For public hearings, ARC could be wider

By JOHN HOWELL The Daily Fray
December 9, 2014 9:39 pm

waltonranch1.jpgHouse Deputy Majority Leader Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, was just named vice chairman for the Appropriations Committee. Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, is vice-chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources subcommittee under Appropriations. The jobs will keep Boyd and Pilon busy in 2015 with Amendment 1.

» Eco-op: Are two regional hearings a year sufficient for a state that adopted Amendment 1 in a landslide vote?

The state's directions seem clear. Three out of four voters -- roughly 4.3 million -- said yes to Amendment 1. The Acquisition and Restoration Council, which is responsible for ranking Florida Forever projects, would figure to fall in line, too. ARC had six meetings in 2014 that involved public hearings.

Only two were held someplace besides Tallahassee. And some Suncoasters were miffed last week when all 10 ARC members skipped a hearing in Bradenton. A spokeswoman for the DEP, which oversees ARC, said regional hearings are not intended to be a dialogue. Instead, ARC members "are provided with comments from the regional meeting.”

A difference of opinion apparently existed on the nature of the hearing Dec. 2 at Bradenton City Hall, where roughly 70 citizens showed up. A five-line agenda on the DEP website indicated five items. Not including "Welcome" and "Adjourn," the agenda was:


Jono Miller: Myakka River Management Coordinating Council.

• ARC Role in Project Selection and Ranking Process

• Overview of 2014 Project Selection and Ranking Processes

• Public Testimony

That's a tight squeeze. On the agenda, ARC budgeted one hour for the hearing, wishful thinking considering 77.2 percent in Manatee and Sarasota counties alone approved Amendment 1.

ARC held two regional public hearings in 2014 (also June 5 in Arcadia), according to its calendar. The council will finish 2014 with eight meetings overall in Tallahassee, four with public input. The last is scheduled Dec. 11.

The process, especially the ARC no-show in Bradenton, ticks off Kent Bailey, head of the Tampa Bay-area Sierra Club. “What kind of public hearing is it when the government doesn’t show up to hear the public?” Bailey said in the Tampa Tribune.

History indicates the Sierra Club and government agencies won't be caroling together this season. But Bailey seems to have a point. Another: Are two regional hearings sufficient for an environmentally passionate state that adopted the Water and Land Conservation Initiative Nov. 4 in a landslide vote?

ARC reports to the Division of State Lands, which answers to the Department of Environmental Protection, which informs the Governor and elected officials, who reflect the will of voters. Right? "The idea," Bailey said, "is you look people in the eye, talk to them face to face and you communicate with them.”

For that, Bailey better gas up for the capital. In contrast, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had 12 days of meetings in 2014 involving public input, with morning and afternoon sessions, in Key Largo, Fort Myers, Tampa, Kissimmee and Tallahassee.

Comments in Bradenton are included in ARC's agenda for Dec. 11-12 in Tallahassee.  Jono Miller, a member of the Myakka River Management Coordinating Council and a Sierra Club veteran, and Lee Amos of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, were among seven speakers who stood up for the Myakka Islands Conservation Corridor. Mary Hrenda of the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club addressed Terra Ceia and Long Pointe Bar.

Testimony by 28 speakers, including Bailey, was recorded. It seemed the least that ARC could do.


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