TIMES a MONDAY, OCTOBER 28, 1996
Swiftmud staff expresses concern about policies
say changes at the
agency focus on
By DAVID KARP
Tlmes Saff Writer
TAMPA At a time when their office might
be given more control over the protection of
Tampa Bay's wetlands, local employees of the
Southwest Florida Water Management District
say they are struggling to protect the wetlands
they already regulate.
In a memo to the agency's top officials, the
Tampa staff said that mounting work and the
ease with which management can interfere with
staff decisions have caused morale to plummet.
The memo to Richard McLean, deputy exec-
utive director for resource regulation in Swift-
mud's Brooksville headquarters, said: "We are
concerned and confused about the direction
(Swiftmud) is taking. We are presently over-
whelmed with our workloads and we are disen-
chanted as (Swiftmud's) priorities move farther
away from protection of the water resources."
The memo, dated Sept. 24, was signed only
"Tampa regulations staff," a group responsible
for permitting in Pinellas and Hillsborough coun-
ties. McLean says he accepts that it reflected
employees' views. When approached by a re-
porter, several employees said they would talk
about the concerns in the memo only if their
names weren't used.
The memo listed 13 problems, ranging from
a lack of training to worries about "special
priorities and loose rule interpretation for proj-
ects with political connections."
It also said staffers had been told they would
be replaced if they complained about changes in
Executives told staff members, "There are
plenty of people who are willing to take our jobs
if we are not happy with the changes that have
taken place," the memo said.
Please see WETLANDS 58
( SL Petersburg Times, 1996
Wetlands from 1B
SMcLean acknowledged in an in-
terview, "Right now, we are having a
lot of problems."
-. The concerns stem from changes
in the office's organization, McLean
said. Employees who used to work on
one portion of a wetlands project now
must work on all aspects, from issu-
ing a permit to monitoring the proj-
ect for violations. And McLean has
encouraged a philosophy of coopera-
tion between staffers and developers
who apply for permits to build on
"It's not an easy system to put in
place," McLean said of the changes.
4But there will be a reward at the
end of the tunnel."
McLean also said Swiftmud
would never fire an employee for
,, Just how well McLean's changes
'ork is an especially important ques-
~ Hillsborough County Commis-
soner Dottie Berger has asked
Swiftmud and the county's Environ-
41ental Protection Commission to
discuss cutting one of the agencies
qut of some of the wetland permit-
ting business. Both organizations
Swiftmud's Tampa staff, which
wrks from an office on U.S. 301,
oversees wetland permits in Hillsbor-
dogh and Pinellas counties.
: Eliminating the role of one of the
agencies would streamline govern-
ment, but it could also leave Swift-
mud with primary say over who can
build on Hillsborough's wetlands.
McLean said his cooperative ap-
proach to regulation may cause dis-
sent among employees at first but
eventually will make them work
"Our job is not to stop projects.
Our job is to make sure projects get
permitted and follow our guidelines,"
McLean said. "We don't have the
manpower to be the police. And
when you are the police, the results
To implement his approach,
McLean said he stopped an office in
Swiftmud's Brooksville headquarters
from sending out computer-generat-
ed letters warning developers of wet-
In their memo, staff members
complained about this change. It
forced them to send letters them-
selves, which they say they have
little time to do.
McLean said he ended the prac-
tice of sending computerized form
letters because developers perceived
the letters as threatening. Instead,
he said, he wants staffers to call
developers and work out compro-
"It's a cultural change," he said.
Environmentalists, however, ar-
gue that the changes have less to do
with management style than with
reducing the staff members' ability to
protect the environment aggressive-
"More and more regulators are
looking at applicants as clients," said
Peter Clark, director of Tampa Bay-
Watch Inc., a non-profit environmen-
tal group that tracks wetland per-
mits. "And these agencies are bend-
ing over backwards to work with the
client, instead of bending over back-
wards to protect our environment."
Just whom management supports
also was a focus of the staff memo.
The memo said supervisors fail to
back up staff decisions and do not
follow the agency's dispute resolu-- '
tion process. Instead, when consul-,
tants -- who are paid to get permits
approved do not like a staff deci-
sion about a permit, they call senior
management with complaints.
That practice, Clark said, creates
"the perception (that) some of the
larger agencies are catering to who-
ever has the most clout."
McLean acknowledged that he
and other executives accept calls
from consultants out of professional
courtesy. State legislators even call
asking about specific permits, he
said. But McLean said he never of-
fers special favors to consultants just
because they call him. He said he
sends issues back to staff members
"Lots of consultants make good
points," he said.
Indeed, consultants'and Swiftmud
executives work so harmoniously
that government regulators some-'
times go into the business when they
In September, when Swiftmud's
two top officials, Peter Hubbell and
Mark Farrell, announced they were
leaving the agency, they said they
planned to open a consulting firm,
Water Resource Associates Inc.
The Tampa Tribune, Monday, October 28, 1996
Wastewater idea on table
SUMMARY: It's now used to irri-
*gate lawns, golf greens and farms,
but a new project would make sew-
age usable as drinking water, too.
By CINDY RUPERT
of The Tampa Tribune
BRANDON Regulators are
preparing for a flood of questions
about a plan to add thrice-treated
wastewater to Tampa's drinking
The Tampa Water Resource
Recovery Project would start with
raw sewage and purify it until it
meets safe drinking water stan-
dards, said Philip Waller, whose
Tampa engineering firm, Mont-
gomery Watson, is a consultant on
He outlined the project this
week for the Hillsborough County
Cooperative Extensidn Service Wa-
ter Issues Coalition.
Under the plan, wastewater
would continue to be treated the
way it is now, then processed in an
additional cleansing system consist-
ing of softening, recarbonation,
carbon filtration and ozone disinfec-
The twice-filtered wastewater
would then be mixed with the
drinking water supply in the Tampa
Bypass Canal. Then it would be
treated a third time at a drinking
water treatment plant before it
Tests have shown the pro-
cessed wastewater is as good or
better than water from the Hills-
borough River, Tampa's main
drinking water source, Waller said,
adding that the process is used in
California, Fairfax County, Va., and
El Paso, Texas.
"Some people say it tastes bet-
ter than their drinking water," he
According to survey results re-
leased Friday, 49 percent of the
523 residents of Hillsborough, Pi-
nellas and Pasco counties ques-
tioned think the repurified water is
safe or very safe to drink; 51 per-
The project will leave some
people wondering "Am I the first
one to drink this glass of water?"
said Autumn Balthazor, living sys-
tems manager at the Museum of
Science and Industry in Tampa,
and a member of the Water Issues
The group was established last
year as part of the extension ser-
vice's Public Policy Education Pro-
gram, whose mission in part is to
teach people to influence public
Members are from diverse
fields, including farming, phosphate
manufacturing, law, engineering,
development, health and govern-
Selected Tampa Bay area resi-
dents, including some coalition
members, will give their comments
on the water project when focus
groups meet next month, Waller
A primary topic will be how to
persuade the public to accept treat-
ed wastewater as drinking water.
The Southwest Florida Water
Management District, the West
Coast Regional Water Supply Au-
thority and the City of Tampa are
sponsoring the project.
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