TALLAHASSEE – Ron Bergeron, appointed to the South Florida Water Management District in March, 2019 by Gov. Ron DeSantis, has yet to be confirmed by the Florida Senate.
At the Feb. 3 Senate Committee on Environment and National Resources in Tallahassee, the agenda included approval of two SFWMD governing board appointments: Ben Butler, who was appointed to the governing board in November 2019, and Mr. Bergeron, who was appointed to the board in March 2019.
Mr. Butler said he is a fourth generation dairy farmer, who grew up on the farm and is still active in management of the dairy operation along with his parents and brother.
“We milk cows for a living and also run some beef cattle,” he explained.
He said he is aware of the flood control and water supply aspects of the SFWMD as well as the importance of water quality.
He said his family’s farm is signed up with the Best Management Practices (BMPs) with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and also has a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Questioned by Senator Ben Albritton, he confirmed he has read and implemented the beef cattle BMPs.
Senator Debbie Mayfield questioned Mr. Butler about efforts the SFWMD is currently making to improve water quality.
“I am learning as I go here,” he said. “I know the district is responsible for implementing and maintaining a lot of STAs (stormwater treatment areas), regional projects to reduce nutrients within the watershed.
“A big part of the role the district plays is in the monitoring and science, data collection,” he continued.
Sen. Mayfield also asked about the SFWMD’s responsibility to make sure they follow through to obtain the necessary corps permits.
“I am not an expert on the permitting process,” he said. “But as I find out we have outstanding permits we are waiting on from the corps, I have inquired a time or two from our executive director.
“I recognize we are partners at the state and federal level with the army corps of engineers in trying to get some of these regional projects off the ground,” he said. “Water storage is important, and we all know it.”
The committee voted unanimously to confirm Mr. Butler’s appointment.
Mr. Bergeron said he has had a great love of the Everglades since childhood.
“Everglades restoration is one of the largest restoration jobs, if not the largest restoration in the world,” he said. “Everglades restoration is important to everyone who lives in south Florida.
“We have 8.7 million people,” he said. “It’s important for future growth, economical growth and jobs.”
Sen. Albritton questioned if Mr. Bergeron’s three ranches are signed up for the BMP program.
Mr. Bergeron explained that only two of the ranches currently have cattle operations. He said one ranch is signed up for BMPs, but he was not sure about the other one. “I would have to check with my ranch manager to verify it,” he explained.
“In July 2019 in a SFWMD workshop – I watched this myself – you stated BMPs are ‘just goals.’ Would you elaborate for us what you meant by that statement?” asked Sen. Albritton.
“I don’t recall making that statement,” said Mr. Bergeron.
Sen. Albritton questioned Mr. Bergeron’s understanding of BMPs. “BMPs are far more than just goals,” the senator stressed.
Sen. Albritton asked Mr. Bergeron to explain his understanding of how BMPs are developed.
“The ranchers are supposed to sign up for it. I am not sure if it is voluntary or mandatory. I am not sure that anyone has monitored what is going on as far as BMPs,” Mr. Bergeon said.
“From my understanding at this point and I have been on the board for about 10 months, 9 months, the BMPs are reporting certain quality of water that is being discharged into state waters, and from what I have been told – and I am not sure if it is true or not – very few people are complying with that,” Mr. Bergeron said.
Sen. Albritton explained that 3.7 million acres signed up for and are using BMPs. “I would say that is significant,” he added.
“Can you give us any science or data driven reason for you to believe that BMPs do not work?” asked Sen. Albritton.
“We have doubled the monitoring in the upper Kissimmee and the lower Kissimmee to try to identify where all the nutrients and nitrates are coming into state waters. I think we all know we are going to have to achieve quality of water for 8.7 million people,” said Mr. Bergeron.
“You’re not clear on how BMPs are derived or the process and science of developing them?” suggested Mr. Albritton.
“From what I have been told the BMPs have not been reporting very often and a lot of people aren’t reporting at all. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know, but I have been told that,” said Mr. Bergeron.
“I know you certainly want to make things better,” said Mr. Albritton. He added Mr. Bergeron seems to lack understanding of what BMPs are, how they are developed, how they protect the environment, and the results.
“When you use the terminology that they are ‘just goals’ that is a million miles from the truth. There is a huge amount of science and data that goes into those BMPs,” said Sen. Albritton.
“You cannot give us any data or science driven reason to say that BMPs do not work,” he continued. “I would like to know your perspective.
“I’ve never said they did not work,” interrupted Mr. Bergeron.
Changing the subject, Mr. Albritton continued his questioning. “You are looking to expand a limestone quarry in Palm Beach County.” He said there was federally protected indigo snake in the area where Mr. Bergeron wanted to expand.
“Your comment was ‘they’re just making an assumption that there’s 23, but nobody’s seen one.’” He asked Mr. Bergeron to explain this comment.
“They never showed any evidence of what they were talking about,” said Mr. Bergeron. He added he withdrew the application for the quarry expansion.
Senator Mayfield said she also has questions for Mr. Bergeron. Senator Mayfield suggested they delay Mr. Bergeron’s confirmation to another date so there is time for all of the questions to be addressed.
Earlier in the meeting, the senators had been advised the Feb. 3, hearing time was limited to one hour, 50 minutes and there were several pieces of legislation to vote on.