Message sent by Mariella Smith:
Please e-mail your commissioners and tell them: DO NOT adopt the Agricultural Exemption yet, and DO NOT weaken our local wetland protections!
Tell commissioners the Agricultural Exemption is not ready to be adopted.
* See the proposed rule change, giving agricultural industries exemptions to local wetland protections
* See this former EPC scientist’s analysis of the problems with the proposal
* See this message from U-CAN
Ask commissioners to wait until the Agriculture Industry stops their strong-arm tactics, before negotiating a local deal.
* See below for details of the Ag Industry's surprise sabotage move, introducing state legislation that would prohibit ANY local wetland protections on Agricultural lands.
Ask commissioners not to break these promises:
(1.) that the Hybrid would streamline the process, but not weaken our protections, and
(2.) that the Agricultural Exemptions would not apply to wetlands greater than 1/4 acre.
* See their promises, on the record, that the Hybrid would not weaken wetlands protections.
* Commissioner Higginbotham’s published letter promised that the Hybrid will “maintain the strong protections our wetlands enjoy today,” adding “the hybrid is no compromise.”
* EPC’s Hybrid proposal is titled “EPC Wetlands Protection: Improving the Process, Maintaining the Protection.”
Contrary to their promises, this proposal does weaken protections and does allow impacts to “a one half (1/2) acre wetland.” Sec. 1-11.12(1)(a)(iii)
E-mail the commissioners by Wednesday!
e-mail addresses for commissioners and EPC staff:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, GarrityR@epchc.org, email@example.com
(see my letter below)
COME TO THE EPC HEARING on Thursday!
Nov. 15, 9:00 a.m.
County Center, 2nd Floor, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 33602
Help save our wetlands from this hasty Hybrid deal!
While we were hammering out a deal with farmers to let them out of some of EPC’s local wetland regulations, under certain conditions, the farmers went behind our backs and over EPC’s heads to ask the state to COMPLETELY exempt them from ALL our local regulations. It was a surprise move that galled citizens like me who have been spending our time working on the local rule changes in workshops, and spending our tax dollars paying EPC’s attorneys to write and rewrite the rule changes in a futile attempt to please the Agricultural lobby while protecting our wetlands.
All of that time & money will be wasted if the Ag lobby’s sly sabotage works, and their proposed state law passes. (Shame on state representative Rich Glorioso for sponsoring this bill! We’ll turn to fighting that, after we get past the local hearing this Thursday.)
As a member of the county’s Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC), I suggested that we recommend commissioners take no action on the local agricultural exemptions until the state-level action is resolved. CEAC concurred, and will make that recommendation as part of their report to the commission at the public hearing this Thursday.
Please send a similar message to the commissioners. Here’s my letter — feel free to cut & paste:
We should not negotiate county rules with the Agricultural lobby while they are trying to pass a state law that would negate any local rules we write for them. Any local rule changes passed under these conditions would leave us feeling our local leaders had been bullied into giving away too much with the threat of state action hanging over the deal.
We should not waste any more time & money trying to change our local rules to suit the Agricultural lobby, now that the Ag lobby has revealed the local rule change is merely their Plan B, in case their Plan A—NO local regulations—does not pass. Let’s see how their Plan A works out for them first. If their bill passes, there is no need for us to change our rules for them, as our rules will no longer apply to them. If their bill fails, then hopefully they’ll be willing to lay all their cards on the table, and negotiate with us in good faith.
The good thing is that if they do decide to deal openly with us, without the threat of state action, we no longer need to rush to change our 22-year-old rules for them. Their state legislation wouldn’t be passed until next spring, so there is no reason for us to change our rules immediately. And we certainly need more time.
The draft rule change is simply not ready. The version shown at the workshop on Oct. 30, was changed when it was shown to CEAC on Nov. 5, and changed again before it was finalized on Nov. 8, one week before the public hearing on Nov. 15. We need more time for public discussion and scientific review to settle on something we can all have confidence in.
Contrary to the original promise that only quarter-acre wetlands would be abandoned to the Ag industry, this amendment would allow half-acre wetlands to be impacted without justification. (Keep in mind that anyone can damage wetlands under EPC rules if necessary for the reasonable use of their property; and man-made wetlands, like ditches and cow ponds are already exempt.)
There is controversy over the number of years the land must remain Agricultural in order to remain free of the obligation to mitigate any wetland destruction accomplished under the Ag exemption. If we are going to change our rules to allow farmers to fill wetlands that developers can’t, then we should at least require mitigation once the land use changes from agriculture to development. This doesn't prevent a farmer from developing the land, it just requires mitigation at that point, and provides an incentive to keep the land in agriculture after we’ve allowed the wetlands to be damaged. Farmers want to be let out of the requirement to mitigate if they farm a certain number of years before developing. They say 3–5 years is plenty, but anything less than 10–20 years is just giving an “agricultural exemption” to land that will soon be developed.
With a 3–5-year time frame, farmers could be pressured to fill wetlands in order to make the future sale of their property to developers more lucrative. The current draft of the rule change says 7 years, but there are no grounds for this number, other than compromise. Let’s tie this to the 20-year horizon of our Comprehensive Plan, or ask our planning commission to provide input into a logical decision.
We need more time to work out these sorts of issues (and more) in the proposed rule change.
Furthermore, there is no reason to bypass the new Technical Advisory Group in order to rush this Ag exemption into the law. The whole purpose of this committee of wetland scientists is to review ALL the Hybrid rule changes, but they have not been given time to meet and discuss this important rule change. If we must grant agriculture special permission to destroy wetlands, let’s give these wetland scientists time to fully participate in the process, and to use their expertise to make this rule change the best it can be.
Commissioners, you are the first board to change our wetland rules in 22 years. You have promised, on the record, that the Hybrid would streamline the process without weakening our wetland protections. Contrary to your promise, the proposed Agricultural exemptions would weaken our protections.
On November 15, please take no action on the Agricultural exemption, and give the process more time to produce a better rule that will streamline the process for farmers while maintaining our county’s wetland protections.