Meanwhile, two regulators at the St. Johns River Water District who just happened to have undercut Highlands Ranchs case for all those undeserved credits were forced to resign. Another coincidence, I suppose.
With Bersok off the case, DEP awarded Highlands Ranch 424 credits good for an extra $25 million over her original calculation.
Except the Florida Wildlife Federation challenged the permit. Administrative Judge E. Gray Early, who held a hearing last fall, issued his findings Thursday. Judge Early noted the peculiar and unprecedented actions that DEP had taken to accommodate Highlands Ranch, including the decision to hijack the case from the water district and to rewrite the regulations using only the input of the Highlands Ranch counsel, offering no opportunity for other views, either in favor of or in opposition.
He noted that the DEP officials, during the hearing last fall, had been unable to identify who in the Department calculated the [mitigation bank] credits which just happened to add up to just two credits short of what Highlands Ranch had demanded.
The regulator DEP had removed from the case had a much better memory. Ms. Bersoks opinions were based on competent and substantial evidence, including the complete application and sufficient knowledge of the conditions of the property, the judge said.
He said that even under the rewritten and very permissive regs designed by Highlands Ranchs own lawyer, DEP should have capped the credits at 280. Judge Early stopped this desiccated wetlands scam, thanks to the testimony of a brave state regulator who stood up to her political appointee bosses.
A lousy deal was derailed, but the Highlands Ranch case demonstrates, with dismal clarity, the Scott administrations enthusiasm for protecting Floridas environment.