Florida Eases Beach Restoration Standards as BP Dollars Roll In
TALLASSEE, Florida, Mary 18, 2011 (ENS) – Florida has suspended key protections to reduce or prevent environmental harm and public health risks in rebuilding eroded beaches with dredged materials, according to agency documents posted Tuesday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a membership organization of employees in natural resources agencies.
The documents show there will be no review of contaminants used in materials placed for beach restoration nor will wildlife damage be considered in resoration plans.
The suspension comes as BP releases millions of dollars to finance beach projects in compensation for damage from last year’s Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history – nearly five million barrels of crude oil.
In an April 15, 2011 directive, a top official in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, issued a reinterpretation for how the agency would apply rules governing beach projects.
The memo by Jeff Littlejohn, DEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory programs, makes it clear that beach work should be “presumptively approved regardless of consequences,” said PEER in a statement Tuesday.
“While we must consider the potential for adverse impacts to fish and wildlife and their habitats, we must keep the following fact clear in our minds: The restoration of critically eroded beaches increases habitat and has been determined by the legislature to be in the public interest,” Littlejohn writes.
“The new marching orders in Florida are damn the beaches, full speed ahead,” warned Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “Under this directive, state permit writers cannot do their jobs of making sure that the beach work is beneficial and done responsibly.”
The memo directs DEP permit staff to not consider listed “contaminants” used in borrow material when deciding whether or not to allow the project to go forward, unless they would cause “cementation” of the beach.
The memo directs staff to, “Avoid requesting additional information about projects or imposing conditions.” Under the memo, it is uncertain how DEP will prevent prohibited toxic material, construction debris or other foreign matter from being deposited onto artificially reinforced beaches.
The memo also directs staff to suspend reviews on planting plans which determine “a project’s potential to impact the beach and dune system.”
Last month, BP said it will give Florida $100 million for environmental and natural resource restoration and recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
The funds are for beach re-nourishment projects, as well as restoration of oyster reefs, sea grass beds and bird habitat. This initial BP payment will be followed by a much bigger sum BP will owe Gulf states once natural resources damage assessments are completed.
“Given the huge magnitude of the beach work that is about to commence in Florida, we should make sure it is done right rather than in a fly-by-night frenzy,” said Phillips. “Florida’s beaches are too important to cover with crap and call it restoration.”
BP oil first touched Florida shores on June 27, 2010 at Pensacola Beach, prompting Florida’s first spill-related beach closures as crude oil blobs washed up on the sand.