News from Tallahassee for 5/31/16

Statewide sinkhole map nears completion, officials say posted on 8/10/15

by JAMES L. ROSICA | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — It turns out the best way to predict sinkholes is to find the ones already there.

For two years, a team of sinkhole hunters with the Florida Geological Survey has been scouring the state to create a map of where sinkholes are most likely to form.

They’ve trudged through terrain in 55 of 67 counties so far, using digital elevation maps and aerial photographs to ferret out known sinkholes and infer future ones.

To twist an old saying, where there’s fire, there’s likely going to be more fire. Those additional fires is what the scientists are after.

By this time next year, the crew of 10 geologists and computer mapmakers expect to have the whole state platted to show areas vulnerable to sinkhole formation.

For the Tampa Bay area, nicknamed “sinkhole alley,” such a map could prove invaluable for local officials and others to gird for ground collapses after storms.

Sinkholes, however, aren’t always immediately obvious. They may be hidden in rural areas, surrounded by dense vegetation.

Like a physician diagnosing a patient, “we refer to them as ‘symptoms,’” said geologist Clint Kromhout, the team’s leader.

For example, in their version of a doctor’s bag, geologists use a technology called LiDAR, for light detection and ranging. Laser bursts create a three-dimensional image of a particular area’s surface.

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In ‘climate change’ controversy, a tale of two agencies posted on 6/22/15


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a steering committee to address climate change. The commission maintains computer modeling programs that show how climate change will affect water and land crucial to wildlife. It holds regular seminars to educate staff on the latest climate science.

On its website, the commission has a “Climate Change 101” page that addresses key challenges the state faces.

Eight miles from the state commission’s Tallahassee headquarters, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which bills itself as the state’s “lead agency for environmental management and stewardship,” states that it is only monitoring sea-level rise. That is its sole effort to address climate change.

As Florida Center for Investigative Reporting first reported, the emphasis on “climate change” within the DEP has declined over the past five years during Gov. Rick Scott’s tenure in office. For instance, a Web page titled “Climate Change and Coral Reefs” hasn’t been updated since Nov. 18, 2011 — the year Scott took office. That was also the year a DEP spokesperson told the Tampa Bay Times that “DEP is not pursuing any programs or projects regarding climate change.”

One likely explanation for the different priorities at the two agencies is that FWC, created by voters in 1999 as an independent commission and run by an autonomous board, does not answer to the governor. The DEP, on the other hand, does report to the governor’s office.

Prior to Scott’s election, DEP was aggressively studying climate change. When Scott, a climate change skeptic, took office in 2011, the terms “climate change” and “global warming” began to disappear from DEP reports, according to a previous analysis by FCIR. Former DEP employees recounted to FCIR meetings where they were ordered not to use the terms. In emails, DEP officials instructed employees and volunteers to stay away from the subject.

Scott and DEP officials have denied the existence of any policy prohibiting the terms, but they have never attempted to explain or dispute FCIR’s findings.

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Florida House and Senate agree on environmental budget posted on 6/16/15

by News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE - Lawmakers agreed on hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental spending during a meeting Sunday night, but disappointed supporters of a land and water conservation amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters last fall.

The deal struck by Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, was announced after a 34-hour break in public budget negotiations between the two sides. The Legislature is working to resolve its budget differences by the scheduled Saturday end of a special session --- 10 days before Florida has to have a spending plan in place to avoid a government shutdown.

In all, the deal sets aside $81.8 million for Everglades restoration, $55 million to buy land and $47.5 million in funding for restoration of the state's natural springs. The Senate helped to constrain those numbers by pushing back on House attempts to bond some of the money, which would have allowed the state to spend roughly $10 for every dollar used for bonding.

"Without bonding, we weren't really able to do anything too robust in any particular area," Lee told reporters after the meeting.

The largest share of the land-buying money, $20 million, will go toward improvements to the Kissimmee River, while another $17.4 million will go to the state's Florida Forever land acquisition program. The state will also spend $15 million on protection easements and agreements on private land.

In a new item that emerged Sunday evening, lawmakers also agreed to use $2 million for a project on Howell Creek in Central Florida. That watershed is in the district of Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

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Hurricane Awareness Harder Without Tax Holiday posted on 6/1/15

by jim ash | wfsu

Building awareness of Monday’s kickoff of the Atlantic Hurricane season is hard enough when the state hasn’t been struck for a decade. But this year’s lack of a tax-free holiday to promote stockpiling emergency supplies could make the job more difficult.

Last year, Floridians saved $20 million when they went to the store to by generators, batteries and other storm supplies. This year, there isn’t a sales tax holiday to get Floridians in disaster mode. Aaron Gallaher, a spokesman for the Division of Emergency Management, says his agency will do all it can.

“It’s not in place, but we are still going to work to ensure that everyone who lives, or plays in Florida is prepared for the odds of a hurricane.”

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Obama, in Miami, Comments on Extreme Weather, Terrorism, Cuban-Americans and Basketball posted on 5/29/15

by peter baker | ny times

MIAMI — The visit lasted less than 24 hours, but President Obama managed to use a stop in South Florida to maximum advantage as he touched on some of the highest priorities of an administration heading into its final stages.

He raised millions of dollars for his party, toured the National Hurricane Center, paid tribute to Cuban-Americans, showed support for victims of terrorism, advocated action on climate change, defended his trade policy and lamented the firing of the coach of his hometown basketball team, the Chicago Bulls.

“Love thibs and think he did a great job,” Mr. Obama said in a Twitter chat he hosted using his newly inaugurated @POTUS account. “Thibs,” of course, is Tom Thibodeau, the coach who lost his job on Thursday. “Sorry to see him go but expect he will be snatched up soon by another team.”

On a more serious note, Mr. Obama used the chat, conducted from the hurricane center, to paint a dire picture of the consequences of climate change. “More severe weather events lead to displacement, scarcity, stressed populations; all increase likelihood of global conflict,” he said.

Mr. Obama is no stranger to Miami, having already visited twice this year. But he came back to headline a couple of $33,400-a-ticket Democratic National Committee fund-raisers at Coconut Grove homes on Wednesday night, for a total take of around $3 million, before taking care of official business on Thursday.

Besides the scheduled visit to the hurricane center, he added a few surprises, including a meeting with the family of a journalist killed by the Islamic State and a visit to a Cuban-American church.

Mr. Obama made no public comments at either stop. The meeting with the family of the slain journalist, Steven Sotloff, was held in private and was announced only afterward. During the session with Mr. Sotloff’s parents, Art and Shirley, and his sister, Lauren, “the president expressed his and the first lady’s condolences for Steven’s death,” Bernadette Meehan, a White House spokeswoman, said in a statement.

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