Gov. Ron DeSantis continued his dramatic reshaping of state environmental policy Thursday, naming four new members to a powerful board that supervises South Florida water supplies and the restoration of the Everglades.
The governor filled vacancies he created last month when he asked the entire board of the South Florida Water Management District to resign. The board has been accused of protecting the sugar industry over the environment and failing to do enough about the toxic algae that fouled both coasts.
“Floridians are excited about the new leadership at the South Florida Water Management District and our mission to protect our state’s environment and water resources,” DeSantis said.
Among the appointees is Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, who as a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission had unsuccessfully pushed proposals establishing a right to a clean environment and banning coastal oil drilling.
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“This is a fantastic addition to this critical water board,” tweeted Celeste De Palma, director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida
Also appointed were Charlette Roman, a retired Army colonel and environmental commissioner for the Collier County Planning Commission; Carlos “Charlie” E. Martinez, president of CEM Investments LLC and a member of the Everglades Foundation; and Cheryl Meads, CEO of Trumpet Calls LLC, a member of the Islamorada Village Council and former contractor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
At a news conference in Stuart, Thurlow-Lippisch, former mayor of Sewall’s Point who writes a blog on the Indian River Lagoon, recalled a childhood splashing around the edge of the St. Lucie River with her friends, trying to avoid cutting their feet on oyster beds or encountering stingrays in the thick seagrass.
“Today such a thing is not possible,” she said. “There are few oysters, little seagrass, and sometimes the water is toxic … Generation after generation had ignored the science and the signs in our excitement to develop cities and towns and build the greatest agriculture empire on Earth. Water bodies across South Florida have become impaired.”
The water management district attracted the governor’s attention from his first week in office, when he requested the resignation of the district’s entire board, saying it was time for a fresh start.
For years the water management district has long been criticized for excessive deference to the sugar industry, which operates an arc of farms on the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee, at the top of what remains of the Everglades. In the latest action, the board drew severe criticism in November for agreeing — on short public notice — to extend a lease for sugar farming on land slated for use as a reservoir to protect the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. The water management district also had been criticized for failing to do enough to prevent the summer plagues of thick green algae that fouled beaches and waterways on both coasts.
DeSantis named two members to the board earlier this month. But since they haven’t yet taken their seats, the commission was so depleted that it couldn’t come up with a quorum for last week’s meeting.
The governor’s announcements Thursday drew applause from environmentalists, who have been impressed with his flurry of early initiatives on Everglades restoration and water pollution.
“The governor has put together a diverse cross-section of local governments, business leaders and friends of the environment who will act as concerned and committed stewards of our water and natural resources,” said Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation. “We look forward to working with this new board to protect and restore America’s Everglades.”
Rob Moher, president of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said he was particularly impressed with the selection of Roman.
“As an elected and appointed official, she takes the time to study the issues, hear from the experts and public, and suggest solutions that result in fair and balanced outcomes,” he said.