November 22, 2007
EPA drops expert on the Everglades
By Craig Pittman
Richard Harvey is rated 'fully successful' but dumped after
speaking out on a Corps project.
In 1999, when federal officials unveiled a plan for
restoring the Everglades, Richard Harvey was there
representing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For the next seven
years, whenever there was a meeting to work out the details of repairing the River
of Grass -- and there were plenty
-- Harvey served as the EPA's
He's been there "pretty much from the beginning,"
said Jim Beever of the Southwest Florida Regional
Planning Council. "He's one of the most knowledgeable guys they've
got," agreed Gene Duncan, director of water resources for the Miccosukee Tribe.
But not anymore. Harvey's
bosses have decided he will no longer work on the $10 billion Everglades
Documents obtained by the St. Petersburg Times show Harvey
was removed earlier this year after he expressed concerns about a proposal to
solve Lake Okeechobee's pollution woes by funneling the pollution into Biscayne
Harvey, who is still head of the EPA's South
Florida office, referred all questions to the EPA regional office
in Atlanta. In response to a
request for an interview with EPA regional administrator Jimmy Palmer, a
spokeswoman said he could not comment on "a personnel matter."
The Everglades project approved by
Congress establishes a broad outline for the work, leaving to experts like Harvey
the job of filling in the details on how the complex work would be carried out.
But over the years, four other experts have been taken off the project or even
fired for speaking up about problems with the restoration project.
"You've got to learn to be judicious in your
opinions," explained Duncan of
the Miccosukee Tribe, which lives in the Everglades
and has pushed for improving water quality.
Few have been as outspoken as Harvey.
In 2002, for instance, he was quoted in a Washington Post
series on the Everglades restoration project as saying
the plan was looking more like "a massive urban and agricultural
water-supply project" instead of a rescue for the River
Polluted lake water
One of the biggest problems that has
cropped up is that the plan has failed to deal with continuing pollution
problems in Lake Okeechobee. When the lake gets too
full, water managers release the excess into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie
rivers, polluting them as well.
In 2005, the releases of polluted lake water spawned massive
algae blooms in the two rivers that killed fish, drove away tourists and
produced a large public backlash against the river releases.
But allowing the lake water to spill into the Everglades,
the way it used to before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a dike around
the lake, won't work either because the Everglades can
tolerate only minuscule amounts of phosphorus, one of the main pollutants in
In 2005, during a discussion of building reservoirs around
the lake to hold the excess polluted water, Harvey
warned in a letter that they could become incubators for more toxic algae
blooms. State officials complained that his comments were "irresponsible
Then, last fall, Corps officials proposed building a $1
billion underground pipeline system to carry off the excess lake water.
They called it "a bold step toward restoration."
'Routing dirty water'
But at an Oct. 10,
2006, meeting, Harvey pointed out the pipeline would be dumping
pollution into canals flowing into Biscayne
National Park, hardly a solution
that protects the environment.
"Once again we're routing dirty water," Harvey
said. "We are extremely concerned because the track record when the
district and the Corps move dirty water around is some resource gets
participating in the meeting via conference call, according to EPA records, and
did not know a Palm Beach Post reporter was covering the meeting. When his
comments appeared in print, Harvey
had to explain himself to his boss in Atlanta,
In an e-mail to Giattina, Harvey
said no one was talking about the issue of polluted water being funneled into
the national park until he brought it up.
"I NEVER question the importance of the issues you
raise or your technical competency. What concerns me is HOW you raise the
issues," Giattina replied.
Then, in January, Giattina wrote Harvey
a long memo that said he had discussed Harvey's
comments about the pipeline with several representatives of other agencies,
without naming them. As a result, he wrote, Harvey
would no longer be the EPA's representative on the Everglades
"I believe that your remarks compromise our ability to
have an effective voice on critically important matters with regard to Everglades restoration," Giattina wrote. "I believe your remarks are an
indicator that you have lost your ability to be objective regarding the
motivation of other key parties involved in Everglades's (sic) restoration."
Nevertheless, Giattina wrote,
"because this is my first expression of concern in writing to you
regarding this matter, I am still rating your performance . . . as 'fully
Corps officials could not be reached for comment on whether
they had complained about him or were aware of his removal.
State officials say they had nothing to do with what
happened to Harvey.