Wealthy special interests endangering environment

February 1st, 2014 by Sally Swartz, columnist

When wealthy special interests can’t control local governments — such as Martin County’s careful growth county commission majority — they look to Tallahassee for relief. They often find it by contributing to state legislators willing to advance their agendas.

So it’s not surprising that big buck interests who don’t like Martin’s rules — or those of any local government that wants to enforce environmental regulations — have a champion in the upcoming Florida legislative session. Rep. Jimmy Patronis of Panama City has filed House Bill 703, so filled with poisonous provisions that Martin residents already are fighting it.

Mr. Patronis, who had no opposition in the 2012 election, raised $137,000 and took contributions from Associated Builders and Contractors, Associated Industries, Miami Limestone, North Florida Rock Ltd., White Rock Quarries and Gunster Yoakley, among others. Last year, he sponsored an environmental permitting bill that would have killed local wetlands, permitting and fertilizer controls, before the Senate removed the provisions.

HB 703, which as yet has no Senate companion, drew comments from Martin residents Henry Copeland, Jackie Transcynger, Myra Galoci and Donna Melzer at Martin County Commission on Tuesday. Ms. Melzer, a former commissioner and head of the Martin County Conservation Alliance, calls it “anti-river, anti-home rule and anti-planning.”

“The Patronis bill,” Mr. Copeland said in urging residents to lobby against it, “goes to the core of every value we stand for in Martin County.”

Maggy Hurchalla, former Martin commissioner and both a court-recognized expert on and champion for Martin’s protective growth plan, posts more information at www.rivercrisis.com.

In a letter to commissioners, Ms. Hurchalla cites concerns about HB 703.
– All the environmental policies Martin has had in place since 1982 no longer would apply to agriculture.
– Requiring a super majority vote for critical issues such as Martin’s four-story height limit, 15-units per acre density cap, or the provision that development “can’t put more dirty runoff in the river” would be illegal —retroactively. Martin recently included the supermajority provision in an update of its growth plan.

–Big land owners could continue to be taxed as owners of farm lands after they’ve won approval to build a new city on the land — if they keep one cow on the property. Pasture land is valued at $700 an acre; industrial or commercial at $100,000 an acre. “urban homeowners and businesses can’t claim a tax break by putting a cow in their backyard,” Ms. Hurchalla writes. “They shouldn’t have to pay more taxes because big landowners who have no intention of remaining in agriculture are paying less.”

–Big land owners could get 50-year permits to let landowners sell Martin County water to utilities in Palm Beach County and Broward County. That’s a first step in privatizing water, which now is a public resource.

After Gov. Rick Scott was elected, state agencies that protected local communities from runaway growth were gutted and turned into economic boosters. Local communities were to make their own rules. HB 703 would erase that concept of home rule for Martin and other Florida counties.

Martin commissioners asked Ms. Hurchalla, who helped create the county’s protective growth plan, to update it and repair problems a previous commission majority made in a rewrite that removed many historic protections.

Now developers Hobe Grove, Lake Point and King Ranch are challenging the revamped growth plan and its protections. Lake Point also has filed a SLAPP — a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — aimed at shutting up Ms. Hurchalla and intimidating others who oppose their Martin rock-mining operation.
Residents can e-mail Gov. Scott and local representatives urging them to kill this bad bill: Rick.Scott@eog.myflorida.com; Gaetz.Don.web@flsenate.gov; Will.Weatherford@myfloridahouse.gov; negron.joe.web@flsenate.gov; gharrell@gayleharrell.com; marylynn.magar@myfloridahouse.gov; larry.lee@myfloridahouse.gov

Among local legislators, only Sen. Negron voted against Rep. Patronis’ last bad bill.
“It’s a dangerous time of year,” Ms. Transcynger told Martin commissioners, “when legislators return to Tallahassee and do damage to the environment and the rivers.”

So sad. Too true.

Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Her e-mail address is sdswartz42@att.net