The environment has marked much of Governor Ron DeSantis’s first month in office.
He signed a sweeping executive order that pledges $2.5 billion over four years for Everglades restoration and improving water quality. To that end, he’s demanded the entire board of the South Florida Management District to resign.
Seven members of the nine-member board have announced their resignations. Two remaining board members’ terms expire in March.
This week, DeSantis announced two appointments: Chauncey Goss of Sanibel City and Ron Bergeron, a Broward County native and one-time alligator wrestler who’s since become an active Everglades conservationist.
On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke with Bergeron along with reporters Kimberly Miller of The Palm Beach Post and Jenny Staletovich, who covers the environment for The Miami Herald.
Here's an excerpt of their conversation:
WLRN: Kimberly, tell us about the round of resignations that have happened here and how the board is operating right now. What the governor intends to do with it? What does the appointment of Bergeron tells you about what the governor wants to do at the board level?
KIMBERLY MILLER: I think the district is looking to see if there are going to be any new appointments before the next board meeting, which is Feb. 15, I believe. The senior staff is a little bit concerned about what their job is going to be. I would like to ask the new commissioner what his thoughts are. If there's going to be any kind of review of the senior staff, of the executive director's position or any other higher level spots.
RON BERGERON: We certainly we would review the staffing, and I don't know what the governor's intention is at this point. I have had great relationships with Ernie Marks [executive director of the South Florida Water Management District]. I've dealt with him with the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] for nearly a decade. He was also my regional director under my supervision in the southern district of the FWC in South Florida for a couple of years.
The district is often overlooked. It's not often in the headlines. But what is its role in shaping environmental policy as it relates to water in South Florida? What's its focus been and how could that evolve under DeSantis?
JENNY STALETOVICH: One of its chief responsibilities is making sure the water is clean. The Army Corps engineers kind of designed the structures. That's been their primary role, the plumbing. But the Water Management District and the state's responsibility is making sure the water is clean enough.
And how does the leadership of DeSantis potentially change that? He's announced $645 million of environmental investment that he'd like to make. Not all of that of course going to the Everglades and to deal with Lake Okeechobee and the blue-green algae. What's the role of the Water Management District?
STALETOVICH: The district is trying to end federal oversight of the clean water. So what's not clear yet is whether that's going to proceed forward. The motions were filed in court under the previous governing board, and there is a status hearing on Feb. 11.
So will that move forward if a judge rules on that? Ending federal oversight would be huge. That is the one thing that a lot of people have said have ensured that Everglades National Park didn't get dirty water and didn't get overrun with cat tails and everything else.
Does the federal government still play a role, do you think, in monitoring that water quality going forward?
BERGERON: They have a role in monitoring that quality of water all the time that I've been involved as a point commissioner.
Water quality is very important. We have built substantial pre-treatment areas along the Broward-Palm Beach County line – which has improved our quality of water tremendously. And most of the water that is going into Everglades National Park, from what I've reviewed, is right at or very close to the 10 parts per billion. So I think we've come a long way on quality of water as it enters into the Central Everglades and then south into Florida Bay.