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Did DEP Injection Well Meeting Break The Law? It's Hard To Tell, Expert Says

Kate Stein
On the DEP's website, there was no mention of a public meeting that took place on Sept. 1. A statement above the calendar says state law requires online notification of public meetings.

A recent Florida Department of Environmental Protection hearing has raised questions about the process the state agency uses to advertise public meetings.

On Sept. 1, the DEP held a meeting to discuss a possible permit for an injection well at the Monarch Hill Landfill in Pompano Beach. The meeting did not appear on the DEP's public information calendar. And that could be a violation of the Florida Administrative Procedures Act -- if the meeting didn't appear elsewhere on the DEP website.

Mike Glazer, an administrative and media law lawyer for the firm Ausley McMullen, says it could be hard to tell if the DEP broke the law.

"A lot of times, information about the meetings is on a website, although it may be difficult to find," Glazer said. "There's not a uniform system, and it's going to vary agency to agency and circumstance to circumstance."

In an email, department spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller acknowledged the meeting did not appear on the calendar and said the omission was unintentional. Miller did not comment on whether the meeting appeared elsewhere on the DEP website.

Glazer said that even if the DEP violated the state Administrative Procedures Act, he's not aware of any penalty under the act for failing to publicize a public meeting online.

The goal of the online posting requirement, he said, "is to require agencies to put notices such as these on their website simply because that is a more modern way to do things."

Injection wells store runoff underground in a specially sealed chamber -- a practice widely criticized by environmentalists. The DEP did publish a notification of the injection well draft permit meeting in the Sun Sentinel newspaper on July 31, and in the state Administrative Register on Aug. 10. The department also "sent direct notice by email to interested parties on Aug. 3," according to Miller's email.

Glazer said the most reliable way to find about public meetings is through Florida's Administrative Register.

"All agencies have a lot of information it's important for the public to know," Glazer said. "If it's something in your backyard and you don't know about it, it's an awfully big deal."