Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Everglades advocates request Gov. DeSantis to Veto HB 7103

May 29, 2019

The Honorable Ron DeSantis
Governor, State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

RE: Veto HB 7103

Dear Governor DeSantis,

The below-signed organizations, committed to the protection and restoration of America’s Everglades, respectfully request that you veto House Bill (HB) 7103.  This bill has several provisions that could negatively impact the full restoration of the Greater Everglades ecosystem, including efforts to reduce nutrient pollution in our waterways; the worst of which were quietly amended onto the bill in the final hours of the legislative session and adopted without public input, meaningful discussion or debate in committee hearings, without any legislative staff analysis, and without any public testimony.  In as much, legislators voted without fully understanding the impact of those last minute changes.  Good governance dictates that HB 7103 must not be signed into law and deserves your veto.

America’s Everglades is a unique ecosystem that extends from the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes into Lake Okeechobee, through the “River of Grass,” out to Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. This vast natural wonder has been severely impacted by over-development, habitat degradation, pollution and other man-made changes.

A critical tool that is used to ensure that Everglades restoration efforts are not further hindered, and that helps protect what is left of this ecosystem, is the local comprehensive plan. Local comprehensive plans include elements that address important issues relevant to our Everglades efforts, such as water quality, flood protection, drainage, waste management, water resource protection, aquifer recharge, water supply, conservation of open space, wetlands and other ecologically sensitive habitats, coastal management, urban development boundaries, agricultural buffers, and intergovernmental coordination.  Because they have site-specific legally-binding policies required for addressing environmental issues, and because the current law requires strict compliance with them, local comprehensive plans are presently the state’s best environmental protection tool relative to water quality, wetlands, drinking water, and flood protection. 

By law, once adopted, any local development decisions must be consistent with such comprehensive plans. This law was utilized a few years ago to overturn a county’s approval of three major lime rock mines in the Everglades Agricultural Area:  US Sugar Corp. v. 1000 Friends of Fla., 134 So. 3d 1052, 1053 (Fla. 4th DCA. 2013).  In those cases, the state’s wetland law was not going to prevent the mines.  It was the county comprehensive plan policy prohibiting mining in the EAA – to preserve it for farming and Everglades Restoration – that stopped the mines.  HB 7103 would have made those cases impossible and will render similar cases impossible in the future if it is signed into or allowed to pass into law.  

            HB 7103 will make a losing party, in consistency challenges, automatically liable for a prevailing party’s attorney fees. This will effectively end citizen enforcement of local comprehensive plans. In general, citizens who may bring challenges to defend against environmental threats, such as loss of wetlands that filter pollution and reduce flooding, do not have the same financial means as developers and/or local governments. Citizen comprehensive plan challengers typically struggle just to cover their own attorney fees; the risk of having to pay the attorney fees of local governments and/or other intervening party would make challenges much less available to concerned citizens.  Only the very wealthy would be able to attempt those challenges.

            Courts have said that “citizen enforcement is the primary tool for insuring consistency of development decisions with the Comprehensive Plan”[1]  and that the law’s “purpose cannot be achieved without meaningful judicial review in lawsuits….”[2].  Comprehensive plans are written for the very purpose of governing individual development decisions. If that purpose cannot be enforced by the only persons with standing to do so, the entire Community Planning Act would be essentially repealed. If it becomes law, HB 7103 would effectively eliminate the only means left for Floridians to enforce consistency with local comprehensive plans, including those relevant to the protection and restoration of the Everglades. As stated recently by the American Planning Association FL Chapter, HB 7103 “will have a chilling effect on, and raise a true barrier to, citizen participation in the enforcement of local plans... The bill also removes the authority for the Department of Legal Affairs to intervene in such challenges to represent the interests of the state [such as Everglades restoration], so these citizen and interest group challenges are truly the only means of policing the compliance of development orders with comprehensive plans… If development order consistency cannot be enforced, the binding legal authority of comprehensive plans is rendered meaningless… the failure to follow them… can lead to environmental degradation."[3].  Comprehensive plan consistency challenges are the only tool available to local citizens to hold local governments accountable. Without them, the local comprehensive plans that have been maintained over the past 30 years would become meaningless, and Everglades advocates would lose an important tool that could help prevent development mistakes and protect our Everglades restoration investments.

            If HB 7103 becomes law, local communities will likely see more developments that do not comply with local protections for water resources and environmentally sensitive lands. This is of grave concern to the Everglades and clean water advocacy communities.

In addition, the automatic attorney’s fees sanction in HB 7103 is unnecessary; Florida law already deters baseless legal challenges and prevents spurious litigation for improper purpose, such as undue delays of lawful development proposals.  HB 7103 would also encourage the courts to hear comprehensive plan enforcement cases using a summary procedure that limits discovery. Summary procedures are not appropriate for consistency challenges which involve complicated questions of law and fact and are often expert intensive.

It is noteworthy that one of the Everglades Coalition’s legislative priorities this year was to “reinstate strong statewide and regional land use planning to guide sustainable growth that is protective of Florida’s remaining natural areas and resources…”.  While there is much work to be done to realize that goal, your veto on HB 7103 will ensure that all Floridians, including Everglades advocates, continue to be able to hold local governments accountable on commitments they made to protect our natural resources.


Sincerely,


1000 Friends of Florida
Thomas Hawkins, Policy & Planning Director

Apalachicola Riverkeeper
Georgia Ackerman, Riverkeeper and Executive Director

Audubon Everglades
Scott Zucker, Vice President & Conservation Co-Chair

Audubon Florida
Celeste De Palma, Director of Everglades Policy

Bullsugar Alliance
Alex Gillen, Policy Director

Calusa Waterkeeper
John Cassani, Waterkeeper

Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife
Lori J. Haus-Bulcock, Board Member

Cape Coral Wildlife Trust
Pascha Donaldson, President

Center for Biological Diversity
Jaclyn Lopez, Florida Director

Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Nicole Johnson, Director of Environmental Policy

Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County
Shari Anker, President

Defenders of Wildlife
Elizabeth Fleming, Senior Florida Representative

“Ding” Darling Wildlife Society
Mike Baldwin, President

Earthjustice
Alisa Coe, Staff Attorney

Environment Florida
Jennifer Rubiello, State Director

Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida
Becky Ayech, President

Everglades Law Center
Lisa Interlandi, Executive Director

Florida Bay Forever
Elizabeth Jolin, Executive Director

Florida Conservation Voters
Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director

Florida Keys Environmental Fund, Inc.
Charles Causey, President

Florida Native Plant Society
Susan Carr, PhD, President

Florida Oceanographic Society
Mark Perry, Executive Director

Florida Wildlife Federation
Preston T. Robertson, President & CEO

Friends of ARM Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
Catherine Patterson, President

Friends of the Everglades
Philip Kushlan, President

Indian Riverkeeper
Marty Baum, Riverkeeper

International Dark Sky Association, FL Chapter
Diana Umpierre, Chair

Izaak Walton League of America, FL Division
Michael Chenowetht, President

Izaak Walton League of America, FL Keys Chapter
Michael Chenowetht, President

Lake Worth Waterkeeper
Reinaldo Diaz, J.D., Waterkeeper, President

League of Women Voters of Florida
Judith Hushon, State Natural Resources Chair

Marine Resources Council
Leesa Souto, PhD, Executive Director

Martin County Conservation Alliance
Tom Bausch, Board Member

Matanzas Riverkeeper
Jen Lomberk, Executive Director & Riverkeeper

Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition
Relman R Diaz, Secretary

Naples Backcountry Fly Fishers
Edward Tamson Ph.D., Conservation Director

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation
Ryan Orgera, PhD, CEO

Save the Manatee Club
Anne Michelle Harvey, JD, MS, Staff Attorney

Sierra Club Florida
Frank Jackalone, Chapter Director

South Florida Wildlands Association
Matthew Schwartz, Executive Director

Suncoast Waterkeeper
Andy Mele, Interim Executive Director

The Institute for Regional Conservation
George D. Gann, Executive Director & Chair of the Board

Tropical Audubon Society
Jose Francisco Barros, President

WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc.
John S. Quarterman, Suwannee Riverkeeper


cc: Noah Valenstein, Secretary, FDEP
Drew Bartlett, Executive Director, SFWMD
SFWMD Governing Board




[1] Pinecrest Lakes, Inc. v. Shidel, 795 So. 2d 191, 202 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001).
[2] Sw. Ranches Homeowners Assoc. v. Broward Cty., 502 So. 2d 931, 936 (Fla. 4th DCA1987).
[3] American Planning Association FL Chapter letter to Governor DeSantis on HB 7103, May 13, 2019.

Three Lakes WMA in the Kissimmee Prairie (Florida Fish and Wildlife photo by Andy Wraithmell)