The Northern Everglades starts in creeks and wetlands of Osceola and Orange Counties in Central Florida. Protecting water resources in the Northern Everglades is critical to recovering the Kissimmee River and chain of lakes and Lake Okeechobee.
On April 21st, the Osceola County Commission amended the county comprehensive plan to strike most of the substantive content out of the plan’s “Conservation Element”. Florida’s growth management law require the plan to provide policies for projection of wildlife habitat, wetlands, protected species, water resources, and natural lands must be codified. Audubon Florida and the Kissimmee Valley Audubon Society worked during the adoption of this plan in 2007 and 2008 to secure language protecting wetlands, wildlife habitat, and other features of the Northern Everglades.
At one time the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) would have challenged the Osceola County decision. The purpose of state oversight was to guard against unwise local decisions. But Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature abolished DCA in 2011 and gave limited review over local government land use decisions the new Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). State oversight has virtually vanished and citizens are left to try to enforce the laws through administrative and legal channels.
The Osceola County amendments were bad enough that the otherwise inert Department of Economic Opportunity advised the county against the changes and recommended that keeping the policies in its Conservation Element to protect the Northern Everglades. Under the new Growth Management Act, DEOcannot appeal a local government plan change unless asked to by another state agency such as the Department of Environmental Protection. Protection of the Northern Everglades and other vital natural areas in Osceola County now depends on litigation.
While Audubon avoids litigation concerning local government decisions, the significance of Osceola County’s misguided changes compels action. Florida Audubon Society ownership of property in Osceola County gives us standing to bring a challenge to the Division of Administrative Hearings. Audubon filed its petition on Wednesday, May 21. We hope we can convince the county or the Division of Administrative Hearings that these changes don’t make sense when the state is spending billions of dollars restoring the Everglades, the Kissimmee River, and Lake Okeechobee.
Litigation is expensive – but you can help. Consider making a special contribution to defray the costs of challenging these bad comprehensive plan changes that threaten the Northern Everglades. Click here to make a contribution right now.