Last mission to repair the Hubble telescope Hubble space telescope discoveries have enriched our understanding of the cosmos. In this special report, you will see facts about the Hubble space telescope, discoveries it has made and what the last mission's goals are.
For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Hillsborough to scrap wetlands oversight
Citing budget concerns, the county votes to disband its wetlands management division.
By MICHAEL VAN SICKLER
Published June 22, 2007
TAMPA - It took about two hours Thursday for Hillsborough County commissioners to do something state lawmakers refused to do this year: vote to scrap local control over wetlands protection.
Nearly a dozen residents stood in protest as Commissioners Brian Blair, Ken Hagan, Jim Norman and Kevin White voted to disband the $2.2-million wetlands management division at the county's Environmental Protection Commission. Rose Ferlita, Al Higginbotham and Mark Sharpe dissented.
After the vote, commissioners left without hearing public comment, which Blair, the EPC chairman, initially said he would allow.
Commissioners later reconvened to hear from residents, but four of the commissioners weren't there to hear it.
"This is the lowest moment in our county's history, " said Mariella Smith of Hillsborough's Sierra Club. "Shameful. They don't even know what they were doing up there."
Commissioners still must schedule a public hearing before they officially eliminate the wetlands division, which for the past 22 years has imposed rules in Hillsborough stricter than those enforced by the state, such as protecting wetlands of a half-acre or less.
Jadell Kerr, the wetlands division manager, said she wasn't holding out much hope her job or those of 28 who work for her will be saved.
"I think wetlands management is dead in the water, " Kerr said. "I don't think it matters what the public says. The county commissioners have already made up their minds."
The vote came after a stormy few months for the EPC. In March, state legislators proposed eliminating local control over wetland protection in 20 counties, including Hillsborough. When the EPC staff asked to lobby against the bill, commissioners said no.
While the amendment died, a local developer, Stephen Dibbs, continued his long campaign to eliminate the EPC's wetlands regulation, which he calls arbitrary and capricious.
On Thursday, it wasn't fully clear why commissioners voted for the cut because the EPC seemed to have resolved their stated concerns about the agency.
Hagan, Norman and White said the division's elimination was necessary because property tax reform was forcing counties to slash spending.
"We know what's passed, and like it or not, the time has come to start making tough decisions on what changes we want to make, " Hagan said. "There are no sacred cows."
Yet commissioners heard before they voted that the EPC had already made the necessary budget cuts. The agency's executive director, Richard Garrity, said the agency made adjustments that County Administrator Pat Bean requested, and did so by leaving the wetlands division intact.
When Hagan complained that the wetlands budget climbed by $64, 000 over last year, he was reminded that the uptick reflected the salary increase commissioners had already approved for all county employees.
The staff told commissioners the EPC brings in about $1.2-million in application fees, so the net savings for eliminating the wetlands division would be only about $800, 000.
Garrity said he had another option that would combine state and county agencies in reviewing wetlands that could lead to additional savings.
Sharpe told commissioners that these answers should have settled their concerns and they were being rash if they didn't at least consider Garrity's new idea.
"If we're saying we want to eliminate the wetlands division for budget reasons, he's submitted his budget, and we don't need to do it, " he said. "So there must be another reason."
Blair said he wasn't voting to eliminate the wetlands division because of cost savings, but because it delayed home construction with an extra layer of regulation.
"You know who pays for that?" Blair said. "It's every person sitting here, every person that builds a house or moves into a house."
Land use lawyer John Grandoff spoke in favor of eliminating the wetlands division after Dibbs, a former client, asked him to come to the meeting.
Most of the people who have given testimony recently against the EPC have had business or family ties to Dibbs, who also attended Thursday's meeting.
"The EPC is used more as a sword against development than a shield against wetlands, " Grandoff said later. "Their real purpose is to stop development."
Longtime EPC executive director Roger Stewart, who earned a national reputation for environmental protection before he retired, said he couldn't believe the vote.
"When commissioners sit as the EPC, they are supposed to uphold the environment of Hillsborough, " Stewart said.
"They're not doing that. They're doing something else. They're being derelict, and they're setting themselves up for a lawsuit."