At a news conference Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, at Flagler Place in Stuart, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced new water policies and asked all South Florida Water Management District board members to resign.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, on his third day on the job, asked for the immediate resignations of all South Florida Water Management District board members during a news conference in Stuart.
The Senate would have to remove any board members who refuse, such as Vice Chair Brandon Tucker of Palm City, who said he plans to serve the last two years of his term.
"I believe I made a commitment to serve out my term," Tucker told TCPalm. "I haven't had an opportunity to meet with the governor and his staff and tell them about the issues and my positions on them."
Tucker said he wasn't surprised by DeSantis' request. "Everybody figured it was coming," Tucker said. "But I don't believe it was correct."
Tucker said he had "no idea" how the other members of the board will react to the governor's request. "I can't speak for them," he said.
Former Vice Chair Melanie Peterson, a Realtor in Palm Beach County, resigned Jan. 1.
Terms of three other members expire in March:
Thursday's action was the result of a controversial Nov. 8 vote to lease land needed for the EAA reservoir to a Florida Crystals subsidiary — after DeSantis asked the board to postpone the vote to give him and the public more time to vet the lease.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City and chair of DeSantis' environmental advisory committee, called the board members "arrogant" and "derelict in their duties."
“For far too long the South Florida Water Management District has been more accountable to special interests than to the people of Florida," Mast said in a news release Thursday. "That changes today, and I look forward to continuing to work with Gov. DeSantis to find replacements who make our waterways and environment the No. 1 priority.”
State Sen. Gayle Harrell said she’s interested to see who DeSantis appoints to the board, but did not say if she supports the resignation call.
“It’s an exciting time. When you have this large transition of new agency heads, of boards, it’s really a new day. I think we need to be optimistic as we move forward. I think there will be a balance of new people on that board to have good, solid policy.“
Water policy announced
DeSantis, along with First Lady Casey DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, had three news conferences Thursday, in Bonita Springs, then Sarasota, then Stuart.
At the first two, he unveiled an executive order focused on several water policies, including major increases in Everglades restoration funding and a blue-green algae task force.
The executive order:
"Our water and natural resources are the foundation of our economy and our way of life in Florida," DeSantis said in a news release. "The protection of water resources is one of the most pressing issues facing our state. That’s why today I'm taking immediate action to combat the threats which have devastated our local economies and threatened the health of our communities."
Environmentalists had mixed opinions about the executive order.
Sierra Club Florida expressed both cheers and jeers, saying it supports the:
“In his first week in office, Gov. DeSantis has done more to address Florida’s water quality crisis than Gov. Rick Scott did in eight years,” chapter director Frank Jackalone said in a news release.
But the group said more needs to be done, including redesigning the EAA reservoir to curb Lake Okeechobee discharges so it's wider and shallower, and buying more land to treat the reservoir water before releasing it to the Everglades.
Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg also applauded DeSantis for addressing toxic algal blooms so quickly after being sworn in Tuesday.
"With this pen, with the signing of this executive order, our governor in less than 48 hours after taking his hand off the Bible has set in motion an aggressive, comprehensive plan to solve these issues," Eikenberg said in Bonita Springs. In a later Facebook post, he said, "This is the first governor who has demonstrated that key link between our environment, tourism and our tax base."
Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Audubon Florida, called the executive order an important step forward for the entire state.
"Our water issues are many. They come from many causes, and while there's no single smoking gun and no single silver bullet, we need to address all the problems that we're facing," Wraithmell said in Bonita Springs. "This broad platform is moving us towards that bright future, and this really what we need to see from our state going forward."
Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief said there are many great ideas in the executive order and she's hopeful, but she's waiting to see if they're executed properly.
"At the end of the day, the executive order is a collection of words though, it's not an action in and of itself," she said.
She said DeSantis should also: support ongoing efforts in the Legislature to ban fracking; appoint people with strong science backgrounds; address climate change more thoroughly, looking at its causes rather than just establishing task forces to battle rising sea levels.
Bullsugar policy director Alex Gillen said acknowledging the human health impact of the algal blooms and recommending new SFWMD board members is "the most important thing" DeSantis could have done to address the blooms.
"Gov. DeSantis’ focus on scientific and operational solutions suggests that the state is finally poised to take action to protect people in the near-term from toxic blooms and the environmental and economic damage caused by our water management decisions. We’re looking forward to real action from Tallahassee on stopping discharges and restoring the flow of clean freshwater to the Everglades." U.S.
DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein thanked DeSantis for giving his agency additional funding and support to address water issues.
“What you see here today is the idea of urgency and working together to achieve more to protect our environment,” Valenstein said at the Bonita Springs event.
Many Florida environmentalists and newspaper editorial boards have called on DeSantis top keep his campaign promises and make clean water a priority.
Florida Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson said she's encouraged by the announcement, but concerned it will cut into other programs and could cost too much for financially strained local governments.
In a news release, Gibson asked the source of increased Everglades restoration funding, and whether other state programs will suffer as a result.
She was also skeptical about septic conversions, asking how costs would be covered and whether poor homeowners would be able to afford it.
“The policies of the past administration have taken a terrible toll on our natural resources, to say nothing of the impact on our marine life," Gibson said in the news release. “But an executive order has to have more than just lofty goals, or admirable pursuits. It has to have the details we need to judge whether these goals are doable without hammering local governments and families throughout Florida with expenses they cannot possibly afford."
Mast criticized Democrats in a tweet.
"Sadly, the partisan finger pointing continues. The exec order this morning is strong action & if it had been done by a Dem gov, they would be heaping praise," Mast said. "Enough with the politics - our water is too important to succumb to political games."