Florida’s new governor named four more South Florida water managers on Thursday, a week after former members held a final, angry meeting criticizing the new administration’s house-cleaning that swept them all from office.
The appointments include former Sewall’s Point Mayor Jackie Thurlow-Lippisch, an outspoken advocate for cleaning up the St. Lucie estuary; Miami investor Charlie Martinez; and Islamorada City Councilwoman Cheryl Meads, a chemist who made international headlines after she was awarded $96 million for revealing fraud at GlaxoSmithKline. DeSantis also appointed Marco Island City Councilwoman and retired U.S. Army Colonel Charlette Roman.
“If you look at these people, they’ve done very well in their careers. They bring a lot of aptitude,” DeSantis said at an afternoon announcement in Naples. “They all care about the water problems we have. They’re committed to fixing it.”
Just after he was sworn in in January, DeSantis demanded the resignations of South Florida Water Management District’s nine-member governing board after they defied his request, two days after the election, to hold off extending a lease to sugar farmers on land slated for a new Everglades reservoir. DeSantis had won the backing of the Everglades Trust, the political arm of the powerful Everglades Foundation, which has championed the reservoir and helped push legislation that created it in 2017.
DeSantis has also been a vocal foe of the sugar industry; as a U.S. congressman he criticized the federal subsidies they receive.
His picks to govern the 16-county district, which helps oversee the largest water restoration project in the nation’s history, echoed his promise to not be steered by “special interests.”
“The red tide event that we suffered last year can never, ever happen again,” said Martinez, a lifelong Miami resident who also vowed to speed up work to repair ailing marshes in the southern Everglades. “Everglades National Park is our proud jewel. That’s our Mt. Rushmore.”
Lippisch, who helped draw national attention to ongoing problems in the St. Lucie estuary with aerial photographs of massive, slimy algae blooms, taken from her husband’s plane, said she grew up building forts along an unspoiled St. Lucie River, dodging stingrays and trying not to get cut by oysters.
“Today such a thing is not possible,” she said at a Stuart briefing to announce her appointment. “There are few oysters, little seagrass and sometimes the water is toxic.”
DeSantis said he plans on naming the final board members next week so they can attend the board’s March meeting. New appointment Chauncey Goss did not attend this month’s district meeting, saying paperwork had not been completed. His absence meant the outgoing board failed to have a quorum, robbing them of a chance to approve a half-billion-dollar contract for a west coast reservoir near the Caloosahatchee River aimed at reducing polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Another appointee, Ron Bergeron, is in talks with state ethics officials regarding work he’s done for the district.
Martinez is a partner in the Grove Bay Group, the group overseeing Scotty’s Landing and the Grove Key Marina in Miami, as well as a longtime member of the Everglades Foundation.
Meads moved to the Keys about eight years ago and has served two terms on the Islamorada City Council. In 2010, she was awarded $96 million as part of a whisteblower lawsuit that revealed unsafe conditions at a GlaxoSmithKline production plant in Puerto Rico. According to a press release, she has worked as a contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency.