Thursday, August 09, 2012

Of Editorials I wish I had read in the The Miami Herald, first ... by gimleteye

In order to fund pension liabilities and deliver money back to the McClatchy debt fund, the Miami Herald has cut staff to the bone. One of the places the resultant deficit shows up is the editorial page. Herald readers have no idea that newspaper subscribers in other parts of the state have access to a wider range of views and a deeper bench of editorial writers than in Miami. The St. Pete Times, the Palm Beach Post, and the Naples Daily News; to name a few.

I don't write this, to knock the few editorial writers at the Herald who pull their weight or even the past writers who do a star turn from time to time. There is another and less charitable explanation than economic necessity has put the paper on an informational diet: that Herald readers don't want complexity. (It really does say something when the newspaper's best editorial writer is its cartoonist.)

Miami's only daily newspaper is USA Today local lite. Here is an example of a tough, hard-hitting editorial that readers ought to have read in the Miami Herald first. What's so great about this editorial, that one wouldn't find in the Miami Herald? First of all, it is about a topic that the Herald scarcely touches: wetlands mitigation banking, one of the great frauds of the Growth Machine in Florida. Secondly, when the investigative report on which the editorial is based was first published, the reporter Craig Pittman noted the connection between the operator, a firm connected to Gov. Rick Scott's DEP chief, and suppression of an environmental regulator. Moreover, the firm was connected, through ownership, to the Carlyle Group. Anyone's antennas would stick up at mention of the Carlisle Group's involvement in a piddling $15 million project in Jacksonville.

So bless the St. Pete Times editorial writer for pointing out: "The Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank is a joint venture between the Carlyle Group and a Jacksonville company. The Carlyle Group, which has in the past included people like former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker on its board of directors, only has a lousy stinking $159 billion in assets, with investments around the globe." Linking up the pieces is something Herald editorial writers simply don't do very well.

Because local newspapers don't pick up the slack, the public is whip-sawed by demagogues like Rush Limbaugh (cf., post below "Stop Rush"). Maybe the Herald is worried about antagonizing its own advertisers. Click 'read more' for the St. Pete Times editorial.

Back scratchers at mitigation bank

By Daniel Ruth, Times Columnist
In Print: Tuesday, August 7, 2012

There's simply no justice sometimes. This wonderful company, the Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank, is just trying to make a buck by protecting Florida's wetlands so that other developers can destroy them, only to be stymied by paper-pushing, tree-hugging bureaucrats all lathered up over stuff like following the law.

It's just not fair.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman, all Highlands Ranch wants is a permit to convert 1,575 acres of a pine plantation in Clay County into a wetlands mitigation bank. Is this too much to ask?

After all, throughout Florida history, wetlands have been the bane of developers. You can't build something on a swamp. But because of those pesky little issues like recharging the aquifer, the source of Floridians' drinking water, the state decided maybe it should try to save some and created a program for folks like Highlands Ranch. Landowners make promises to maintain or restore wetlands, creating wetlands mitigation credits, which can then be sold for as much as $100,000 per credit to developers who want to destroy wetlands elsewhere...

If only the Department of Environmental Protection's forces of tyranny had not stepped in. The agency's top wetlands expert, Connie Bersok, refused to approve the Highlands Ranch permit after reviewing application documents that suggested Highlands Ranch had little interest in actually restoring any wetlands. Bersok's inner Amy Winehouse kicked in and she said, "No, no, no."

And so what if Highlands Ranch didn't want to have to put up a $1.5 million bond to guarantee its performance, a routine requirement of every other mitigation bank seeking to do business in the state? The $1.5 million, the company argued, would be a cruel financial hardship in guaranteeing its performance.

The company had a point, of course. The Highlands Ranch Mitigation Bank is a joint venture between the Carlyle Group and a Jacksonville company. The Carlyle Group, which has in the past included people like former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker on its board of directors, only has a lousy stinking $159 billion in assets, with investments around the globe.

How could they possibly come up with the $1.5 million bond without imploding the rest of the multinational corporation?

Highlands Ranch claimed the state should grant it 425 wetlands mitigation credits. But those nitpicking bureaucrats at DEP just rubbed salt in the wound. Since state law requires them to grant credits based on whether wetlands are actually maintained or would be restored, they would only approve 193 credits.

Would this heavy-handedness ever end?

There was only one way for these poor, defenseless victims at Highlands Ranch to resist this yoke of oppression. They hired a lobbyist — Edward "Ward" Blakely Jr., defender of democracy.

Ah, Kismet. Blakely and DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard once lived near each other in Jacksonville and Blakely served as the Jacksonville Port Authority lobbyist when Vinyard also served on the board. The two men have several other Jacksonville political connections.

Now, don't get all cynical here and begin to think that maybe some cronyism might be in play. Tut-tut. There's nothing to see here. Highlands Ranch was dealt a Bersok. They raised the ante with a Blakely. Top DEP officials insist nothing whatsoever untoward occurred simply because Highlands Ranch went out and hired a fancy-pants lobbyist — although no one can recall that ever happening before on a permit issue.

DEP Deputy Secretary Jeff Littlejohn assures us that politics has played no role in the permitting dispute. Whew! That's a relief. Why if Blakely and Vinyard found themselves in the same room, they averted their eyes, with nary an air-kiss passing between them. Instead it was Littlejohn who met with Blakely — a lot.

Eventually Vinyard — no doubt after many sleepless nights — was persuaded by Littlejohn, who was persuaded by Blakely, to regard the Highlands Ranch project as a revolutionary new pilot program to explore different and creative ways to apply mitigation bank permits.

And can't we all agree that when it comes to Florida's environmental laws, growth management issues and wetlands preservation, with the right Rolodex, the state is awash in creative solutions to vexing bureaucratic problems?


Anonymous said...

It's not true Herald readers don't want complexity. Whatever readers the herald editorial section have left - like me- are frustrated, perplexed and saddened by the simpleton, naive and often factually incorrect editorials that have shown up with greater frequency in past few years. The layoffs and retirement of staff well versed on environmental issues has taken its toll on quality of editorials as well. Plus the paper's commitment to portray Miami in a positive light, no matter the reality, has ground the paper down to an irrelevancy. It's a frustrating shame and sham. Thank goodness for political cartoonist Morin.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Herald could pick up St. Pete times editorials. It would be a great public service.

Grillo said...

I read The Herald every day but also the St. Pete Times (now the Tampa Bay Times). Their coverage of state issues and sometimes Miami issues is pretty good. Not excellent but pretty good. El Nuevo Herald is better than The Herald because they have better coverage of local and world news and happenings in Latin America. Again not excellent but better than The Herald.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems is the editorial board members never leave their offices!

Anonymous said...

Also, the letters to editor are either super dumb or from special interests touting their agenda, including alot of politicians and county dept directors like the port director. Basta ya!

Bill said...

Since you're all about holding people to account then you should know it's no longer called the St. Petersburg Times. It became the Tampa Bay Times on Jan 1.

Also, just wondering if you have any idea how many many editorial page staffers the Herald has left?

Anonymous said...

There are only 3 editorial staff members left, including the Editorial Page Editor Miriam Marquez. This is a sick joke on them and the public because at one point I know there were a dozen staff members. They even had "beats" like immigration, environment, muncipalities they covered. They even attended city and county meetings, along with reporters.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think the Herald is put out by three people.

Gimleteye said...

I like the "St. Pete Times" so much better than the "Tampa Bay Times". All I can think of when I hear Tampa, is George Steinbrenner. If I keep repeating it, will the newspaper revert to its former title?