Christie: Is Gov. Rick Scott to blame for the worsening red tide, toxic algae blooms?

Lifeguards at Riviera Beach beach wear covering over their faces. The life guards (did not want to give names) said that if asked they would advise people not to risk a beach visit. Many beaches remains open Sunday morning while others remained closed to to Red Tide warnings. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

For years now, coastal Palm Beach County residents has been able to watch the environmental disasters caused by toxic blue-green algae and red tide from afar.

We’ve watched our neighbors to the north in the Treasure Coast have their lives buffeted; our fellow county residents to the west in the Glades have their way of life threatened; and our fellow coastal residents in Southwest Florida shutter businesses.

RELATED: Beaches remain closed due to ‘airborne irritant’

But that was before this weekend. Before the red tide we’ve all been reading about elsewhere in the state was suspected of making the air so bad here that local health officials in Martin and Palm Beach counties were forced to shut down 27 miles of beaches.

Health officials, on Monday, were still trying to confirm that it is indeed red tide that forced beachgoers — especially those with respiratory issues — to stay away, and had many complaining about burning eyes.

Jill Desplain brings her daughter Quinn in from the surf. She is visiting from Kentucky and and was unaware of the red tide warnings. Riviera Beach beach remains open Sunday morning while other beaches are closed due to Red Tide warnings. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

Apropos that at the center of it all is Gov. Rick Scott and his dismal environmental record of budget cutting and lax regulation. But will county residents blame Scott for if the red tide disaster has indeed made it to our shores?

If it is red tide, this may be a game-changer for Scott — who prides himself among other things on shamelessly promoting our state’s all-important tourism industry. The embattled governor, who has already been taking hits for weeks in every coastal community he deigns to visit, usually sees Palm Beach County as a sanctuary for the Scott train. In fact, he was just here a couple weeks ago raising money in Palm Beach with former President George W. Bush.

RELATED: Editorial: Scott must answer for environmental malpractice

That was then. Today, drivers can see signs for “Red Tide Rick” hanging from Florida’s Turnpike overpasses in the county. And again, if health officials confirm that red tide is the cause of the current “airborne irritant” at our beaches, Scott may have to scratch another coastal haunt off of his U.S. Senate campaign tour for a while.

Take our poll here, and let us know what you think: Is Scott’s handling of the environment to blame for the worse-than-normal red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms?

Goodman: Gov. Rick Scott, friend of the environment, LOL.

Gov. Rick Scott applauds with guests after announcing funding for freshwater springs and Everglades restoration as a part of his 2015 state budget, during a visit to the Florida Audubon Birds of Prey Center, in Maitland, Fla. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank)

Rick Scott as defender of Florida’s lands, air and waters? Seriously?

The Florida governor whose mantra is jobs, jobs, jobs?  Who rode to office on a wave of tea party support and has pushed for limiting government and gutting regulations, including those that protect the environment, in the name of giving business a freer rein?

Yet here he was this week, proposing to boost spending on Florida’s natural resources and environmental programs by $220 million.

The $1.7 billion environmental package for lawmakers to consider in 2018 includes funding for the state’s springs, beaches and parks, along with $355 million for Everglades restoration, $50 million to help the federal government speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and $50 million for Florida Forever, the state’s most prominent land-preservation fund. (News Service of Florida)

And on Thursday, he touted news that his good friend President Donald Trump has ordered expedited federal spending on the Herbert Hoover Dike. Although, this might not fall under the category of “environment” so much as “disaster avoidance,” given the life-threatening dangers of a shaky levee in a major hurricane; we’re only a few weeks removed from when it looked like Irma was going to rake the center of the state and roar over Lake Okeechobee.

 

It’s almost enough to make you forget that Scott launched a thousand late-night TV jokes when his administration scrubbed the words “climate change” and “global warning” from official communications, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Because, you know, Florida doesn’t have much coastline to worry about.

It’s an easy guess why the governor is now making sure that we all know that he cares a great, great deal about our natural resources. The 2018 race for U.S. Senate is warming up. And Scott, his second term coming to an end, is expected to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who has won the statewide office three times already. Current polling shows they’re virtually tied.

Florida voters are as divided as the rest of the country on most issues, but we’re in general accord when it comes to protecting the environment. Just look at 2014’s Amendment 1, which established a huge fund for land and water conservation by setting aside a portion of an existing real-estate tax. It passed with 75 percent of the vote.

In Scott’s two victorious races for governor, by contrast, he couldn’t win 49 percent of the vote.

So painting yourself as an environmentalist is good politics in this state. The trouble is, Scott has a record that looks like this:

  • With the Legislature’s help, he ordered water management districts to slash their property tax collections soon after taking office. The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees Everglades restoration, had its budget cut by almost half. It operates with less money today than it did in 2008. Experienced scientists and engineers who did solid work for the water district are gone.
  • In 2011, Scott abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which oversaw development and tried to promote rational growth. To Scott, the department created too much red tape for developers.
  • Under Scott, Florida has eased up on enforcing rules against polluters. The Department of Environmental Protection has opened 81 percent fewer pollution-regulation cases since 2010, the year before Scott took office, according to Florida Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
  • That $50 million request he’s now making for Florida Forever land conservation purchases? Big deal. Until the Great Recession, the program got $300 million a year. Since Scott’s reelection in 2014, his requests for the program peaked at $25.1 million. Even after  voters passed Amendment 1 in that 2014 landslide, budget allocations haven’t surpassed $15.2 million, and this year Florida Forever was zeroed out. All of these sums look pretty paltry when you consider how much money Amendment 1 generates from the documentary-stamp tax. For next fiscal year, it’s an estimated $862.2 million.

There was another time when Scott talked a lot about the environment. That was 2014, when he was running for re-election.

He campaigned “on a $1 billion, 10-year environmental blueprint that in many aspects mirrored the environmental spending amendment that was also before voters at the time. The platform item included plans to request $150 million a year for Florida Forever.” (News Service of Florida)

Once Scott was returned to office, that $150 million a year never materialized.

There’s a reason that Democratic foes are calling Scott an “election year environmentalist.”

Florida needs leaders who are every-year environmentalists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christie: Is that panther ‘photo bombing’ that python hunter?

Dusty “Wildman” Crum caught this 16-foot-10-inch Burmese python in the South Florida Water Management District’s experimental python hunt. The snake had 73 eggs. (Photo courtesy, South Florida Water Management District)

C’mon, admit it… You did a double-take didn’t you?

That display photo of python hunter Dusty “Wildman” Crum with a 10-foot-10-inch snake draped around his neck on the Post’s Sunday Local front apparently had a lot of folks squinting, or running for their reading glasses.

Moreover, several of them decided to write letters to the editor about the eyebrow-raising pic and ask questions.

Like this short-and-sweet one from Lisa Stewart of Lake Worth:

“Did anyone notice a panther walking past the man who was posing with a dead python?”

Well, yes we did.

And others wondered why the curious-looking panther that appears to be casually strolling behind Crum wasn’t even mentioned in either the photo caption or the story.

What happened to the panther, they wanted to know.

The simple answer is that it’s not a real panther.

That’s right. According to the South Florida Water Management District, the photo of Crum — who participated in the SFWMD’s experimental python hunt — was taken in front of a display at an airboat vendor’s establishment on Tamiami Trail.

By the way, the program, which pays hunters minimum wage plus bonuses, is expected to get a green light to continue at this week’s SFWMD board meeting.

“It’s been a great success,” said Pete Antonacci, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. “You don’t want to lose momentum when something good is happening.”

Agreed. But seriously, where can we find that cool mural?

Goodman: Scott gives welcome boost to reservoir plan south of Lake Okeechobee

Florida Gov. Rick Scott takes questions during a news conference on environmental issues at the state capitol Monday in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Reedy)

Gov. Rick Scott has given a big boost to Senate President Joe Negron’s plan for a deep-water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

The governor on Monday endorsed the Treasure Coast Republican’s revised proposal for a reservoir that would use state-owned land at first, rather than seek to take existing farmland. The aim is to reduce water discharges east and west of the lake — overflows that led last year to toxic, stinky algae blooms — as well as help restore the south-bound water flow of the Everglades.

Scott put his own stamp on the proposal. He wants the Legislature to add $200 million to the budget to help the federal government speed up its repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers currently expects to complete a $1.7 billion project to shore up the wall around Lake Okeechobee by 2025. Scott hopes to cut that date to 2022.

The Senate voted last week 36-3 to approve the water bill (SB 10). That sent it to the House, where its fate is uncertain.

The senator who has navigated the bill through the upper chamber, Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Scott’s backing was “a huge step forward in bringing this in for a landing.”

Negron had originally sought 60,000 acres to build storage for 120 billion gallons of water south of the lake. But facing stiff opposition from sugar growers and residents of Glades communities concerned about the loss of agricultural jobs, Negron scaled back the project to about 30,000 acres, using land already owned by the state. That dropped the projected price to $1.5 billion from $2.4 billion, to be shared by the state and federal government. The Senate bill seeks $64 million for the reservoir, but the House opposes the Senate’s idea of issuing bonds in future years to help pay for the work.

The federal government hasn’t committed to its 50 percent match.

Scott said in prepared remarks:

I support storage south of the lake in the A2 Reservoir which utilizes state-owned land and does not take people’s private land. This is a big step toward protecting our pristine environment. This additional storage, in conjunction with our currently planned projects around the lake, will help reduce harmful discharges in South Florida.

The A2 is a remnant of past efforts to build a pair of south-of-lake reservoirs in the southwest corner of Palm Beach County. Taxpayers spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the early 2000s on the first of the massive water-storage projects, the A-1, before construction was called off in 2008 amid lawsuits and shifting political winds.

Negron, naturally, said he welcomed the governor’s support, but expressed some doubts about lending out state money to help repair the Lake Okeechobee dike, which he said “is unquestionably a federal responsibility.” What’s the guarantee the feds will pay us back?

Nonetheless, no one can argue that it’s a good thing to strengthen the dike as soon as possible.

Negron has done an adroit job so far of nudging many competing — and reluctant — parties together toward the goal of building the south reservoir, which the Post has argued is long overdue. By downsizing the plan and focusing on state-owned lands, he improved the project’s chances with Scott, who could no longer object that agricultural jobs would be jeopardized by the reservoir; we all know how much importance this governor places on jobs. And with Scott’s OK, now even growers seem to be on board.

That leaves matters up to the House, whose Speaker, Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has repeatedly echoed sugar-industry talking points. Here’s hoping he takes the same posture as the governor.

Take our poll, and let us know what you think.