In­cum­bent could re­vive Soil & Water Dis­trict

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - News - By Sun Sen­tinel Ed­i­to­rial Board

Of all of the items on the Nov. 6 gen­eral elec­tion bal­lot, few de­ci­sions per­plex vot­ers more than the con­tests for county Soil & Water Con­ser­va­tion Dis­tricts. Both Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties have them. So do 56 other Florida coun­ties. In an age of far-reach­ing state and fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion agen­cies, some crit­ics won­der why.

Ac­cord­ing to its own web­site, the Broward Soil & Water Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict was formed in 1950 by state statute to pro­mote and en­cour­age “the wise use, man­age­ment and gen­eral con­ser­va­tion of the county’s soil, water and re­lated nat­u­ral re­sources. The dis­trict is com­mit­ted to pre­serv­ing and en­hanc­ing the qual­ity of life in Broward County through con­ser­va­tion of its nat­u­ral re­sources.”

The dis­trict, which has one open seat, works with the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture Nat­u­ral Re­source Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice, the site says, “to create ways to con­serve water, pre­vent soil ero­sion, con­vert ir­ri­gation sys­tems and in­form the pub­lic about con­ser­va­tion prob­lems.”

The mis­sion is sim­i­lar at the Palm Beach County Soil and Water Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict, which has two seats open in the Nov. 6 gen­eral elec­tion.

The elected po­si­tions in both dis­tricts don’t of­fer any salaries, ex­pense re­im­burse­ments or ben­e­fits, lead­ing some po­lit­i­cal ob­servers to con­clude that the of­fices are lit­tle more than step­ping stones to more vis­i­ble and in­flu­en­tial po­lit­i­cal of­fices. Nei­ther has any tax­ing power. In­stead, each re­lies on a va­ri­ety of grants to fund their con­ser­va­tion pro­grams.

But al­though they are nearly equally ob­scure, both dis­tricts could not be more dis­parate in their ac­tiv­i­ties.

Broward’s is flat broke, lacks of­fices of its own, and its five board mem­bers, known as su­per­vi­sors, of­ten dig into their own pock­ets to help fund ed­u­ca­tion ini­tia­tives for stu­dents in­ter­ested in con­ser­va­tion pro­jects. In its lat­est an­nual fi­nan­cial re­port to the state, the dis­trict re­ported no in­come and no ex­penses. Thanks to the gen­eros­ity of the city of Pom­pano Beach, mem­bers con­duct their monthly meet­ings in a con­fer­ence room of the Emma Lou Ol­son Civic Cen­ter.

The Palm Beach County dis­trict is at the op­po­site end of the spec­trum, re­port­ing a 2018-19 bud­get of more than $297,000, fu­eled by grants de­signed to man­age pro­grams such as a mo­bile ir­ri­gation project and the ex­pan­sive county Ag Re­serve. The dis­trict of­fers ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams about wet­lands and other con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives.

Stake­hold­ers in both dis­trict dis­pel the no­tion that the dis­tricts have out­lived their use­ful­ness and should be laid to rest.

David DeMaio, man­ager for the ir­ri­gation project, said the dis­tricts “def­i­nitely fill a niche that would go un­ful­filled” by other agen­cies.

And Fred Se­gal, at six years the long­est serv­ing su­per­vi­sor with the Broward dis­trict, said the loss of the dis­trict would negate po­ten­tial fund­ing for con­ser­va­tion pro­jects in the county.

Broward County, Seat 2: Richard Leys

Two Repub­li­cans are fac­ing off for the sole open­ing on the dis­trict board.

Richard Leys, the in­cum­bent, is a Penn­syl­va­nia na­tive who moved to South Florida with his wife in 1992 af­ter be­ing trans­ferred from Philadel­phia by his em­ployer, AT&T. He has served on the board since 2013. He also serves on the Pom­pano Beach Re­cre­ation and Nui­sance & Abate­ment Ad­vi­sory boards and is on the board of the Pom­pano Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce. He speaks like a man who de­serves a chance to fin­ish some­thing he started.

“There were a lot of strug­gles on the board,” he said. “One of the rea­sons I started at­tend­ing meet­ings was some­one asked me. It is past his­tory now. The first two years, lit­tle was be­ing done with the dis­trict. We started to do some ad­di­tional pro­grams in 2015 and 2016. From mid-2016 through 2017, we fi­nally started ac­com­plish­ing some­thing.”

For ex­am­ple, there is an ed­u­ca­tion se­ries for stu­dents, and the dis­trict has as­sisted with beach cleanups. He said he’d like to de­vote a lot of his ef­forts to­ward ed­u­cat­ing the area’s youth about con­ser­va­tion. He is in­volved with a lo­cal Key Club In­ter­na­tional pro­gram, a ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tion for stu­dents.

“I have a re­la­tion­ship with the school sys­tem from el­e­men­tary school through col­lege,” he said. “I’d like to con­tinue on what we’re ac­com­plish­ing now. We’re able to ap­ply for grants now.”

Chal­lenger Richard DiNapoli is an at­tor­ney who has been ac­tive in lo­cal GOP pol­i­tics. He is a past chair­man of Broward County Repub­li­can Ex­ec­u­tives. He lost a 2016 race for a dis­trict post to Se­gal. He wants an­other shot at help­ing jump-start the agency’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

A na­tive of Hol­ly­wood, DiNapoli is cor­po­rate coun­sel for the Co­ral Gables Trust Com­pany, a wealth man­age­ment firm. He spe­cial­izes in real es­tate, fi­nan­cial and es­tate plan­ning. Ac­tive in Repub­li­can Party pol­i­tics, he also served as chair and as a mem­ber of the Florida Real Es­tate Com­mis­sion. He holds a law de­gree from Ford­ham Univer­sity in New York.

“We have mas­sive con­ges­tion prob­lems,” he said. “Wildlife has been pushed farther and farther out. The Ever­glades is a body of water that is the rock bed for so many species. It’s just some­thing we need to pre­serve. It’s all part of one eco-sys­tem. I think it’s time for a change.”

“I don’t see a lot of ac­tion,” he said of the dis­trict. “It’s hard to get in­for­ma­tion. They still haven’t raised any money.”

He said he could lead the charge to ap­ply for fed­eral and state grants and “try to do some other types of fundrais­ing from the com­mu­nity.”

DiNapoli said he is fa­mil­iar with en­vi­ron­men­tal mit­i­ga­tion is­sues through his rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a client in Cen­tral Florida.

Still, we think there is merit in back­ing Leys, a can­di­date who has rid­den out the dis­trict’s trou­bles and wants to con­tinue work­ing to ed­u­cate young peo­ple about con­ser­va­tion — pro­vided, of course, that he can help re­stock the dis­trict’s bank ac­count with grant money.

Palm Beach County,

Group 1: Michelle Sylvester

Two of the three can­di­dates reached by the ed­i­to­rial board ex­pressed a pref­er­ence for bet­ter pro­tec­tion of the Ag Re­serve and ex­pand­ing the dis­trict’s reach into com­bat­ing red tides and al­gae blooms, and be­ing more ag­gres­sive in dis­cussing how to deal with sea-level rise. Terms last four years. Vot­ers coun­ty­wide vote in both dis­tricts.

David Legg, 68, of Boyn­ton Beach, spent a 36-year ca­reer with the na­tional re­source con­ser­va­tion ser­vice of the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture. Later, he spent three years as a con­sul­tant for the nurs­ery in­dus­try.

“I would like to see more ed­u­ca­tional move­ment to­ward the preser­va­tion of the Ag Re­serve,” he said. “I don’t think the gen­eral pub­lic un­der­stands the im­por­tance of this agri­cul­tural area,” which is a ma­jor food source for the Eastern Se­aboard.

Michelle Sylvester of Lan­tana owns a pathol­ogy lab with her brother-in-law and char­ac­ter­izes her­self as a life­long en­v­i­ron- men­tal­ist. The race is her first time seek­ing elec­tive of­fice. A life­long Florid­ian, she said she has been en­dorsed by the Sierra Club and Hu­man Rights Cam­paign.

“I have seen what the red tide is do­ing. We have a lim­ited re­source called water,” she said. “We have beaches north of us closed as we speak. From an eco­nomic stand­point, we can’t al­low that.”

She is also con­cerned that not enough is be­ing done to com­bat sea-level rise. “It’s a re­al­ity. We need to tackle that if we are to sur­vive as a penin­sula.”

While she ac­knowl­edged that the dis­trict has no tax­ing or leg­isla­tive author­ity to com­bat ris­ing seas, board mem­bers can use “their good looks and their mouth” to get the at­ten­tion of leg­is­la­tors. “Ev­ery­body is kick­ing the can down the road,” she said, “and that has to stop.”

A third can­di­date, Ian Matthew Wellinghurst of Te­questa, did not re­spond to a phone mes­sage.

All in all, we like Sylvester’s pas­sion and uni­ver­sal view to­ward con­ser­va­tion and preser­va­tion. Vot­ers should cast their bal­lots in her fa­vor.

Palm Beach County, Group 5: Mark Beau­mont

Mark Beau­mont, 61, is a res­i­dent of Jupiter who is a set de­signer for the­atri­cal pro­duc­tions. He said his ob­jec­tive is to raise the dis­trict’s pub­lic pro­file. “They have the abil­ity to ed­u­cate and ad­vo­cate,” he said.

Along with the County Com­mis­sion, South Florida Water Man­age­ment Dis­trict and state leg­is­la­tors, “we can be ad­vo­cates for the en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

“We’re all con­cerned with blue-green al­gae and red tide. I would like to lead the ef­fort to co­op­er­ate with the dis­tricts to the north of us to get an ad­vo­cacy pack­age to the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and leg­is­la­tors so we can try to get bet­ter water qual­ity,” he said.

The trend of the use of vol­un­tary com­pli­ance of reg­u­la­tions needs to be re­versed. “We’d ad­vo­cate to change that,” he said.

His op­po­nent, Eva Webb, did not re­spond to a phone mes­sage seek­ing com­ment.

Beau­mont is an­other can­di­date who said he has re­ceived the Sierra Club’s back­ing. For his will­ing­ness to ag­gres­sively ad­vo­cate for bet­ter water qual­ity and speak out against vol­un­tary com­pli­ance with en­vi­ron­men­tal law, Beau­mont has re­ceived our sup­port as well.

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