Monday, May 18, 2015

Illegal Tree-Killing Outbreak Covered Up By City, State -- County Administrator Culpable?

St. Johns County Amphitheater employees paid more than $9055.82 to kill only four trees?
Don't believe it.
That's the cover story.
We caught the Amphitheater violating the County's lease with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection -- destroying dozens of trees in a bosky wood to the northeast of the amphitheater?
The concert was moved on short notice from Fort Clinch, a 19th century masonry fort in our State Park system and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Fort Clinch is a special place that FDEP improvidently had planned to allow be used for the April 10-11, 2015 concert. The relocated concert was called "Making Lemonade."
Environmental compliance was forgotten.
Under pressure to make a profit or be contracted out, St. Augustine Amphitheater employees -- our County employees -- broke the law.
They were in a hurry and did not obtain a City permit or State approval for a hastily constructed campground for the hastily-relocated Umphreys' McGee and Lettuce "Making Lemonade" weekend (see photos, showing no replacement as of Saturday, May 17, 2015).
The website discusses "Camping Passes" available from the Amphitheater.
The website reported on April 8 that the "fine folks at the St. Augustine Amphitheater have gone above and beyond to make this weekend an incredible experience," bragging "they have really gone out of their way to accommodate our needs."
That's an understatement.
The County employees broke the law.
They despoiled about an acre of Anastasia State Park land leased by the County.
They clearcut the beautiful environment, believed to be home to several endangered species.
It was not "incredible" for the wildlife.
Nor for the nature lovers.
And they violated the rule of law.
County Amphitheater employees violated the County's FDEP lease AND FDEP land use plan AND the City's recently strengthened tree ordinance.
Both the FDEP and the City of St. Augustine Planning and Building Department looked the other way when we reported it.
After we requested records, County employees filed paperwork on April 17, 2015 with the the St. Augustine Planning and Building Department, paying a $400 fee by phoned credit card on April 20, 2015, falsely claiming in paperwork that their "vendor" was confused and that they they only killed four trees on April 13, 2015, paying $400 by phone for retroactive permits.
But invoices from a local nursery and equipment rental firm show the cost of the tree removal was more than $8000!
That's $8000 paid by St. Johns County to Leonardi's Nursery (April 11, 2015 invoice) for the tree removal/replacement, and another $1055.82 to Hertz Equipment Rental of Jacksonville for a Bobcat front end loader rented from March 31 to April 7, 2015, seen by witnesses at the scene of the environmental crime. (Source: County response to my Open Records request No. 2015-82, provided last week).(See photos).
As of Saturday, May 16, 2015, there had been no "replacement" whatever. (See photos above and below, showing clearcutting without permits).
The transaction involving Leonardi's Nursery was apparently separate, there were four trees removed elsewhere.
The tree-hacking in quo was done by County employees, not Leonardi's, which has a good reputation.
It figures that the City and County would be in cahoots.
Both City of St. Augustine and St. Johns County governments are thralls of tree-killing, wetland-destroying "developers."
Both governments provide political patronage to the same well-connected families and unethical no-bid contracts (like Hyperscreens).
Both City and County governments are working together to provide entertainment for the St. Augustine 450th (no contracts provided yet).
The City does not want to embarrass County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK, Assistant County Administrators DARRELL LOCKLEAR and JERRY CAMERON, and Ryan Murphy, County Amphitheater Manager, a member of the City's Visioning Committee AND the man in charge of booking the acts for September 4-6 concerts for "Celebrate 450!"
No comment from either the County or the City (whose Planning and Building Department refused to investigate and issued retroactive tree-killing permits for four trees in another area on April 20, 2015, acting as if that resolved the matter).
Both City and County lack -- and urgently need -- Inspectors General, Ombuds or environmental consciousness.
Both City and County badly need investigations -- civil, criminal and administrative.
We need a City Manager and a County Administrator who are ethical.
We need a Governor who cares about the environment, instead of winking at Temple Destroyers, whether government or corporate.
We need an honest Sheriff with an Environmental Crimes Unit worthy of the name.
We need an honest State government that will take action when its lease to the County is violated by unjust stewards like County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK, tortfeasor at large.
We need a St. Augustine Amphitheater where our environment is treasured and not trampled.
A grand jury must investigate County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK, et al. conspired to violate the FDEP lease and City tree ordinance.
We need just environmental stewards.
We urgently need the St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore.
That's how we prevent our beloved St. Augustine from being turned into "St. Philistine" by unjust environmental stewards, hick hacks and corrupt developers.
In 1964, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said this was the "most lawless" place in America.
In 2005, KKK-buster Stetson Kennedy (one of my mentors) was asked what happened to the men who threw bricks at blacks at the Slave Market: he replied, "Well, a lot of them are still around, and they're still working for the City and the County."
Happy 450th.

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