The head of the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency in charge of Everglades restoration, wants to cut ties with a group of scientists tasked by Congress with monitoring the $16-billion state/federal project.
The reason, Peter Antonacci, executive director of the SFWMD, wrote in a July 5 letter, “Top down Washington nitpicking into the management and operations” of the district and the project.
Antonacci was corresponding with Stephanie Johnson, study director for the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress. He said the committee, known as CISRERP, has gone far beyond its scientific oversight mission that Congress envisioned when it authorized the program in 2006. Specifically, Antonacci argues the committee is too involved with policy, engineering and budget issues.
“One irony here is that Everglades restoration actually needs the application of real science and the topics to that end are virtually limitless,” Antonacci wrote in his letter to Johnson. “Earlier this year, this organization provided CISRERP four proposed areas of scientific inquiry to benefit restoration. Apparently, these have been discarded in favor of continued rumination over projects and their management.”
The Scott administration was particularly irked by a report CISRERP issued in December recommending Everglades restoration projects focus on water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, which would require the purchasing of private land. The reservoirs would be used to supply more fresh water to the Everglades.
“Storing water by buying land is not palatable with state leaders,” said Cara Capp, Everglades Restoration Program manager with the National Parks Conservation Association environmental group.
Capp is urging the state to maintain its cooperation with the National Academies committee, adding Everglades restoration is directly related to the problem Florida faces with water storage.
“NPCA feels strongly that independent science must be the driving factor for restoring Everglades National Park,” she said in an email. “Sound science and policy go hand-in-hand. We’re watching closely to see how this process will continue to unfold.”
Antonacci said the committee is expected to discuss water storage during its Aug. 1 and 2 meeting in West Palm Beach. Calling such efforts “momentum-killing,” Antonacci said no one from SFWMD would be in attendance as a result.
“Accordingly, staff from this organization will not participate in your August meeting,” Antonacci wrote.
He stepped up the rhetoric in remarks he made to the SFWMD’s governing board in West Palm Beach Thursday, recommending the district sever its relationship with CISRERP.
“It’s my strong recommendation that we begin the process of unraveling, subject to counsel’s recommendation, the arrangement we have with the current CISRERP and set about to find a new group of truly independent scientist who are interested in science and not policy,” Antonacci said.
In a July 7 letter to Antonacci, Johnson denied CISRERP is acting beyond its authorized scope.
“The Committee’s charge is to provide independent scientific reviews of progress and to discuss scientific and engineering issues that may impact progress,” Johnson wrote.
She added, “Some information on budget and management is necessary for the Committee to understand the broader context for restoration progress and the relative impact of scientific issues. These independent findings can then be used by Congress and [state and federal Everglades restoration agencies] to inform restoration decision making.”
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204