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Florida DEP Expert Suspended After Refusing To Approve Controversial Project

Wetlands are a vital part of the ecosystem, and there are all sorts of shenanigans that go on with the state mitigation programs - Florida being infamous for all kinds of backchannel practices: Florida's top state wetlands expert has been

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Wetlands are a vital part of the ecosystem, and there are all sorts of shenanigans that go on with the state mitigation programs - Florida being infamous for all kinds of backchannel practices:

Florida's top state wetlands expert has been suspended after she refused to issue a permit on a controversial project — one that she said her boss was willing to bend the rules to approve.

The project: turning a North Florida pine plantation into a business that attempts to make up for wetlands that are wiped out by new roads and development. At stake: millions of dollars in wetland "credits" that can be sold to government and developers.

The problem, according to a May 9 memo from Department of Environmental Protection wetlands expert Connie Bersok, is that the owners want the DEP to give them lots of wetland credits for land that isn't wet.

After being told by Deputy Secretary Jeff Littlejohn to ignore the rules she had followed on other permits, Bersok wrote, "I hereby state my objection to the intended agency action and refusal to recommend this permit for issuance."

Two days later, Bersok was suspended pending an investigation, her personnel file shows. She declined to comment for this article without DEP permission. DEP officials would not allow a reporter to speak with her. A spokeswoman would not discuss her case.

"It smells really bad to me," said Aliki Moncrief, a former DEP attorney who is now executive director of Environment Florida, an activist group.

The application that led to Bersok's suspension came from the Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank, which has repeatedly tussled with permitting officials.

"They're scrappy, these guys," said Glenn Lowe, who lost his job with the St. Johns River Water Management District after he refused to give Highlands Ranch what its owners wanted. Former water district executive director Kirby Green said Lowe and other employees lost their jobs because Gov. Rick Scott's pro-business administration didn't like the way they treated Highlands Ranch.

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