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Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer

Craig Pittman

Tampa Bay Times reporter Craig Pittman is a native Floridian. He graduated from Troy State University in Alabama, where his muckraking work for the student paper prompted an agitated dean to label him "the most destructive force on campus." Since then he has covered a variety of newspaper beats and quite a few natural disasters, including hurricanes, wildfires and the Florida Legislature. Since 1998 he has reported on environmental issues for the Times. He is a four-time winner of the Waldo Proffitt Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism in Florida and a series of stories on Florida's vanishing wetlands that he wrote with Matthew Waite won the top investigative reporting award in both 2006 and 2007 from the Society of Environmental Journalists. He is the author of four books: "The Scent of Scandal: Greed, Betrayal, and the World's Most Beautiful Orchid" (2012); "Manatee Insanity: Inside the War Over Florida's Most Famous Endangered Species," (2010); and, co-written with Waite, "Paving Paradise: Florida's Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss," (2009). His new book, < a href="http://www.amazon.com/Oh-Florida-Americas-Weirdest-Influences-ebook/dp/B019CB3UNQ"> "Oh, Florida! How America's Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country,"hits stores in July 2016. He lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and two children.

Phone: (727) 893-8530

Email: craig@tampabay.com

Twitter: @CraigTimes

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  1. Joe Negron's Lake Okeechobee bill could decide Enterprise Florida's fate

    Blog

    ST. PETERSBURG — The success or failure of Florida Senate President Joe Negron’s signature issue — building a reservoir on sugar-owned land south of Lake Okeechobee — may boil down to what happens to Gov. Rick Scott’s signature issue, saving Enterprise Florida.

    That’s the take from Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, who spoke to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on Tuesday....

    Water full of algae laps along the Sewell's Point shore on the St. Lucie River under an Ocean Boulevard bridge last year during the toxic algae blooms that affected Lake Okeechobee.
  2. Pinellas sheriff: Body identified as one of two men who disappeared into Gulf of Mexico last week

    Accidents

    ST. PETERSBURG — The body found off Egmont Key on Monday was identified as Andrew Charles Dillman, 27, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, who was one of two men who disappeared last week they were swept into the Gulf of Mexico. A boater reported seeing the body floating in the water around 2 p.m., deputies said, about three miles west of Egmont Key.

    Dillman was a crew member aboard the Jaguar, a 71-foot vessel chartered by college students, who jumped into the water on Tuesday to rescue Jie Luo, a 21-year-old Chinese student studying at Colorado State University. Both ended up being carried away by the fast flowing tide in Pass-a-Grille Channel....

    The 71-foot charter boat that two passengers disappeared from in rough waters off Pass-A-Grille Channel on Tuesday evening is the Jaguar, which is operated by FYC Yachts in St. Petersburg. The search and rescue mission became a recovery operation on Friday. Deputies said Monday that a body was found off Egmont Key but did not say if it was connected to the missing men. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
  3. Environmental groups sue federal agencies over effects of phosphate mining

    Wetlands

    Four environmental groups filed suit Wednesday against the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for authorizing 50,000 acres of phosphate mining in central Florida that the groups said violates the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

    The suit, filed in Tampa federal court, takes aim at the two federal agencies over their approval of three new mines and the expansion of a fourth one in Manatee, Hardee and DeSoto counties....

    An aerial of a massive sinkhole that earlier this month opened up underneath a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry dumped at least 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan aquifer in August. Concerns about that sinkhole, in part, promoted environmental groups to sue federal agencies in federal court over the effects of phosphate mining. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  4. With no EPA, is Rick Scott's DEP up to the job?

    Blog

    The leader of President Trump's Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, wants to hand much of its duties back to the states. That would put the job of protecting Florida's natural bounty almost entirely in the hands of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

    That raises the question: Is DEP up to the job?

    In the six years since Rick Scott was elected governor in 2011, the size of the state agency charged with protecting the environment has shrunk by more than 600 employees, dropping from about 3,500 to 2,900....

    Michael Castle, a park ranger at Hillsborough River State Park and Gov. Rick Scott check to see if a campground at Hillsborough River State Park was ADA compliant in 2012. The governor wanted to see what a day in the life of a park ranger was like. Now Scott's Department of Environmental Protection, which runs the state's parks, may have to take on more environmental duties if the federal Environmental Protection Agency is diminished
  5. If the EPA goes away, is the state up to the job of protecting Florida's environment?

    Environment

    The leader of President Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, wants to hand much of its duties back to the states. That would put the job of protecting Florida's natural bounty almost entirely in the hands of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

    That raises the question: Is DEP up to the job?

    In the six years since Rick Scott became governor in 2011, the size of the state agency charged with protecting the environment has shrunk by more than 600 employees, dropping from about 3,500 to 2,900....

    Over the past six years, the state DEP has shrunk by more than 600 employees. Despite the cutbacks, the agency says it remains focused on protecting the environment while remaining responsible stewards of tax dollars.&#65279;&#65279;
  6. For a Better Florida: Liquid heart of Florida is in trouble and Legislature split on what to do

    Essays

    The liquid heart of Florida is in trouble. It's causing problems for both coasts.

    And the two houses of the Legislature have very different ideas about how to fix the problem. The situation pits two of the state's main industries against each other — coastal tourism versus rural agriculture.

    The basic problem is one that's been around for years. Lake Okeechobee, the second-largest freshwater body in the United States, is full of pollution that feeds toxic algae blooms. ...

    Algae laps along the shoreline of the St. Lucie River last year, when heavy rains forced the release of tainted water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie esturaries. The releases spawned massive blue-green algae blooms. The House and Senate have very different ideas about how to solve the problem.
  7. Florida could allow timber harvesting at two parks, including Sarasota's Myakka State Park

    Environment

    Two years after officials first talked of boosting the moneymaking efforts of the state park system, a pair of parks are finally going to try it.

    State officials have proposed allowing timber harvesting in one, Myakka River State Park near Sarasota. They have proposed allowing timber harvesting and cattle grazing in another, Savannas Preserve State Park in Port St. Lucie.

    In each case, a draft management plan for the park said those moneymaking uses have now been found to be "compatible with the park's primary purpose of resource-based outdoor recreation and conservation."...

    Timber harvesting might soon be coming to Myakka River State Park.   [Times files]
  8. Blink and you'll miss the old attractions of Florida, disappearing fast

    Human Interest

    I know I wasn't the only one bummed out last month by the news that Florida's version of Stonehenge, the Airstream Ranch, was being torn down.

    Now the only cool stuff left to look at when you're stuck in a massive traffic jam on Interstate 4 are Dinosaur World and the Mickey Mouse power pole. Oh, and whatever crazy thing is happening in the car next to you — drivers shaving, flossing, loading their guns; you know, the usual....

    &#65279; Airstream Ranch, the RV Stonehenge of Interstate 4, was razed last month. It was erected by Frank Bates in 2007. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]
  9. Annual Florida manatee count breaks record for third year in a row

    Wildlife

    For the third year in a row, the annual attempt to count the manatees swimming in Florida's waterways has broken the previous year's record. Scientists reported finding 6,620 manatees this year, up from the 6,250 last year and 6,063 the year before.

    During cold weather at the end of January and the beginning of February, a team of 15 observers from 10 organizations flew around looking for manatees huddled together at power plants and in springs. ...

    Manatees swim in Kings Bay in Citrus County. Douglas R. Clifford  |  Times
  10. Hydrologists who accused Mosaic and DEP of missing sinkhole signs say they were wrong

    Water

    Two retired hydrologists who last week accused Mosaic and state regulators of ignoring signs of a sinkhole at a phosphogypsum plant a year before it drained polluted water into the aquifer now say they were wrong.

    "We made a mistake, and we sincerely regret our error," Donald Rice and his wife, Mary Hrenda, of Parrish said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday.

    Rice is retired from the U.S. Geological Survey and Hrenda worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Last week, the pair joined with the environmental group Suncoast Waterkeeper in calling for an investigation of Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection....

    Two retired hydrologists who last week accused Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection of ignoring signs of a sinkhole at a phosphogypsum plant a year before it drained polluted water into the aquifer now say they were wrong. "We made a mistake, and we sincerely regret our error," Donald Rice and his wife, Mary Hrenda, of Parrish, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
  11. Mosaic's first post-sinkhole test will be winning approval to expand Manatee mining

    Water

    More than 100 people signed up last month to talk about Mosaic's request to expand its phosphate mine by more than 3,000 acres. But many really wanted to talk about the sinkhole.

    Over and over they brought up the sinkhole that opened up beneath the company's Mulberry's plant in August. They saw the sinkhole as an argument against approving Mosaic's zoning change request.

    They contended that Mosaic's three weeks of silence about the sinkhole problem made them unwilling to trust the company's promises to be a good environmental steward....

    Mosaic's first political test after a sinkhole opened up beneath its Mulberry plant in August will be 50 miles away, where the company must win approval to expand its phosphate mine in Manatee County. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  12. Mosaic, DEP say hydrologists 'fundamentally wrong' that they ignored sinkhole forming

    Water

    UPDATE: Hydrologists who accused Mosaic and DEP of missing sinkhole signs say they were wrong

    The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Mosaic struck back Friday against allegations by two retired government hydrologists that they should have noticed a potential sinkhole forming beneath Mosaic's Mulberry fertilizer plant a year before it caused contaminated water to leak into the aquifer....

    Two retired hydrologists who last week accused Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection of ignoring signs of a sinkhole at a phosphogypsum plant a year before it drained polluted water into the aquifer now say they were wrong. "We made a mistake, and we sincerely regret our error," Donald Rice and his wife, Mary Hrenda, of Parrish, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
  13. Mosaic, state should have seen sinkhole forming, experts say

    Water

    UPDATE: Hydrologists who accused Mosaic and DEP of missing sinkhole signs say they were wrong

    A year before a sinkhole drained 215 million gallons of contaminated water from the top of a Mulberry phosphogypsum stack, monitoring wells around the stack showed something was already going horribly wrong — something that two experts say indicated a sinkhole was forming....

    A massive sinkhole that opened underneath a gypsum stack at a Mosaic phosphate fertilizer plant in Mulberry dumped at least 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the Floridan aquifer.
  14. What would happen to Florida if the EPA really did go away?

    Environment

    For years the Environmental Protection Agency has been depicted as a jackbooted thug, a humorless generator of red tape, even the nefarious villain in such films as The Simpsons Movie and the original Ghostbusters.

    Now the agency started by a Republican president, Richard Nixon, faces an uncertain future. The new president who once pledged to eliminate it now promises to refocus it. The man he nominated to be its new leader, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, made his reputation suing it. Meanwhile, a Florida congressman has filed a bill to obliterate it....

    Algae laps along the shoreline of the St. Lucie River&#65279; in 2016, when heavy rains forced the release of tainted water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.&#65279;
  15. Tampa Bay sea grass saw gains, but that was before the recent sewage crisis

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — A key indicator of the health of Tampa Bay is the spread of sea grass, which has shown more improvement in the past year — although those measurements were taken before tens of millions of gallons of sewage was dumped into the bay since last summer.

    Sea grasses in the bay have increased by more than 1,360 acres, or nearly 3.3%, since 2014, according to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, a bay science and advocacy group first created by the Environmental Protection Agency but now operating independently....

    Seagrass habitat is pictured in Crystal Bay on Wednesday, 07/17/2013. SWFWMD is mapping seagrass habitat ranging fromTarpon Springs to Waccasassa Bay to about 20 miles offshore as a part of the Springs Coast Seagrass Mapping Project. It is a three step process. The first one involved taking aerial photographs of seagrass habitats in December 2012. The second step was using the images to map seagrass habitat. For the third and final phase, researchers go out to cross check the mapped areas from the aerial images. The project costs about $200,000, and SWFWMD expects to map about 450,000 acres of seagrass habit, the second largest in the United States. The final maps should be finalized and released sometime in August (next month). The last time this project took place was in 2007.