Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed members take seats on South Florida Water Management District board

Tyler Treadway
Treasure Coast Newspapers

WEST PALM BEACH — With seven right hands raised and a unanimous oath, a new board selected entirely by Gov. Ron DeSantis took control Thursday of the South Florida Water Management District.

Only problem is: There are nine seats on the district board.

The seat DeSantis wanted to be filled by Ronald M. "Alligator Ron" Bergeron, a former member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, was empty.

So was the seat for a yet-to-be-named at-large member representing Glades, Highlands, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties.

More: DeSantis taps "Alligator Ron" Bergeron for SFWMD board

In its first act, the board unanimously named Chauncey Goss of Sanibel as the panel's chairman and Scott Wagner, a Miami Beach attorney, as the vice chairman.

It's second act was to hire Drew Bartlett, a deputy secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as the district's executive director.

More: SFWMD board hires DEP deputy as executive director

Before taking any other action, the board heard a parade of speakers, mostly representing environmental groups from throughout the 16-county district, introduce themselves and pledge their support.

"The public is behind you 100 percent," Lisa Interlandi of the Everglades Law Center told the board.

"I think the governor is looking to you for bold action," said Charles Grande, vice president of the Treasure Coast-based Rivers Coalition.

The board spent a lot of money on its first day, all on projects that had been in the works for several years, including:

  • Nearly $523.9 million for a contract to complete building the 170,000-acre C-43 reservoir, a project designed to store and clean water coming out of Lake Okeechobee and heading toward the Caloosahatchee River estuary.

More:New contractor: Caloosahatchee River reservoir ready in five years

  • Nearly $16.8 million to buy the last 339 acres needed for the Kissimmee River Restoration Project designed to restore the natural flow of the river north of Lake O.

More:Water entering Lake O from north more polluted than reported  

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch (left) and Cheryl Meads are amongst the several new members of the South Florida Water Management District board taking the oath of office Thursday, March 14, 2019, at the board offices in West Palm Beach. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Thurlow-Lippish, a SewallÕs Point resident, last month during a news conference at the Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center.

More information

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, the new representative from Martin and St. Lucie counties, made her presence known when, after a 20-minute, charts-and-maps laden presentation on water conditions, she asked for more information but in a way "average people can understand."

Specifically, Thurlow-Lippisch asked for a detailed look at the way water flows "throughout the whole system" from Shingle Creek near Orlando, through Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades to Florida Bay.

"If we can do a better job tying it all together," she said, "we can do a better job fixing it."

Thurlow-Lippisch also asked for more information about which parts of the system fall under the Army Corps of Engineers and which under the district.

"When my estuary or Lake Okeechobee goes to hell in a handbasket, who's in charge?" she asked. "Where does the buck stop?"

Empty seats

DeSantis told TCPalm on Feb. 21 he'd have all the board positions filled by the March meeting.

More:DeSantis promises to fill all SFWMD board seats by March meeting

The governor announced his intention to appoint Bergeron to the board Jan. 29 — if the western Broward County developer and contractor didn't have any conflicts of interest because of his businesses.

Bergeron may have created a conflict when he signed a $25 million contract with the district to complete work on a stormwater treatment area in western Martin County Feb. 6, more than a week after DeSantis tapped him for the district's board.

More: DeSantis choice for SFWMD board inks $25 million contract with district

Timeline: Gov. Ron DeSantis and the SFWMD board

Meet the Board

The South Florida Water Management District board members are:

  • Chauncey Goss: policy consultant from Sanibel representing Lee, Collier, Hardy and Charlotte counties
  • Carlos E. "Charlie" Martinez: real estate investor from Pinecrest representing Miami-Dade County
  • Cheryl Meads: former EPA consultant from Islamorada representing Martin, St. Lucie, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties
  • Charlette Roman: retired Army colonel from Marco Island representing Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry, Highlands, Glades, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties
  • Jay Steinle: financial management director from West Palm Beach representing Palm Beach County
  • Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch: former commission member and mayor from Sewall's Point representing Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties
  • Scott Wagner: maritime attorney from Miami Beach representing Miami-Dade County

Source: South Florida Water Management District

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