DEP Implements Second Phase of Protections for Northwest Florida Environment

By: DEP Press Release
By: DEP Press Release

Tallahassee, FL - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced that the second phase of expanded protection for water resources in Northwest Florida will go into effect November 1.

The Florida Legislature passed House Bill 7163 in 2006, creating an Environmental Resource Permitting (ERP) program in Northwest Florida. DEP and the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD) have worked with area stakeholders since that time to put effective rules and practices in place. The first phase, limited to stormwater management systems, became effective October 1, 2007, and brought comprehensive flood protection and updated stormwater quality provisions to Northwest Florida for the first time.

November 1 inaugurates the second and final phase of the ERP program to protect isolated wetlands in Northwest Florida. Applicants will now be able to apply for one authorization from either DEP or the NWFWMD that covers both wetland and stormwater permitting requirements. ERP streamlining eliminates the need for the two separate stormwater and dredge and fill authorizations currently required.

The ERP program regulates activities that generate stormwater, alter surface water flows, and involve dredging in wetlands and other surface waters, including dredging navigation channels, clearing and filling wetlands, and construction and alteration of urban and residential development, highways, docks, and seawalls. Applications are sent to either the DEP or the NWFWMD in accordance with a division of responsibilities that are laid out in an Operating Agreement. Under that Agreement, DEP will handle, among other things, individual single-family activities requiring dredging and filling in wetlands or other surface waters, commercial, or governmental development involving five acres or more of dredging or filling in, on, or over wetlands or other surface waters, and most activities in open waters, such as construction of docks, marinas, and all activities on state owned submerged lands.

“This is a tremendous advance in preserving Northwest Florida’s wetlands, which store water and provide essential habitat for birds and other wildlife,” said DEP Secretary Mimi Drew. “Bringing Northwest Florida up to date in ERP affords the same level of water resource protection that’s been available in the rest of Florida for more than 15 years.”

The ERP program regulates activities that generate stormwater, alter surface water flows, and involve dredging and filling in wetlands and other surface waters, and addresses urban and residential development activities, highways, docks, and seawalls. The program includes a strong mitigation component to offset unavoidable impacts. Protecting isolated wetlands in Northwest Florida will allow DEP to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow Florida’s permit to serve as the federal authorization for some activities. This State Programmatic General Permit has been in place in the rest of the state and can now be expanded to Northwest Florida.

“The Northwest Florida Water Management District is here to help the public, not just regulate it,” added Julian Gotreaux, Director of the District’s Environmental Regulations Section. “We routinely balance the needs of the regulated community and the health and safety of people and the environment. We are educators in the field. It’s our goal to help individuals identify when they need a permit and thereby avoid any compliance or enforcement issues.”

DEP recently launched a new online business portal which hosts the agency’s public access tools in one convenient location. Many licenses, permits, reservations and subscription services can now be easily navigated from the portal, including various ERP authorizations from DEP. The business portal also allows users to sign up for agency publications and permit notifications, follow contaminated site cleanup, and make campsite reservations at Florida’s 160 state parks. To view the business portal, visit www.fldepportal.com.

The NWFWMD is also in the process of developing online ERP authorizations that will complement those on the DEP business portal.

To learn more about Environmental Resource Permitting in Northwest Florida, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/northwest/ERP/permitting.htm.


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