Group accuses board of neglect

The coalition wants Hillsborough's EPC to retain its wetlands division.

Published June 30, 2007

TAMPA - A coalition of residents and community groups is asking Gov. Charlie Crist to investigate a preliminary decision by Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission to eliminate its wetlands division.

The group of nearly 100 residents and civic groups accuses the EPC governing board, made up of Hillsborough County commissioners, of "misfeasance ... malfeasance ... and neglect of duty."

Specifically, the group accuses the four EPC members who voted to eliminate local wetlands regulators of not following proper procedures to reach the decision, not acting in the best interests of either the agency or residents and of being improperly influenced by development interests.

"These guys are not representing us - not as the EPC board, not as the County Commission, " said Mariella Smith, a Ruskin activist, who has helped organize the effort. "It's clear they only represent the interests of the developers."

Smith joined roughly two dozen others, many of whom had signed the letter, Friday afternoon outside the Hillsborough County School District headquarters to draw attention to the issue as Crist stopped there for a bill signing. They waved signs calling commissioners who supported cutting the wetlands program as the "Gang of Four."

"They need to remember who they work for, " said Terry Flott, chairwoman of the group United Citizens' Action Newtork. "We're going to be reminding them."

Brian Blair, EPC chairman, and the target of some of the signs, said he welcomed the public exchange of viewpoints.

Earlier in the day, he agreed to postpone a final decision until at least August on the elimination of local review of development requests that affect wetlands. That will let the EPC's executive director finish an alternative plan that both trims spending and maintains some local oversight of wetlands.

"I felt that he deserved the opportunity to present this to the board for reconsideration, " Blair said.