Longtime Bush aide Colleen Castille will replace David Struhs. "Things just got better," says an environmentalist.
By CRAIG PITTMAN nd STEVE BOUSQUET
Published February 14, 2004
TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush gave Florida's environmental activists an early Valentine Friday, appointing longtime aide Colleen Castille as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
"Things just got better," said David Guest of Earthjustice, a critic of departing DEP Secretary David Struhs. "You couldn't ask for a better pick."
Castille, 44, has spent the past year as secretary of the state Department of Community Affairs, overseeing growth management. Her brief stint there made Audubon of Florida so happy the organization named her Conservationist of the Year.
"I am absolutely convinced she's the right person to lead this department," said Bush, who praised her as "a consensus-builder."
Castille, unaccustomed to being in the spotlight, said little beyond praising the DEP as a "premier environmental protection agency throughout this nation" and promising "no major changes."
Before her stint at Community Affairs, Castille spent four years as Bush's chief Cabinet aide, a low-profile but crucial post in which she dealt with such contentious issues as manatee protection and demolishing the dam blocking the Ocklawaha River.
She previously worked as a Cabinet aide for former education commissioner Frank Brogan and for Tom Gallagher when he was state insurance commissioner.
Under Struhs, DEP was frequently embroiled in controversy, with many environmental leaders accusing Struhs of cutting deals that favored industries and polluters. He quit to take a job with International Paper, a move that drew criticism because he had helped arrange public loan money for cleaning up pollution from the company's Pensacola mill.
Because of Castille's behind-the-scenes work as Bush's Cabinet aide, environmentalists view her as an ally. They say that, unlike Struhs, she is more likely to stand up to business interests.
"She can't be bullied," said Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida. He compared her to Carol Browner, whose hard-nosed reputation as Florida's top environmental regulator led former President Clinton to name her administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
To some Bush supporters, putting someone like that in charge of a big state agency with regulatory power over air and water seems like a bad move.
"I can't imagine why the governor would appoint her to that," said Brevard County Commissioner Ron Pritchard, who encountered Castille when he was president of a boaters' rights group called Citizens for Florida Waterways.
Pritchard said Castille was hostile to boaters, and he predicted that under her the DEP will be "much more harmful to property owners, to people who like to enjoy their waterfront property."
An avid hiker, biker and kayaker, Castille is nearly a native Floridian. She was born in Japan, where her parents were stationed by the U.S. Air Force. They retired to Miami when she was 2 and she grew up in South Florida.
She earned a degree in international affairs from Florida State University and jumped into Republican politics in 1986 as a campaign coordinator for Tampa Mayor Bob Martinez during his successful bid for governor. Two years later her campaign fundraising for Gallagher led to her becoming his Cabinet aide.
She has been married for four years to Jessie Bostick, a Georgia businessman who buys and sells military surplus. She once joked that their home is furnished with the same decor as a bachelor officers' quarters on a military base. Castille's DEP salary will be $113,000, slightly more than her current salary of $108,400. Her appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate.
Bush named Heidi Hughes, general counsel at the Department of Community Affairs, to run that agency on an interim basis. He said he hopes to name a new secretary before the legislative session begins March 2.