The Double Edged Sword

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House Bill 7103

If we have learned one thing in the past year, it’s that we do not control our own destiny when it comes to water quality. The quality of the water that surrounds us is almost totally dependent on rules that regulate inland communities, industries and agriculture.

This week our collective relief that Margaritaville Fort Myers Beach is one step closer to beginning work now that one of two lawsuits that caused a yearlong delay has been withdrawn, clashed with our concern that inland development and land use decisions may now lean in the direction of more water problems.

House Bill 7103 may be the final nail in the coffin of growth management in Florida. In 1975 after decades of uncontrolled growth, Florida mandated local governments adopt a comprehensive plan. In 1985, the state began requiring governments to follow those plans with the State Department of Community Affairs reviewing compliance until, in 2011, Governor Rick Scott effectively dismantled that department. Local citizens and environmental groups who used the courts to challenge governments that ignored their comp plans became the de facto enforcers.

Until last Friday when Governor DeSantis made that an empty threat by signing HB 7103.

HB 7103 does many things, but it was a last minute amendment that is the major problem. Anyone that files and loses a lawsuit against a local government challenging the consistency of a project with the comp plan, must pay the government’s, and possibly the developer’s, legal fees. The law essentially limits challenges to only those who can absorb the potential legal costs of, let’s say, a large county and several developers.

Let’s look at the big picture here, beyond our Town’s Margaritaville issue. Imagine a huge development in a wetland area north of Lake O that is now used to filter water. Who will challenge that?

On our local front, this new law sure seems to have had a hand in the reported withdrawal of one of the Margaritaville lawsuits this week. Or maybe it’s all coincidence…

HB 7103 was passed by the Florida Legislature on May 3. Solomon Law filed a request to withdraw from representing plaintiff Chris Patton, at her request, just over 2 weeks later on May 20. The bill was signed by DeSantis on Friday, June 28. Less than 48 hours later, word arrived that the civil suit was withdrawn.

We’re thrilled that one lawsuit has been withdrawn. Neither one should have ever been filed. They were frivolous, meant to delay the project in hopes it would be abandoned. They couldn’t get their way in a council vote, so they used the legal system to bludgeon the Town and the project. Thankfully, it didn’t work.

The new law has benefited our community, this time. Hopefully Margaritaville Fort Myers Beach can soon begin work on a project that has strong community support.

We worry about what the law will mean long term for our water quality. Poor land use and development decisions have historically been a factor in the destruction of Florida’s environment and contributed to our ongoing water problems. Is our state returning to the bad, old days of unchecked growth? That would hurt us all.

 

Missy Layfield
Editor