Published Friday, February 20, 2009
More than a quarter-million houses sit vacant in Florida, home values are still falling and the foreclosure rate is the nation's second highest. Yet Republican legislators claim one of the keys to economic recovery is rolling back impact fees and safeguards on the environment to help developers.Unbridled growth, overdevelopment and an overheated real estate market helped set Florida up for this economic collapse, and starting the cycle all over again is no way to get out.
This fact is indisputable: Environmental permits required under current federal and state law have not been a barrier to growth in Florida. Just look at the 300,000 houses that are empty. Nor did environmental protections curtail the runaway population growth that was the Florida norm until recently. The state's population grew by 2 million, to 18 million, in just six years.
In fact, Florida's requirements for developers have been too lenient, resulting in severe stress on the water supply, roads and schools. The day before the St. Petersburg Times reported about the legislators' efforts to roll back environmental regulation, Tampa Bay Water announced it would seek the toughest water restrictions ever and exceed its pumping request for the aquifer to make it through the current drought.
That means Tampa Bay is using more water than is sustainable in times of cyclical drought. To be sure, part of the problem is that the utility's reservoir isn't able to hold as much water as it was designed for due to construction problems. But that doesn't change the fact that Tampa Bay residents and businesses are using more water than is sustainable.
Yet, the Hillsborough County Commission has already barreled down the irresponsible path some state lawmakers are contemplating. The commission directed the county administrator to explore ways to expedite building and environmental permits for new construction.
The Republican senator helping to lead the charge to relax development permitting is Mike Bennett of Bradenton. He wants to block local governments from charging impact fees on new homes and eliminate most state oversight of massive new developments. In the House, Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, an engineer who has worked for some of Florida's biggest developers, wants to make it easier for new developments to qualify for large water permits. These would be steps backward, not forward.
In times of crisis, some politicians and special interests will exploit the situation to pursue their own narrow agendas. So the cry goes out about overregulation, as though that is foremost in the minds of Floridians who are losing their jobs, their homes and their futures. Making it easier and cheaper to build will not help them. It is a tired refrain that reflects the state's boom-and-bust history, and lawmakers should be focused on breaking that cycle instead of perpetuating it.
Also, for an insightful understanding of just how deeply developers control government top to bottom, read about how developer Jay Odum got former House Speaker Sansom to move roads for him when Sansom was Walton County Commissioner.
The following article was printed in the St. Petersburg Times and is a revealing look at the activities of the development industry pushing for new residential development.
The following letter by Executive Director Brian Carman was printed in the Press Journal May 11, 2009. Some people are only now beginning to listen to the IRNA's warnings about unmanaged growth. Brian addresses this in the following letter:
Monday, May 11, 2009
Recent reports of huge growth plans in Fellsmere and Osceola County (the proposed new town of "Destiny) may have come as a shock to some, but the Indian River Neighborhood Association has been warning about the population growth monster for years.
Who will be benefit from this massive growth? My guess is that it will be the out-of-state developers who plan to convert this part of Florida into another South Florida sprawl.
That has been tried before and we all know how that worked out. Left unchecked, this growth plan will leave us in an overcrowded and water-starved state.
This has to stop somewhere and sometime. Why not stop uncontrolled growth now?
The IRNA has no profit motive, is non-partisan and beholden to no one. Chairman John Higgs has stated that "growth is both desirable and inevitable." He has publicly stated that a sustainable economy cannot be based on building more residences.
Proper growth should be focused on attracting clean industries and institutions that have good paying jobs; residential construction alone will only perpetuate and aggravate our current economic problems.
The IRNA is working to be part of the solution by cooperating with those who are trying to bring good paying jobs to our county.
The growth we speak of should be planned and managed with the interests of the public in mind, not the short-term profits of a few large developers and land owners.
Russ Lemmon asked in a recent column "Where do we sign up, IRNA?" The answer is found at www.indianriverna.com, or 794-4762.
Executive Director, Indian River Neighborhood Association
Despite the slump in Florida’s construction industry, the state Department of Community Affairs is busier than ever.
DCA Secretary Tom Pelham says his agency has been deluged with “speculative” large-scale development plans in advance of a possible 2010 vote on Florida Hometown Democracy.
The Press Journal 02/13/2010, Page B01
Florida’s first bioethanol plant would create jobs in county
VERO BEACH — Leaders of a new alternative-energy company hope to learn next month how much it would cost to build what would be Florida’s first bioethanol plant.
“Our project is a brand-new opportunity with new technology,” Tex Carter, vice president and chairman of INEOS New Planet BioEnergy LLC, said Thursday. “We’re turning garbage into ethanol.”
The Vero Beach company is a “marriage,” Carter said, between partners New Planet Energy, a development company from Marina Del Rey, Calif., and INEOS Bio, a chemical manufacturer from Lisle, Ill.
Next month, he said, INEOS New Planet leaders plan to review and estimate the costs of setting up at a proposed Oslo area location still under negotiation.
The company has been discussing buying and converting Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc.’s 71-acre former grapefruit-processing plant, southwest of Oslo Road and 74th Avenue and north of the landfill.
Carter said the demonstration ethanol-processing plant, expected to convert vegetation waste into 8 million gallons a year of fuel-grade ethanol, could provide 150 construction jobs during the next two years and 40 to 50 full-time jobs.
The U.S. Department of Energy in December awarded a $50 million grant to INEOS New Planet to help build the plant. Carter said the building costs will show how far that grant will go.
“If the demonstration is a good one, we’ll be on our own to grow the business without government help,” Carter told members and guests of the Indian River Neighborhood Association in a luncheon.
Questioned by some of the members, Carter said the company chose Florida – and the Treasure Coast in particular – because this area leads the nation in producing tree clippings and other yard waste.
And it’s yard waste that will be the plant’s first “feed stock,” he said, in demonstrations for the government. After that, he said, the company could be looking to add other kinds of organic garbage.
Currently, he said, the ethanol in gasoline at Florida fuel stations comes from the Midwest. Making it in Florida would lower the costs here.
“This is a market for our product where there’s no competition,” he said. “There’s no domestic ethanol production in Florida, so we would have the ability to establish the manufacturing of clean ethanol.”
And every 8 million gallons of ethanol, he said, is 8 million gallons of foreign oil that won’t have to be imported.
IRNA Chairman John Higgs said the project, so far, meshes with his group’s goals for a sustainable economy and a high-tech job base.
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