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 join more than 1,000 park rangers, managers, biologists, planners and other staff to oversee the management of Florida’s award-winning state park system….

Let’s look back:

  1. FPL, PR, 26 July 2013, FPL selects Sabal Trail Transmission and Florida Southeast Connection to build new natural gas pipeline system into Florida,

    “Natural gas, especially when used in combination with solar energy, generates far fewer emissions than coal or oil,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. “Audubon provided guidance on the proposed pipeline route, and we commend FPL for working to avoid sensitive habitats.”

  2. John S. Quarterman, WWALS, 6 October 2015, Florida Audubon goes full NIMBY,
    • Sabal Trail Withlacoochee (South) River site Susan Salisbury, Palm Beach Post, 5 October 2015, Audubon Florida supports Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline,

      Following changes to the proposed route of a massive pipeline, Audubon Florida now strongly supports Sabal Trail, a $3.5 billion natural gas pipeline project slated to extend from Alabama to Florida.

      Charles Lee, Audubon Florida’s director of advocacy, said that the group has worked with Sabal Trail on route modification and environmental mitigation measures for portions of its 515-mile pipeline in Florida.

      Well, that explains why Charles Lee said Florida Audubon would not help with WWALS v. Sabal Trail & FL-DEP.

    • Susan Salisbury, Palm Beach Post, 6 October 2015, Audubon Florida neutral on Sabal Trail pipeline, support was in error,

      Audubon Florida does not support Sabal Trail, a $3.5 billion natural gas pipeline slated to extend from Alabama to Florida, but is taking a neutral stance on the project, the group’s executive director Eric Draper said Tuesday.

      An Oct. 4 letter Audubon Florida submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission erroneously stated it “strongly supports” the pipeline that will transport natural gas to Florida Power & Light Co. and Duke Energy plants beginning May 2017.

      Draper said that position was a mistake due to miscommunication between him and advocacy director Charles Lee.

      Tuesday Audubon Florida submitted a revised letter to FERC that was identical to the first except that the sentence expressing its support was removed.

      “We are taking a neutral position on the need for a pipeline,” Draper said. “We took an active position on making sure the pipeline was not routed through habitat we were concerned about.”

In his walk-back of the October 2015 Audubon Florida letter to FERC, Draper didn’t mention that he had endorsed Sabal Trail in FPL’s announcement of the project back in 2013. He didn’t mention that to me in between when I had lunch with him in Monticello, Florida, either.

And his claim that Audubon Florida’s revised letter to FERC does not constitute endorsement is, ah, rather hollow. See for yourself. The October 6, 2015 letter differs from the October 5, 2015 letter (other than punctuation fixes and date) only in removing one sentence and one clause:

In that regard, we strongly support the additional pipeline capacity that the Sabal Trail project will provide for Florida natural gas markets

and therefore has our support.

Both letters nonetheless say:

Audubon Florida, recognizes that natural gas generates far fewer emissions than coal and oil and is an important part of a national strategy to reduce carbon emissions…

The project as now designed resolves any of our prior stated concerns regarding wetlands, protected species, and mitigation

In what way is that not endorsement? And in making Charles Lee resubmit the letter with those sentences stil in it, Eric Draper signed on to that endorsement. So that’s two endorsements of Sabal Trail in writing by Eric Draper.

WWALS has copies (via open records request to FDEP) of the email correspondence between Charles Lee and FDEP, negotiating a NIMBY position while WWALS was trying to stop FDEP’s permit for Sabal Trail.

In addition, when Charles Lee filed for Audubon Florida to intervene on FERC Docket CP15-17 for Sabal Trail, he detailed its concerns as ( FERC Accession Number 20141222-5043, “Motion to Intervene of Florida Audubon Society, Inc. RE: Sabal Trail Pipeline and related proceedings, CP15-17, et al”):

In specific terms the Florida Audubon Society’s interest in this proceeding is to assure the avoidance of environmental impacts and ecosystem damage to three specific areas along the route of the pipeline in Florida. (A) The Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve of the Southwest Florida Water Management District located in Marion County; (B) the Green Swamp Area of Critical Concern, located in Lake and Polk Counties, and; (C) the Davenport Creek Swamp located in Polk and Osceola Counties. The Florida Audubon Society’s purpose for intervention relative to Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve is to support the negotiated re-route which totally avoids any crossing of the preserve property which has previously been agreed to by Sabal Trail Pipeline. This re-route is located in the area between Mile Markers 384 and 390 in Marion County. Further, the position of the Florida Audubon Society with regard to the Green Swamp Area of Critical Concern is that additional re-routing should be undertaken to avoid impacts on major intact wetland systems between Mile Markers 435 and 464. With regard to Davenport Creek Swamp, the position of the Florida Audubon Society is that additional re- routing and/or “Jack and Bore” directional drilling should be utilized to avoid impacts on major wetland system components between Mile Markers 468 and 473.5.

There is nothing in that intervention letter about Audubon Florida opposing Sabal Trail. That letter also says:

Intervenor will be able to monitor all developments in this matter that may affect Intervenor’s interests including the potential effects of the pipeline’s location, construction, and operation in the event Sabal’s application is approved and a certificate of public convenience and necessity is issued.

Yet while Sabal Trail went operational, and even after Sierra Club, Flint Riverkeeper, and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper got a DC Circuit court ruling that vacated Sabal Trail’s certificate, Audubon Florida has been silent about the Dunnellon Compressor Station site at the edge of the Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve and silent about the numerous odorant leaks from that site, which must have drifted into that Preserve, as well as silent about Sabal Trail wanting to turn on the gas from that site through the Citrus County Pipeline through that Perserve and under the Withlacoochee (South) River. Audubon Florida was also absent from the opposition to Sabal Trail drilling under Suwannee River State Park and under the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers, even though those are all bird habitats.

As Director of Florida State Parks, will Eric Draper do anything about fresh sinkholes above the pipeline?

According to Audubon Florida PR congratulating Draper on his new appointment,

Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s deputy director, will serve as interim executive director while Audubon undertakes a search for Draper’s successor.

Yet in their Staff Directory, Draper is still listed as Executive Director of their Florida State Office (which is still marked as “Temporarily closed due to Hurricane Irma”) and of their Policy Office. And Charles Lee is still listed as Director of Advocacy, Central Florida Policy Office.

Apparently Draper hasn’t actually left yet. James Call, Tallahassee Democrat, 2 November 2017, Audubon Florida’s Eric Draper named new director of Florida State Parks System,

Draper will stay on at Audubon Florida until he assumes his new post. Julie Wraithmell, Audubon’s deputy director, will serve as interim executive director while a search for Draper’s successor is conducted.

And Audubon Florida still bills itself as “The Voice of Conservation in Florida”. It seems to me there are many individuals and groups concerned with conservation in Florida that did not endorse Sabal Trail.

My little bit of criticism here is mild compared to some others. Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times, 4 November 2017, Audubon executive director is tapped to run state park system — but not everyone is a fan: Eric Draper, who has run Audubon Florida since 2009, was once vilified as “the worst environmentalist in Florida”.

On the other hand, Audubon Florida now has an opportunity to select an Executive Director to represent conservation, not amelioration.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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One thought on “Eric Draper from Audubon Florida to FL State Parks

  1. Janet Barrow

    Thank you for writing this. This story needs to be told. There is more to this story that will be told as time passes.

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