Tag Archives: legislature

SRWMD kept money from Florida for “routinely anticipated budget shortfalls”

Where does the buck stop for these “routinely anticipated budget shortfalls”? Who let a budget include those? Isn’t the point of a budget to, well, budget for what’s needed? Or, given the history of deliberate downsizing of environmental agencies in Florida, maybe shortfalls were the point.

Noah Valenstein
Noah Valenstein got the job as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday May 23rd, on a unanimous vote by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet. His previous job? Executive director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, which was flagged by state auditors for $22.5 million in “questionable costs”. The audit covered the time Valenstein led the district. He oversees the district in his new job. [Special to the Times]

Mary Ellen Klas, Miami Herald-Times Tallahassee Bureau, 14 July 2017, Auditors find millions in ‘questionable costs’ at water district,

Weak budgetary controls led to $22.5 million in “questionable costs,” auditors found. Officials had transferred $13.3 million of it into the district’s operating account without proper authority. They may have overspent some areas of the budget and directed money to other areas to make up for shortfalls. They set aside $3.8 million “in the event of an economic crisis” without authorization, and they steered $1.7 million “to cover routinely anticipated budget shortfalls” without explanation.

Contingency funds, sure, but “routinely anticipated”? And in an economic crisis, wouldn’t it be the legislature that should be authorizing funds?

Auditors concluded that accounts were “misclassified because district personnel misunderstood” standard accounting requirements and budget staff members were “somewhat new to the process” so they couldn’t explain how and why it happened.

That is what happens when a state massively defunds its environmental agencies and makes political tests and servicing economic development more important than competence. The article goes into that, rightly pointing a finger repeatedly at Governor Rick Scott, who said “ensuring that Florida’s precious water resources are protected and managed in the most fiscally responsible way possible” while:

The five districts, whose boards are appointed by the governor and operate under the oversight of the Department of Environmental Protection, were purged of hundreds of veteran professionals, and budgets were cut in half. They continued cutting their budgets through 2016. Suwannee, because of its small size, had proportionally fewer cuts.

The article discusses and quotes SRWMD staff, with some pretty amusing tidbits, including this one from “Roary E. Snider, the district’s chief of staff”, who

also disputed the auditor’s claim they don’t have documentation. “While we absolutely will provide these records, these documents were largely in hard copy,” Snider said. “Staff couldn’t assemble these additional records in time.”

SRWMD staff don’t know how to use a scanner? Or they didn’t know where they put those paper documents? Or maybe the dog ate them.

The article even quotes Eric Draper of Audubon Florida about “problems we’ve seen at the Suwannee River district with the change of leadership over the years,”. If Audubon Florida “works closely with the water management districts”, what did Audubon Florida know, when did they know it, and why are they only speaking up now?

The actual audit report lists on page 2:

Executive Director
Noah Valenstein from October 13, 2015
Carlos Herd, Interim, from May 14, 2015, to October 12, 2015
Dr. Ann B. Shortelle to May 13, 2015

The article mentions that:

The district is overseen by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which is now headed by Noah Valenstein. His last job was executive director of the Suwannee River WMD during the time the audit was underway.

Guess which fox the foxhouse is turning to for assistance:

The district said it would turn to the Department of Environmental Protection for advice on how to resolve the dispute over whether money is owed to the state.

“DEP has communicated with staff at the Suwannee River Water Management District, and they have informed us that they are reviewing accounting and land acquisition records for additional information,” said Lauren Engel, spokesperson for Valenstein.

“If it is determined that these funds should be returned to DEP, they would go to the trust fund from which the funding was issued, however, DEP would require spending authority from the legislature to use it.”

This is the same Noah Valenstein who told me shortly after he was appointed to SRWMD that he believes that Florida law requires him and SRWMD to provide water resources for economic development. Maybe he should have paid more attention to making sure the economic resources of the District were properly organized.

The Miami Times-Herald story as carried by tbo.com (Tampa Bay Times) has a bit more pointed headline and picture caption (see top of this blog post), Auditors find millions in ‘questionable costs’ at water district, but will it matter? Continue reading

Protection of the Suwannee River against Valdosta Sewage –City of Fanning Springs, FL 2017-04-11

Not just for all seven downstream Florida counties anymore: the City of Fanning Springs has also passed a resolution asking the Florida governor to help stop Valdosta wastewater spills. Maybe Valdosta will pay attention this time.

The Valdosta City Council and Mayor didn’t seem to understand when I used the Suwannee County resolution to draw attention to the part about:

“which again resulted in the Florida Department of Health issuing public health advisories warning the public of wastewater contamination in the Withlacoochee River and portions of the Historic Suwannee River, which resulted in warnings being posted at all public access areas along the rivers stating that the rivers were not safe for recreational use and every precaution should be taken to avoid any contact with the river;”

Maybe I should have tried this pithier part at the end: Continue reading

Georgia legislature fails even to require notice on coal ash 2017-03-03

The coal ash bills didn’t even get out of the HNRE Committee, which instead appointed a study committee. You can ask your Georgia House members to get on that committee.

Peggy Riggins
Peggy Riggins Leslie Webb Riggins of No Ash At All in Valdosta 2017-03-01; photo by John S. Quarterman for WWALS.

Georgia Water Coalition, Press Release, 2 March 2017, Toxic Ash Dumping to remain secret; Georgia House Committee fails to vote on bills requiring community notification

Last year, Jesup residents found out that a landfill near their homes and wells leaked toxic metals found in coal ash into the soil and groundwater. The landfill company is proposing to make the landfill bigger and accept even more of the toxic waste.

“It felt like a punch in the gut,” said Peggy Riggins, Jesup resident. “We found out that toxins found in coal ash were underneath the landfill in our county. The government and the landfill knew for years before we were ever told. This is unacceptable. Our communities deserve to know about proposals to bring in toxic coal waste before its too late and has caused a problem.”

Mary Landers, SavannahNow, 2 March 2017, Lawmakers avoid public notice on coal ash dumping, Continue reading

Coal ash protection legislation pending in Georgia legislature

The Georgia Water Coalition (of which WWALS is a partner) notes the city of Brunswick, Georgia passed a resolution agaionst coal ash 21 September 2016, and legislation is about to appear in the Georgia House of Representatives. There is already TVA and JEA coal ash in the Pecan Row Landfill in Lowndes County, just outside Valdosta, and in WWALS watersheds other landfills likely to be targetted are in Cook, Tift, Atkinson, Ben Hill, and Crisp Counties (see GWC map), all upstream of the Withlacoochee or Alapaha Rivers, and all upstream of the Suwannee River, all above the Floridan Aquifer from which we all drink. We don’t want the utility company coal ash problem exported to our landfills. The companies that produced this toxic pollutant should be responsible for disposing of it safely at their expense without foisting it on the rest of us.

Landfills Map
Coal Ash in Your District — Ash Ponds & Municipal Solid Waste, Published by the GA Water Coalition
See also the GWC position on coal ash.

WWALS recommends all Georgia legislators, especially those in WWALS watersheds, join in to prevent further coal ash contamination. See as an example the PR below by Rep. Jeff Jones of Brunswick, which concludes: Continue reading

GWC win over Sabal Trail in Georgia Trend

Water and property rights are the same when fighting a natural gas pipeline: Georgia Trend understands what Georgia Water Coalition is doing to stop the Sabal Trail fracked methane pipeline.

Ben Young, Georgia Trend, June 2016, Sustainable Georgia: Collecting Water,

…Nearly every county can claim scenic waterways — some 15 established water trails are highlighted by the Georgia River Network, with another 17 in the works.

But clean water is vital for more than tourism — as evidenced by the continuing news out of Flint, Mich., and the spectacle of that state utterly failing to provide basic services to residents in a way we are more used to seeing in the Third World.

Closer to home, Georgia lawmakers Continue reading

Georgia legislature overwhelmingly rejects river easements for Sabal “Sinkhole” Trail fracked methane pipeline

Update 2016-03-28: “It’s the most votes I’ve ever gotten on anything.” —Neill Herring of Georgia Sierra Club.

Tuesday and today, Georgia’s elected legislators stood up for the people against a fracked methane pipeline invader:

Y’all! We don’t win votes on the House floor every day, and the effort to keep the state easements for the Sabal Trail pipeline was truly a joy to watch. R’s, D’s, lawyers, community folk, everyone pitched in and it “went down in flames” 34-128 — AJC [Atlanta Journal Constitution] reporter’s words, not mine! Congrats to all the Georgia Water Coalition….

That’s how Georgia Sierra Club’s Colleen Kiernan summed up what happened Tuesday to the river drilling easements for Spectra Energy’s fracked gas Sabal “Sinkhole” Trail pipeline. Yes, the same Spectra of the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) Project, PennEast, Atlantic Bridge, South Texas Expansion, the West Coast Pipeline in British Columbia, and far too many other unnecessary pipeline invasions throughout North America.

Georgia Water Coalition organized this excellent result, including Continue reading

Tally of votes smashing Sabal Trail easements in SR 954 2016-03-22

Here’s who voted which way when Sabal Trail lost in a landslide against its easements to drill under our Withlacoochee River and Okapilco Creek and other rivers and creeks in Georgia. SR-954-votes-in-the-House 3.0000000, 0.0000000 Thanks to Bentley, Harden, Houston, Pirkle, Powell, Rynders, Sharper, Shaw, Spencer, and Watson for voting Nay against that pipeline river-drilling boondoggle. And Carter, Corbett, and LaRiccia, well, thanks for listening, I guess.

I’ve added Continue reading

We all won! Sabal Trail SR 954 easements lost in a landslide at GA House 2016-02-22 2016-03-22

Update 2016-03-22 10:30PM: The vote tally.

As reported by Georgia Sierra Club:

Thank you to everyone who contacted a legislator about SR 954 and their concerns about the Sabal Trail pipeline easements. The house voted down the bill 128-34 this afternoon!!! CONGRATULATIONS!

Thanks to everyone, especially Georgia Water Coalition, Georgia Sierra Club, Flint Riverkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, everybody else who helped, and of course all WWALS members and everyone else who called their state reps.

There still more you can do to stop Sabal Trail. See the op-ed blog post of today. Continue reading

Still possible to keep Sabal Trail out –WWALS in VDT 2016-03-22

Update 2016-02-22: We all won by a landslide in the Georgia House! There’s more to do tomorrow until Sabal Trail is ended for good; see below.

Please call your Georgia state representative and ask them to vote No today on SR 954 that would give Sabal Trail easements to drill under our rivers. Here’s why:

John S. Quarterman, VDT, 2016-03-22, Still possible to keep Sabal Trail out,

WWALS at the proposed Sabal Trail Withlacoochee River crossing just upstream from US 84 After two years going to Sabal Trail open houses and FERC scoping meetings, filing e-comments, guiding them to the river crossings and a legal hearing in Jasper, FERC still tells us customers for Spectra Energy from Houston, Texas, constitute a need that outweighs local property rights, environmental destruction, and hazards to our Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers and the Floridan Aquifer, and to taxes, life, and limb.

Yet Georgia is the fastest-growing U.S. solar market, while solar Continue reading

Suwannee County Commission voted to oppose fracking 2016-02-16

WWALS member Debra Johnson reported last night on SpectraBusters, Suwannee County Opposes Fracking and Revocation of Home Rule,

Joining Forty-one different cities and 27 counties in Florida that have voted to ban fracking or have expressed their opposition to it since January 2015, Suwannee County BOCC approved three identical fracking opposition letters to Governor Scott, Pro-fracking Bill Sponsors Senator Richter (SB 318) and House Representative Rodrigues (HB 191) tonight. These bills also contain language that would eliminate Home Rule for local governments concerning fracking.

Chairman Jason Bashaw stated that the board was in agreement that Continue reading