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Guest Commentary: EPA gives state full control of permitting for Florida wetlands

By HOLLY SCHWARTZ - | Jan 20, 2021

Thank you to the many members who participated with us in trying to maintain the integrity of the federal wetland dredge and fill permitting process. However, on Dec. 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted the state of Florida the sole authority to permit dredge and fill requests in Florida’s wetlands.

SCCF is very disappointed with this decision and extremely concerned that it will result in less oversight and protection of wetlands, which will directly impact water quality and wildlife habitat.

Prior to the decision, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, and all of the resources of the federal government, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had a hand in reviewing and approving permits that allowed dredge-and-fill material into wetlands or waterways. Now, the state of Florida — with its limited resources and looming pandemic-induced budget crisis — will be the final authority to approve permits that allow the removal of wetlands and other impacts.

Locally, we have concerns regarding the pending decision to impact wetlands at the proposed Eden Oak development west of Shell Point Boulevard. Previously, there were several federal agencies that would have reviewed the development plans for compliance with existing laws, including the federal Endangered Species Act. The waters around Eden Oak have been designated “pupping areas” for the federally endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). Now the fate of the sawfish and other rare and unique species rests with an understaffed and budget-challenged state agency that only has a statute-mandated 30 days to do the initial permit review.

Water quality and habitat conservation remain a strong priority for SCCF. We will be closely tracking this wetland permitting decision and its impacts in Lee County and will continue to strongly advocate for improved protection of our valuable natural resources.

To sign up for SCCF Action Alerts, visit http://sccf.org/our-work/join-our-mailing-list.

Holly Schwartz is environmental policy assistant for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Founded in 1967, the SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed. For more information, visit www.sccf.org.