renewed Environmental Concerns
Lake Okeechobee discharges are again generating environmental concerns along the Treasure Coast and in Southwest Florida.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began discharges on June 1 after May rains and in advance of the rainy season.  The discharges have created a brown plume visible in aerial photographs posted here.  In response, Governor Scott has directed DEP to take emergency action to redirect the flow of water from coastal estuaries to the South. Secretary Noah Valenstein’s emergency order can be viewed here.  Additionally, Congressman Brian Mast sent Army Corps Colonel Jason Kirk a letter that can be viewed here.