The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Dinah Voyles Pulver has hit it out of the park yet again.
We’re lucky to have her reporting the news.
If you haven’t been following the brewing environmental mess surrounding a proposed wetlands mitigation bank in the Mosquito Lagoon near New Smyrna Beach, you need look no further than Dinah’s work in her recent piece, “Volusia County seeks answers on mitigation bank proposal.”
The “heal here, hurt there” process by which developers can purchase credits from “mitigation banks” to build on sensitive lands elsewhere is, in my view, a typical accommodation for real estate developers by an administration that uses environmental regulations for toilet paper.
In this case, if the mitigation bank is approved, former Major League Baseball player and manager Davey Johnson – who decades ago purchased the land in southeast Volusia – would be granted credits from regulatory agencies to include the St. John’s River Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
These credits are awarded based upon the number of acres of wetlands that are restored and held in a “bank” – then sold to developers and used to exploit sensitive lands in lucrative deals elsewhere.
According to the News-Journal, the formula is one credit for every acre of wetlands impacted.
Credits in Central Florida are currently selling for more than $135,000.
Who said it isn’t profitable to own swampland in Florida?
Who cares, you say? “That environmental impact stuff is dry as a popcorn fart, Mark. Keep it interesting, dude!”
Hold your horses, dammit. We’re fixing to take a canoe trip to the dark side.
Here’s where it gets interesting. If not downright disturbing.
You remember our old friend John Miklos?
The guy the City of DeBary hired to ramrod their massive transit oriented development on sensitive wetlands and conservation areas that make up the Gemini Springs Annex?
The guy who just happens to be Governor Rick Scott’s hand-picked chairman of the powerful St. John’s River Water Management District’s governing board?
The guy who owns Bio-Tech Consulting, Inc. – in my view, a continuing criminal enterprise whose sole purpose is to represent private clients before the very same environmental regulatory agency that he oversees?
It seems Mr. Johnson hired Mr. Miklos to represent his interests in the plan to turn some 315-acres near Webster Creek into a wetlands mitigation bank.
There’s one small problem – Johnson may not have private property rights to the submerged lands.
It seems the property in question may fall within the boundaries of the Mosquito Lagoon Aquatic Preserve – a 4,700-acre highly sensitive ecosystem consisting of tidal marsh, swampland and submerged lands that are home to 12 federally endangered species, as well as extensive shellfish and seagrass beds.
According to the County of Volusia, at least some of the land Johnson claims is his was mapped and declared “sovereign submerged lands” by the State of Florida in the 1970’s.
From a previous brouhaha that I was professionally mixed up in involving a locally famous beached houseboat that washed up on the banks of the Halifax river during a storm – I specifically recall that Sovereign Submerged Lands are owned by the state and administered by a Board of Trustees consisting of the governor and cabinet.
It’s not a new concept either.
Way back in 1845, by Act of Congress, Florida was (perhaps, in retrospect, unwisely) admitted to the United States. Along with statehood, Florida also acquired title to, “all land lying under navigable waters within the state, up to the ordinary high water line.”
While I’m convinced the terms “navigable” and “ordinary high water line” were thrown in just to give future attorney’s work, in short, these state-owned lands include (but, of course, are not limited to) certain “tidal lands, islands, sandbars, shallow banks, and lands waterward of the ordinary or mean high water line, beneath navigable fresh water or beneath tidally influenced waters.”
Sounds a lot like the Webster Creek area of the Mosquito Lagoon, huh?
Well, as John Miklos might be fond of saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat – or exploit sensitive wetlands for that matter. . .”
In fact, Long John Miklos personally emailed a program manager for state lands at the Department of Environmental Protection who quickly determined that the lands Johnson claims ownership of are not, in fact, sovereign submerged lands.
Fortunately, that decision is now under review. I guess the hypocrisy of DEP and the SRWMD only goes so far.
Now, the County of Volusia – and a whole passel of pissed off residents – have a big problem with the way this entire sordid affair is going down.
So do I.
In fact, Johnson has all but threatened that if the mitigation bank is not approved, he has the right to build condominiums, residential housing or a marina on the sensitive property. According to the News-Journal, Johnson has no current plans to develop the lands, stating, “I do have the option, I could develop it,” he said. “I could put houses on 25 acres. But I wouldn’t do that, that’s not what’s right for it.”
Somehow, I’m not convinced – and neither is the county.
On Thursday, the Volusia County Council authorized two letters from the county attorney expressing their “questions and concerns” regarding the project – one to the Governor and Cabinet – the other to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Ann Shortelle, Miklos’ hand-selected executive director of the St. John’s River Water Management District.
Interestingly, the county attorney also noted that prospectuses on the mitigation bank project sent to the Corps of Engineers and the water district by Johnson and Miklos don’t match.
Two different documents.
But not when Miklos in involved – it’s just a little confusion, I’m sure. . .
It seems the cornerstone of Bio-Tech Consulting is their ability to create “confusion” on behalf of clients when under review by regulators. I seem to recall that Bio-Tech once bulldozed a Bald Eagles nest on a land clearing project near Vero Beach under the guise they mistook it for an osprey.
Not much stands in ol’ John’s way when he sets his mind to accommodating developers.
Another serious issue at play is the rather rudimentary method Johnson and Bio-Tech want to employ to fill in old mosquito control ditches on the property – something called “hydro-blasting.”
Essentially, they want to use high-pressure water hoses to blast piles of spoil dirt into the canals.
According to Miklos – the indiscriminate blasting of silt and dirt contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, and God knows what else, in and around sensitive estuaries, mangroves, oyster reefs, and seagrass beds is “environmentally sound.”
Some 500 Volusia County residents have signed a petition on change.org requesting that the Corps of Engineers hold public hearings on the matter.
According to the News-Journal, the Corps has yet to decide if they will permit a public hearing or not – although they have extended the period during which you can write in to express your opinion on the project.
Folks, here’s a quick heads-up: Government does not need or want your input. Just pay the bills and shut the fuck up. Got it?
How long, Oh Lord, are the good people of Florida going to be saddled with this painfully and openly corrupt sneak thief John Miklos?
How long will he be permitted to play both sides of the fence for his personal enrichment?
It’s a valid question.
In April, I sent a complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice, Middle District of Florida, asking, in effect, if Floridians still have the right to expect honest and ethical representation by appointed representatives to state regulatory boards?
I specifically cited the on-going quid pro quo corruption in DeBary as evidence of an open and pervasive pattern of dishonesty by Chairman Miklos and others. In fact, I have always felt that the U.S. Attorney would need to present little more than Dinah Pulver’s excellent articles to a federal grand jury to all but ensure an indictment of Miklos and most of the DeBary City Council and staff.
I understand that several environmental groups from around the state filed similar complaints.
Let’s hope these widespread concerns spark some interest.
Because I think hope is all we have left.
In my view, this level of open and abject corruption has a cancerous effect on the public’s confidence and trust in the system. Even at a casual glance, most smart people get the unmistakable impression that the playing field is anything but level – in fact, it’s so cockeyed that it will take years to fix – if ever.
In a state where you can actually hire the chairman of the regulatory agency to lobby on your behalf before that same regulatory agency – well, anything is possible.
How long before someone in an elected or appointed position of responsibility says “enough is enough.”
If you think Governor Scott gives two-shits your fooling yourself. He’s the poster boy for the problem – a reptilian asshole with no qualms about selling you out to anyone who extends a buck in his direction.
The Governor will couch it as “economic development” – but its common thievery, and Scott damn well knows it.
He just doesn’t care – so long as he and his cronies can line their pockets and to hell with the long-term consequences.
Look no further than the devilish mess in South Florida – where filthy Lake Okeechobee run-off from huge sugar cane operations has turned estuaries of the St. Lucie and Indian rivers into a toxic guacamole of algae blooms.
(All while Governor Scott and Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam indulged themselves at a private Texas hunting resort owned lock, stock and barrel by U.S. Sugar – who, by the way, also paid for their trip.)
Did I mention that the sugar industry has steered $57.8 million in direct and “in-kind” contributions to state and local politicians in Florida between 1994 and 2016?
Because they have.
Rick Scott’s political committee received $1 million in sugar contributions just last year.
Rather than clean up this growing mess the right way, if Governor Scott has his way, soon the deadly run-off will be forced south toward Florida Bay – and the Florida Keys.
(By the way, this release will be accomplished by the same U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that are still debating on whether or not to give you a public hearing on the Johnson/Miklos mitigation bank.)
My God, these greedy bastards know no shame.
And what’s more disturbing – no regulatory or law enforcement agency in a position to respond on the public’s behalf seems to give a damn.
Maybe when this entire godforsaken state becomes an uninhabitable shithole – completely devoid of potable water, greenspace or wildlife; when all the natural resources are exploited, hauled off and sold, and every last dime has been looted – someone will wake up.
But I doubt it.
In Florida, we live in an open kleptocracy where anything goes.
Greed-hogs like John Miklos blatantly steal from the public they are sworn to serve, while those in a position to do something about it stand-by with a thumb wedged firmly in their collective ass, cashing government paychecks and shiftlessly giving nothing – and I mean nothing – in return.
You’re a victim. Get used to it.