Tag Archives: Noah Valenstein

Florida Waterkeepers United visit FDEP 2018-08-01

Seven of the fourteen Florida Waterkeepers visited the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to express our serious concern and a sense of urgency to protect and restore Florida’s rivers, coast, bays, estuaries, lakes, springs, and aquifer, especially about resiliency after hurricanes, harmful algal blooms, BMAPs, and phosphate mines. I congratulated Noah Valenstein on his meteoric rise: only two and a half years ago he was just starting as head of the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), and now he’s the head of FDEP.

L-R: Andy Hayslip (Tampa), Georgia Ackerman (Apalachicola), Marty Baum (Indian), Jen Lomberk (Matanzas), Drew Bartlett (FDEP), Whitney Gray (FDEP), Rick Frey (St. Marys), Lisa Rinaman (St. Johns), Noah Valenstein (Sec., FDEP), Shannon Blankinship
L-R: Andy Hayslip (Tampa Bay Waterkeeper), Georgia Ackerman (Apalachicola Riverkeeper), Marty Baum (Indian Riverkeeper), Jen Lomberk (Matanzas Riverkeeper), Drew Bartlett (Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration, FDEP), Whitney Gray (Administrator, Florida Resilient Coastlines, FDEP), Rick Frey (St. Marys Riverkeeper), Lisa Rinaman (St. Johns Riverkeeper), Noah Valenstein (Secretary, FDEP), Shannon Blankinship (Advocacy Director, St. Johns Riverkeeper), John S. Quarterman (hat, Suwannee Riverkeeper), Tom Frick (back, Director, Division of Environmental Restoration, FDEP); Photo: John S. Quarterman for WWALS

Press Release: Florida Waterkeepers Unite at FDEP

Continue reading

Eric Draper from Audubon Florida to FL State Parks

Noah Valenstein, formerly SRWMD, now FDEP Secretary, has appointed Eric Draper of Audubon Florida to head Florida State Parks. The same Eric Draper who twice endorsed Sabal Trail in writing, and did nothing to stop Sabal Trail from drilling under the Suwannee, Santa Fe, or Withlacoochee (South) Rivers, nor under the Suwannee River State Park that he will now oversee.

Walton Outdoors, Blog, 2 November 2017, Audubon Florida’s former executive director Eric Draper now director of Florida State Parks,

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein today announced three key appointments to DEP’s leadership team, as part of its continued focus on the protection of Florida’s prized properties through the management of Florida’s world-renowned state park system and land acquisition and conservation. Eric Draper will join the DEP team as the Director of Florida State Parks, effective Nov. 28, and Callie DeHaven will serve as Interim Director of the Division of State Lands effective Nov. 27, subject to Governor and Cabinet confirmation. David Clark, who has previously served as Director of State Lands and has been acting Deputy Secretary of Land and Recreation, has officially been appointed Deputy Secretary.

4593 E Spruce Dr, Dunnellon, FL 34434,
Aerial west across FL 200, down Withlacoochee (South) River, across Sabal Trail Marion County drill site, and Halpata Tastanaki Preserve. Photo by Jim Tatum on WWALS Southwings flight 7 February 2017.

As Florida State Parks Director, Draper will Continue reading

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

Presto, there’s plenty of water in Florida? –Jim Gross @ WiLFest 2017-06-17

Jim Gross showed at WiLFest in Orlando Gainesville what he described later in the Orlando Sentinel:

“It was known by everyone in the agency that we had more demand than groundwater. Did the science completely change overnight? Now, ‘Presto! There’s plenty?’”

Discharge 1980 and 2010 from the Upper Floridan Aquifer
Jim Gross showing central Florida as far over sustainable withdrawals at WiLFest in Orlando Gainesville 2017-06-17
Photo: John S. Quarterman for WWALS

Lauren Ritchie, Orlando Sentinel, 30 June 2017, Commentary: Stop letting developments such as The Villages suck up water, Continue reading

SRWMD responds about NFRWSP; come to Alachua Tuesday 2017-01-17

SRWMD did post responses to comments from WWALS and others on the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan (NFRWSP). A week before the planned NFRWSP adoption, same as for the agenda for the joint SRWMD-SJRWMD meeting next Tuesday in Alachua. After OSFR and WWALS posted critical blog posts, SRWMD Executive Director Noah Valenstein sent us and others an offer to meet this Friday in Live Oak to discuss. While many (including me), thanked him for his collegial offer, nobody took him up on it. See you in Alachua Tuesday (facebook event).

Below are Noah Valenstein’s letter and my response. Continue reading

SRWMD listens about Sabal Trail easements, chooses unfortunately, yet offers assistance 2016-07-12

Attached are my comments to the SRWMD Governing Board today (July 12th 2016) in regards to the Sabal Trail crossing site over the Falmouth Cathedral Cave System.

I was the first to speak at the public comment period followed by Jim Tatum then Merrillee. Jim and Merrillee echoed my concerns. The three of us set the tone for the meeting! The Board was interested and engaged asking questions to better understand what impacts Sabal Trail poses for the cave system and the District. About Time!


Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson of Sierra Club Florida speaking to SRWMD 2016-07-12
Photo credit: Our Santa Fe River

Executive Director, Noah Valenstein offered to personally call the ACE to request Continue reading

Videos: Elected Officials see sinkholes where Sabal Trail would cross Suwannee River State Park 2016-05-15

You can see U.S. Congress member Ted Yoho FL-03 and a staffer for Sen. Bill Nelson discuss water, air, energy, growth, and past and future generations with local citizens environmental groups, including Suwannee County residents plainly saying they’re in the incineration zone. You can see for yourself sinkholes Sabal Trail omitted from what it told FERC. Soon we hope to see letters from Ted Yoho and Bill Nelson to the Corps and to FERC.

Below are links to the WWALS videos of the event, with many notes. For handouts, still pictures, and more information about this event of Sunday morning May 15th 2016, see Continue reading

Sinkholes and Sabal Trail: Elected Officials Hike, Suwannee River State Park 2016-05-15

Sunday morning May 15th 2016, nine and more environmental organizations showed U.S. Congress member Ted Yoho FL-03 and a representative from Sen. Bill Nelson Chris Mericle showing Ted Yoho two geology reports 30.3861389, -83.1693420 saw sinkholes much closer to Sabal Trail’s proposed drill path under the Suwannee River than the pipeline company told FERC, along with two reports by local practicing geologists explaining how fissures and caverns underground extend the problem far past the artificial distance of effects Sabal Trail claimed.

Update 2016-05-17: Thomas Lynn reported in the Suwannee Democrat and Valdosta Daily Times.

Both Rep. Yoho and Suwannee River Water Management District Executive Director Noah Valenstein said at the end of the expedition that Continue reading

Conversations with Noah Valenstein, E.D., SRWMD in Columbia County 2016-02-04

It’s not for shipping water to Jacksonville, it’s not much changed from last year, no money is allocated for it yet, and people should get involved in the process, said Noah Valenstein, the new Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), in answer to questions from Jim Tatum and Merillee Malwitz-Jipson of Our Santa Fe River (OSFR) and me about the Falling Creek Aquifer Recharge Project at the Columbia County Commission meeting last Thursday, 4 February 2016. Plus Sabal Trail, Amtrak and that chicken farm.

Movie: Noah Valenstein, E.D., SRWMD (6.9M)

Valenstein answered Jim during the Commission meeting. See also Jim’s report for OSFR. I stayed afterwards and had a longer discussion with Valenstein. Some notes from memory: Continue reading

Noah Valenstein, SRWMD E.D. @ Columbia County, FL Commission

He answered a few questions about Falling Creek Aquifer Recharge.

See Questions to SRWMD Director for context. More detail to come.

-jsq

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