Washington, DC -- Even as it touts the importance of its operations in the Keys, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is closing its only office in the region and relocating its biologists more than 170 miles away, according to agency records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result of the move, the state will have no resident biologists to assess beach erosion and other effects of hurricanes ripping through the Florida Keys.
Announced in June as an economy measure, DEP would close its Key Largo marine biology office and move its staff to Hobe Sound. An examination of agency records by PEER, however, revealed no cost studies or other calculations showing how much, if any, tax dollars will be saved or lost by the move. In addition, closing the Key Largo office will move state marine biologists several hours away from the resources they are assigned to protect. As a result of the move –
- It will be more difficult for biologists to monitor beach and dune erosion in the Keys;
- Ongoing assessments of coral bleaching and other threats to marine life will be strained; and
- Keys residents seeking permits for marinas, piers, seawall repairs or other projects that impact upon state parklands will have to travel an additional 8 to 10 hours round trip.
"Closing the Key Largo office has nothing to do with efficiency and everything to do with petty bureaucratic politics," stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former attorney in the DEP Office of General Counsel. "DEP is closing a valuable asset for the people and the resources of the Keys. Furthermore, this move will not provide meaningful savings to the public since DEP owns the office space out of which the Key Largo office operates. There are apparently no plans underway for DEP to sell the office space. The true basis for this move is therefore highly suspect."
The series of recent hurricanes has underscored the need for marine biologists to be available to track the dramatic effects these massive storms are having on marine resources. Just yesterday, Secretary Castille announced that the State is undertaking a massive effort to evaluate the beach erosion caused by the three storms that have struck Florida this year. Moving the base for state biologists further away from the area of greatest need may cost the state even more money to pay travel costs for overnight stays and extra-long commutes for its staff.
Over 250 Keys residents have signed a petition to key the DEP office in Key Largo. Florida PEER has placed that petition on its web site so that Floridians not now in the keys can sign on as well.