BRADENTON – DOMA and the Voting Rights Act dominated Supreme Court coverage this week, but another key decision will have far-reaching impacts, especially in Florida. On Tuesday, the court delivered a significant victory to the family of a Central Florida landowner, while dealing a sharp blow to the protection of our state's wetlands.
In another 5-4 decision, the court ruled that the St. Johns River Water Management District had placed excessive demands on Coy Koontz Sr. in terms of wetland mitigation policy. Koontz, who has since passed, had been denied a permit to build on 15-acres near Orlando unless he mitigated paving over wetlands by restoring other wetlands owned by the district nearby. His family continued the fight after his death.
Environmentalists were devastated, fearing that the ruling would ultimately weaken wetland protection laws, in a state where such environments are critical to human and animal habitats. Mitigation has long been used by federal, state and local regulators working toward the no net loss of wetlands policy established by President George H. W. Bush in 1988.
Manatee County, who also has a mitigation policy, recently codified weaker rules to accommodate developers and phosphate miners who'd long been given generous exceptions to the policy.