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Sea change on the water-quality front?

By Staff | Feb 5, 2019

Those who predicted post-election politics-as-usual on the water quality front have been largely silent since Gov. Ron DeSantis was sworn into office last month.

The newly elected Republican whose election victory had drawn gasps from the that-means-another-nail-in-the-environmental-coffin-contingent has already gone further quicker than even his supporters thought likely.

First Gov. DeSantis called for the resignation of the entire South Florida Water Management District Board after the state appointees refused to delay a key land-lease vote at his request.

It took him until Wednesday, but he got those resignations from most of the members with the terms of the remaining three expiring next month.

Then, last Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis presented his proposed environmental budget, calling for more than $625 million for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources annually for the next four years.

That could mean $2.5 billion budgeted during his first term, $1 billion more than was allocated for such projects during the last four.

In an unrelated – but equally game-changing move – Gov. DeSantis said Thursday at a press conference in Cape Coral that he will sign an executive order to pull Florida from Common Core educational mandates, replacing the federal program with a state plan.


It’s been a busy three weeks or so since his Jan. 8 inauguration but a strong foundation for change has been laid.

He’s also begun work on the details.

Gov. DeSantis’ first appointments to the South Florida Water Management District Board – which oversees the state’s largest such district, encompassing the southern half of the state- are indicative of his professed “change” philosophy.

Saying “It’s time for a fresh start and new leadership to ensure the protection of our water resources,” Gov. DeSantis tapped Sanibel Councilmember Chauncey Goss, now waiting Senate confirmation.

Councilmember Goss, who saw first-hand last summer the devastating impact of state and federal water management priorities gone awry, has more to offer than memories of the massive fish kills that lined – literally lined – our shorelines for weeks,

Before starting his island-based budget forecasting and geopolitical analysis firm on Sanibel, Goss served as deputy staff director and director of Budget Review for the House Budget Committee under Congressman Paul Ryan.

On the environmental side, he serves now as treasurer for Captains for Clean Water and is a member of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Practical in approach, knowledgeable on the issues, Councilmember Goss is a good choice. We urge him to serve as a strong voice for Florida’s coastal communities which, for too long, have had but a whisper.

We also ask Gov. DeSantis to go a step further.

We urge him to appoint another coastal-community based member. Someone who has a strong understanding of how the decisions made by the board that manages water resources for a massive 16-county area ripple from coast to coast. Someone whose scientific knowledge of the issues runs deep. Someone who is a proven decision-maker who can work with, but remain independent of, staff and the varied and various stakeholders to render decisions that are best for the 8.1 million residents the South district serves.

It is too easy by far for those elected or appointed to become enmeshed in a culture that is resistant to change. We need appointees who can winnow the facts from the chaff and stand against the political tide when the storm kicks up.

As it will.

Former Lee County commissioner Ray Judah comes easily to mind.

Yes, he’s a strong and outspoken environmental proponent.

His knowledge on the vast scope of interrelated and interconnected issues districtwide, though, would be hard to match. He also has a long and proven record of public service and his reputation for independence is one few would question, like him or not.

John Cassani, a Caloosa Waterkeeper, who served on the Southwest Florida Watershed Advisory Council, is a similar good choice.

As is Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann, who has served in both the state House and Senate as well as, years ago, on the South Florida Water Management District Board. His varied roles related to environmental issues and management is as long-tenured as his public service career. He’s also as stalwart as an old Florida oak when it comes to fact-based, independent decision-making.

Two appointees from our part of a district that ranges from Orlando to the Florida Keys has historical precedent.

And, given the fact that Southwest Florida was at the epicenter of last summer’s catastrophic double whammy of nutrient glutted red tide – which killed sealife buy the ton – and bluegreen algae – which slimed our river and our canals, killing fish and manatees alike – it reinforces the message sent: It’s time for a change.

Please don’t misunderstand us.

We are unapologetically pro-business. We are not saying “Big Ag” has no place at the table.

We are simply saying its acolytes have dined alone for far too long.

We agree with our new governor that it’s time for a change – a sea change, if you will.

We look forward to following Gov. DeSantis’ efforts to make it happen.

– Reporter editorial