Florida Truncates Eco-Safeguards on Beach Projects
No Review of Contaminants or Wildlife Damage as BP-Funded Beach Work Starts
Tallahassee — Florida has suspended key protections to reduce or prevent environmental harm and public health risks in rebuilding eroded beaches with dredged materials, according to agency documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This major relaxation occurs just as millions of dollars from British Petroleum is released to finance a large number of beach projects in compensation for damage from last year’s Gulf oil blowout.
In an April 15, 2011 directive, a top official in the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a reinterpretation for how the agency would apply rules governing beach projects. The memo by Jeff Littlejohn, DEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory programs, makes clear that beach work should be presumptively approved regardless of consequences, stating –
“While we must consider the potential for adverse impacts to fish and wildlife and their habitats, we must keep the following fact clear in our minds: The restoration of critically eroded beaches increases habitat and has been determined by the legislature to be in the public interest.” (Emphasis in original)
Besides shunting aside wildlife impacts, the memo directs DEP permit staff to –
- Not consider listed “contaminants” used in borrow material when deciding whether or not to allow the project to go forward, unless they would cause “cementation” of the beach;
- Avoid requesting additional information about projects or imposing conditions. Under the memo, it is uncertain how DEP will prevent prohibited toxic material, construction debris or other foreign matter from being deposited onto artificially reinforced beaches; and
- Suspend reviews on planting plans which determine “a project’s potential to impact the beach and dune system.” This order was entitled “Stay out of the Weeds” (Emphases in original).
“The new marching orders in Florida are damn the beaches, full speed ahead,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “Under this directive, state permit writers cannot do their jobs of making sure that the beach work is beneficial and done responsibly.”
Last month, BP said it will give Florida $100 million for environmental and natural resource restoration and recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. The funds are for beach re-nourishment projects, as well as restoration of oyster reefs, sea grass beds and bird habitat. This initial BP payment will be followed by a much bigger sum BP will owe Gulf states once damage assessments are completed.
“Given the huge magnitude of the beach work that is about to commence in Florida, we should make sure it is done right rather than in a fly-by-night frenzy,” added Phillips. “Florida’s beaches are too important to cover with crap and call it restoration.”