Washington, DC — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is closing an office in Key Largo in order to force one biologist to resign in reprisal for his raising concerns about a project supported by Governor Jeb Bush, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
On March 1st, DEP is scheduled to shut down its Florida Park Service Key Largo Branch Office, forcing residents to travel more than 170 miles to Hobe Sound in order to obtain permits and reviews of park-related projects. DEP still has a long-term lease on the Key Largo office. No cost analysis was done even though the supposed rationale for the move is greater efficiency.
The sole employee affected by the closure is DEP biologist David Boyd. It was Mr. Boyd’s job to prepare DEP’s comments on the controversial plan to widen the main access road into the Florida Keys, known as the 18-Mile Stretch. Mr. Boyd’s draft comments raised a number of environmental concerns but his comments were never finalized. In fact, DEP, the state’s primary environmental agency, submitted no comments at all on the project that is strongly favored by Gov. Bush. The plan for widening the18-Mile Stretch received its permits but is currently under challenge in federal court through a lawsuit brought by residents.
“This Key Largo maneuver is about as subtle as a Mack truck,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former attorney in the DEP Office of General Counsel. “The message for scientists working in state agencies is that you dare be honest only when the powers-that-be agree with you.”
Rather than accept the transfer, David Boyd is considering retirement. Other staff members in the Key Largo office, however, are being allowed to continue to work in that office even after its official “closing” date.
Today, Florida PEER is submitting petitions that have been signed by more than 200 local residents protesting the loss of the Key Largo facility and the end to a Florida Park Service presence in the Keys to DEP Director Colleen Castille.
“Moving the base for state biologists further away from the beaches, dunes, coral reefs and other resources in greatest need of monitoring is irresponsible,” Phillips added, noting that making the state biologists commute long distances to these sites will ultimately cost the state more money. “This move is certainly not about efficiency; it is about crude, hardball politics.”