Saturday, November 21, 2015

"Who is this stooge?" Hiaasen on Guv's Park Plans

Carl Hiaasen: Scott’s plan would ruin our state parks

Gov. Rick Scott is one boot-step closer to denaturizing Florida’s state parks.
A Senate committee last week voted 7-1 to confirm Jon Steverson as Scott’s hand-picked choice to lead the shriveled and demoralized Department of Environmental Protection.
One of Steverson’s missions is to fulfill the governor’s dream of opening state parks to hunting, cattle grazing and commercial timber harvesting. The second part of Steverson’s job is to take the heat for this obscene idea, and he’s getting plenty.
Environmental leaders and citizen groups have blasted the scheme . . .
. . .

“I’m not looking to commercialize parks,” Steverson said. “And I’m not looking to ruin the park visitor experience.”
Gunfire, cowpies and logging trucks — the ideal visitor experience for you and your family!
You may wonder: Who is this stooge?
. . . 
Originally, Steverson and his staff envisioned legalized hunting only in parks larger than 1,000 acres, but the Times has reported that it’s now being considered as an option for parks of all sizes.
Such a proposal would be incomprehensible under any other governor. Blue Spring, Ichetucknee, Crystal River, Cedar Key, the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock to name a few — these parks are sanctuaries treasured by Floridians.
Steverson says each one will be evaluated individually before any changes are are made. Based on his actions so far, there’s no chance he’ll do the right thing.
The governor’s obvious philosophy is that public lands don’t really belong to the public, but rather exist to be privately exploited.

See also: A letter of concern about Florida's state parks

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A letter of concern about Florida parks

The following email from a three-decade veteran of DNR/DEP explores three of the threats posed to Myakka River State Park. The committee meeting he refers to (tomorrow) is taking place today NOV 18.


Dear Chairman Dean and other Committee Members:

I am unable to attend tomorrow's committee meeting because of an important medical appointment, and am resorting to emailing you as a group.  I hope that you will give some consideration to what I am writing.  I am a little over one month retired from the Florida Park Service where I served for 29+ years, mostly in the central office.  In my positions, including supervision of the management of the park's natural and cultural resource management programs, I participated to some degree in all the discussions and decisions of the upper management team.

I regret to inform you that by all evidence at hand, the current and immediate past DEP leadership intends to change the basic mission of the Florida State Parks for the worse.  Over the last few years, DEP has already removed from the state parks' own division much of the central office oversight of the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the state park system.  These responsibilities include finance and accounting, planning interpretive services for the public, managing park concessionaires, design and construction of park facilities, and even managing the day-to-day operations of parks.  I can tell you that the state park staff saw all this transfer of responsibility no less than a deliberate dismantling of the state park system.  The actions were especially confusing because Florida State Parks were arguably the nation's best state park system and no accusations of impropriety or dysfunction were ever made.  The changes were only said to be made for "efficiency" and all happened completely under the state legislature's radar.  The state park staff are quite disheartened at the recent manipulations by DEP leadership, although no current employee will be able to say so, because loyalty to top DEP administrators is strictly required and enforced with aggressive firing practices.

Your committee will consider three important proposals tomorrow.

The first issue of concern is the confirmation of Secretary Steverson.  Before my retirement, we in the central office of the Florida Park Service followed his every request to arrange policies and contracts for more aggressive timbering, cattle grazing in natural communities (not just improved pastures), to allow hunting for the first time in state parks, and to open all state parks to multiple uses for private profit for the first time.  No current staff are able to speak out against these new policies, but you probably have noticed an outcry from all the former state park directors and a multitude of former staff.  There are also citizen petitions and action groups that have formed to oppose these radical changes to the state parks as we have always known them.  All these new policies are counter to the clear intention for the state parks in both statute and rule.  I urge you to review this statutory guidance and determine for yourselves that the current direction proposed by Secretary Steverson is contrary to the longstanding legislative intent.  I am not a vindictive person, but I have no hesitancy in predicting that Secretary Steverson will do great harm to the Florida State Parks if confirmed, and I recommend that you find a way with the power vested in your committee to not confirm him.

The second issue is the proposal by DEP to manage its own divisions more autonomously (SB 400).  The bill currently assures the continuity of the Division of State Lands.  I urge you to amend the bill to also assure the continuity of the Division of Recreation and Parks.  The division has a long and honored tradition within Florida government as the administrator of Florida State Parks and is specifically listed as a partner agency with the Department of State's Division of Historic Resources in managing the state's most important archaeological and historic sites.  I am very worried that DEP leadership has plans (certainly secret so far) to further manipulate the state park system with authority provided with this bill.  If no such plans are afoot, there should be no objection by DEP to ensuring the continuity of the Division of Recreation and Parks in an amendment to this bill.

The third issue of concern is the free day admission to the state parks (SB 570).  Over my entire career within the leadership of the state park system, we discussed park fees countless times.  There are a couple of "take-aways" that I would like to share with you.  The first is that private recreational businesses near state parks always resented that our fees were so low that they could not compete on a level playing field. Consequently, they always wanted us to raise our fees to be closer to market value.  Independently, we also wanted to raise fees a little bit at a time over the years, because we wanted to achieve more financial self-sufficiency and also because it was very clear that we were under-valued. Unfortunately, we were usually denied by the Governor's Office or DEP, including again recently.  So be forewarned that even though free admission might seem as though it would increase attendance and benefit the financially disadvantaged, in reality what it will do is to further compromise private recreational providers.  Also importantly, it would also leave a gaping hole in the state parks' budget.  Replacing the budget from another source opens the door to those who would further change the financial structure of the state park system.  You probably will also hear that this would be a problem for many parks that are already at capacity.  This is absolutely true.  I recommend that you not approve this bill as it will do far more harm than good.

Thank you for your consideration of these points.  I will close by testifying that our state park system is being undermined on many fronts without justification.  I have seen it happen over the last few years and the current threats are the worst so far.  Your committee is faced with an important opportunity to preserve America's best state park system and honor the legislatures before you that thoughtfully declared what it should be.   

Mr. Dana C. Bryan
Tallahassee, FL



Chair: Senator Charles S. "Charlie" Dean, Sr.
Vice Chair: Senator Wilton Simpson
Other Committee Members:
Senator Thad Altman
Senator Christopher L. Smith

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Towering fiasco?

From the Herald-Tribune

SARASOTA - County officials still haven't approved final building permits for the Nathan Benderson Park finish tower as tweaks to an agreement about how it will be paid for continued through October, Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates' president told board members Wednesday.
Paul Blackketter said SANCA, the nonprofit that operates the 600-acre county park and lake, is also still collecting detailed cost and construction information at the county's request and he hopes officials will grant final approval by mid-November. His team submitted a draft of this information Tuesday, he said, and still needs to deliver a few additional items.
That draft shows that the county wants park staff, among other things, to submit an accurate cost estimate, proof of a contingency reserve and a pledge agreement that the park's foundation will cover the project in full.
Construction on the park finish tower, an important element to the 2016 Olympic Trials and 2017 World Rowing Championships scheduled at the venue, was supposed to have started in August . . .