TALLASSEE, Florida, Mary 18, 2011 (ENS) – Florida has suspended key
protections to reduce or prevent environmental harm and public health risks
in rebuilding eroded beaches with dredged materials, according to agency
documents posted Tuesday by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, a membership organization of employees in natural resources
The documents show there will be no review of contaminants used in materials
placed for beach restoration nor will wildlife damage be considered in
resoration plans.

The suspension comes as BP releases millions of dollars to finance beach
projects in compensation for damage from last year’s Deepwater Horizon
blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted in the largest offshore oil
spill in U.S. history – nearly five million barrels of crude oil.

In an April 15, 2011 directive, a top official in the Florida Department of
Environmental Protection, DEP, issued a reinterpretation for how the agency
would apply rules governing beach projects.

The memo by Jeff Littlejohn, DEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory programs,
makes it clear that beach work should be “presumptively approved regardless
of consequences,” said PEER in a statement Tuesday.

“While we must consider the potential for adverse impacts to fish and
wildlife and their habitats, we must keep the following fact clear in our
minds: The restoration of critically eroded beaches increases habitat and
has been determined by the legislature to be in the public interest,”
Littlejohn writes.

“The new marching orders in Florida are damn the beaches, full speed ahead,”
warned Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement
attorney. “Under this directive, state permit writers cannot do their jobs
of making sure that the beach work is beneficial and done responsibly.”

The memo directs DEP permit staff to not consider listed “contaminants” used
in borrow material when deciding whether or not to allow the project to go
forward, unless they would cause “cementation” of the beach.

The memo directs staff to, “Avoid requesting additional information about
projects or imposing conditions.” Under the memo, it is uncertain how DEP
will prevent prohibited toxic material, construction debris or other foreign
matter from being deposited onto artificially reinforced beaches.

The memo also directs staff to suspend reviews on planting plans which
determine “a project’s potential to impact the beach and dune system.”

Last month, BP said it will give Florida $100 million for environmental and
natural resource restoration and recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil
spill disaster.

The funds are for beach re-nourishment projects, as well as restoration of
oyster reefs, sea grass beds and bird habitat. This initial BP payment will
be followed by a much bigger sum BP will owe Gulf states once natural
resources damage assessments are completed.

“Given the huge magnitude of the beach work that is about to commence in
Florida, we should make sure it is done right rather than in a fly-by-night
frenzy,” said Phillips. “Florida’s beaches are too important to cover with
crap and call it restoration.”