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Thursday, January 24, 2019
Turning the Toxic Tide: Florida must reinvent the way it manages growth. (USA Today network -- six Florida editorial boards)
Our rights to fight toxic pollution start with growth management. Growth management laws were decimated under Governor RICHARD LYNN SCOTT, but are fixin' to be restored under Governor RONALD DION DeSANTIS. We hope and pray
Turning the Toxic Tide: Florida must reinvent the way it manages growth
USA TODAY Network-Florida Editorial BoardsPublished 11:19 a.m. ET Jan. 24, 2019
Donnie McMahon, 64, of Pensacola, started Pensacola Bay Oyster Co. following environmental tragedies. Leah Voss, email@example.com
Turning the Toxic Tide is a series of editorials published collectively by the six editorial boards of USA TODAY Network-Florida, with the goal of providing an environmental road map for the state's new governor, legislators and congressional delegation. This is the third in the series.
Florida’s two most western counties — Escambia and Santa Rosa— are literally divided by water.
The Escambia River serves as the county line, writhing south from the Alabama border and twisting off into a thousand creeks and streams until the waters eventually flow into Escambia Bay, then Pensacola Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico.
On the Escambia side of the bay, an entrepreneurial oyster farming project has proven wildly successful in recent years. A culinary demand for high-quality, homegrown seafood combined with environment-enhancing aquaculture (the oysters actually clean the bay) made magic for the Pensacola Bay Oyster Company.
Meanwhile, across the bay in Santa Rosa County, mismanaged development and unfinished clay roads have regularly resulted in deadly runoffs that choke and kill seagrass and marine life in streams and bayous, including a dwindling number of natural oyster beds along the Santa Rosa coastline.
While this specific source of contamination hasn’t yet damaged the burgeoning oyster farms across the bay, the potential for harm is clear.
That's how it works in Florida. Our waters don't recognize political boundaries; reckless water and development policies on one side can wreck ecosystems and investments on the other. Inconsistent county-by-county regulations are inherently unfit to preserve the larger, interconnected health of Florida’s crucial waterways.
Yet the authority to manage growth largely rests with individual counties and municipalities. The result has been haphazard growth; and as development pressures intensify, so do the impacts on our lands and water.
In recent years, Florida has seen red tide and blue-green algae devastate coastal communities and local economies, the blooms fed by nutrients from fertilizer and other sources running off pavement and agricultural lands.
In a recent report, half of Florida's most important springs were deemed to be in poor condition, with significant loss of ecological health.
Florida was once a progressive leader in growth management. Beginning in the 1970s and culminating with the 1985 Growth Management Act, elected leaders sought to bring order to what had been a disorderly, fragmented process.
The 1985 act required all local government comprehensive plans and amendments be reviewed and approved by the state. The Florida Department of Community Affairs rode herd over the new framework, which was, as one author of the law wrote, an attempt to create "a truly integrated statewide planning process."
It didn't always work as advertised, and many chafed against the restraints, which were weakened over time.
Then came the Great Recession. With former Gov. Rick Scott characterizing the DCA as a "jobs killer," new legislation was passed; the Community Planning Act of 2011 greatly reduced the state's role in local planning and eliminated the DCA, outsourcing its tasks to the new Department of Economic Opportunity.
The philosophy in Tallahassee was that local governments knew best.
And, in a sense, it worked. Florida's economy rebounded.
Yet the fallout has been significant. While the smaller-government approach might have been an appropriate response to the economic challenges of 2011, today we face new challenges created, in part, by that philosophy.
We cannot fully resurrect the policies of the past; more bureaucracy isn't the answer.
But Cynthia Barnett, Environmental Fellow at the University of Florida's Bob Graham Center for Public Leadership, points out that growth management in Florida "has always been a progression of tweaking what didn't work."
Now, she said, is an ideal time to build a new statewide growth management framework, one which retains the best of what we've built in the past "while thinking about what we can do better than we've ever done before."
"To protect the state's economy and water supply, Florida must once again take a meaningful role in managing growth," the report asserts. This, the organization wrote, should include reestablishing a "department-level land management agency and strengthening the ability of the department and citizens to enforce growth management laws."
Barnett and Graham Center Director David Colburn have called on Gov. DeSantis to convene thought leaders "to reach a consensus on the audacious ideas needed to clean up Florida's water today while preserving our last wildlands and the heritage crops now falling to rooftops."
This, then, might be the most audacious idea of all: Statewide problems require a statewide solution.
Floridians rightly cherish home rule, and any greater state role in growth management is likely to be a bitter pill. Yet it's one we'll need to swallow if we are to meet the challenges facing our waters, our lands — and all who depend on them.
This editorial reflects the opinion of the editorial boards of all six USA TODAY Network-Florida news organizations: FLORIDA TODAY, Naples Daily News, The News-Press, Pensacola News Journal, Tallahassee Democrat and TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers.