DeSantis takes aim at water district board

DeSantis takes aim at water district board

News Service of Florida
News Service of Florida
January 11, 2019

TALLAHASSEE --- Gov. Ron DeSantis called Thursday for the resignations of all members of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, which has been under fire since voting in late November to grant Florida Crystals a lease extension for land eyed for a reservoir.

The eight members of the board --- one seat is vacant --- were appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott.

Representatives of the district didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The request came as DeSantis also announced plans to pull back appointments to boards and committees that Scott made in his final days of office. That announcement dealt with appointments requiring Senate confirmation.

“I can announce today that for all the midnight appointments that required Senate confirmation, I’m going to be pulling back,” DeSantis said in a quote from the governor’s office. “Now, some of the people in that batch were people that I know and respect. You may see me reappoint some of them back. But we’re pulling all of them back. We’re going to take a fresh look at it and we’ll move forward from there.”

Scott, who was sworn into the U.S. Senate this week, made 84 appointments on Friday and Monday, before he was replaced as governor by DeSantis on Tuesday.

Among Scott’s late appointments requiring Senate confirmation were Andy Pollack to the State Board of Education and Carlos Beruff to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Pollack is the father of a student killed in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last February. Beruff, a developer from Bradenton, was appointed to a number of positions during Scott’s tenure as governor, including serving as chairman of the Constitution Revision Commission.

The announcement about the water management district was made while DeSantis was in Stuart to discuss an executive order on water-quality and environmental issues and came at the urging of U.S. Rep. Brian Mast.

"One of the recommendations that Congressman Mast has provided to me was that we really need a fresh start at the South Florida Water Management District, and so today I have sent correspondence to all of the board members, thanking them for their service but requesting their resignation,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.

Mast, a Palm City Republican, served alongside DeSantis in Congress and was chairman of DeSantis’ Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture.

Mast called for the resignations in December after the water-management district board approved the lease for the sugar company Florida Crystals on land that is also targeted for a roughly $1.6 billion Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir approved by the Legislature in 2017.

“For far too long the South Florida Water Management District has been more accountable to special interests than to the people of Florida,” Mast said in a statement Thursday. “That changes today, and I look forward to continuing to work with Gov. DeSantis to find replacements who make our waterways and environment the number one priority.”

Critics of the lease, which the district has said was in the works for months, note the issue was posted on a meeting agenda the night before it was approved.

The nearly $1 million-a-year lease --- being challenged by environmental groups --- allows Florida Crystals to continue farming on about 16,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area that is planned for the reservoir.

The terms for three board members --- James Moran, Rick Barber and Sam Accursio --- are scheduled to expire in March. Chairman Federico Fernandez and board member Dan O’Keefe were appointed to terms that expire in 2020. The terms for board members Jaime Weisinger and Brandon Tucker expire in 2021, and board member Carlos Diaz was appointed last year with a term until 2022.

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