Water managers and
environmental regulators have acknowledged the state is in violation of a
landmark legal agreement requiring
Admitting to the violation reflected a notable change of tone and tactic for state agencies that have long resisted federal oversight and insisted that efforts to reduce levels of phosphorus -- a fertilizer ingredient that flows off sugar farms, cattle pastures and suburban lawns -- were working and on track.
But despite two recent ``exceedences'' of the damaging nutrient in eight months in a national wildlife refuge in Palm Beach County, attorneys for the South Florida Water Management District and Florida Department of Environmental Protection delivered much the same argument they have in previous hearings over the past six years before Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno:
Trust us -- we've got a plan and we're getting there.
But the judge said he had heard it all before.
In a Tuesday hearing in
``We are making substantial progress,'' Burns said. ``We would appreciate the opportunity to be able to finish our hundreds of millions in remedies before being asked to add to it.''
Burns asked Moreno to give the state and federal agencies until Feb. 1, 2010, to report back on the results of their negotiations -- a request endorsed by Edward Gelderman, an attorney for the U.S. Justice Department, representing the Interior Department and other federal agencies.
But the Miccosukee Tribe
urged the judge to act now, saying the state has repeatedly blown deadlines and
broken promises to meet water quality standards -- delays that have spread
pollution deeper into the
The tribe, which has filed multiple lawsuits opposing the $536 million land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp., asked Moreno to order water managers to immediately restart work on a massive reservoir the district halted in May 2008 -- an order that could scuttle the sugar deal.
Dexter Lehtinen, the tribe's attorney, argued the revenue-strapped district couldn't afford to build anything on the sugar land for decades and that pollution problems were far worse than the two high phosphorus readings the state acknowledged. They were recorded in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in November 2008 and June 2009.
Repeated delays and bureaucratic red tape are poisoning the Miccosukee's homeland, Lehtinen charged.
``Process has destroyed the Indians,'' he said. ``They don't need more process, they need performance.''
The district halted work on the $800 million reservoir,
first citing a separate lawsuit by environmental groups, then Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial sugar land deal.
Charles DeMonaco, an
attorney for the DEP, argued that aside from the reservoir and improvements to
an associated canal, the state is adhering to its plan to expand pollution
treatment marshes and cut farming pollution. He urged the judge to reject the
tribe's motion to build the reservoir, saying the sugar land promises an
opportunity for even greater benefits for the
``The tribe would have you believe we're doing absolutely nothing,'' he said. `'We did what we promised.''
argued that under the consent decree,
The case, he said, made him feel ``like a gerbil. We keep going around and around . . . Nothing gets done except talk.''