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Environmental groups talk DOT, DEP, DCA merger

Leaders of several planning and conservation groups stopped short of criticizing the massive overhauls of the Department of Transportation, Deparment of Environmental Protection and Department of Community Affairs as recommended by Gov. Rick Scott's transition advisers.

Speaking during a conference about the groups' new position papers, Sierra Club Florida lobbyist David Cullen said he would oppose the transition team's model if it meant development and transportation were given consistent priority over the environmental community. "As long as the agencies are discrete they are bound to pursue their legislative mandate to execute the laws within their purview," Cullen said. "But if they're combined, an element of prioritizing is almost inevitable."

The position papers released Monday were authored by representatives from 1,000 Friends of Florida, Audobon of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy and Tropical Audobon Society. The groups ask Scott, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon to improve the state's land-planning system, save taxpayer money through cost-efficient development and consider the state's environmental allure as part of its economic recovery, among other recommendations.

Manley Fuller, Florida Wildlife Federation president, would not recommend all three agencies be combined, but he said a structure that required the agencies to coordinate with one another would be beneficial. Several other leaders agreed, pointing to recent highway proposals that go against the interest of environmental groups. "The coordination of those functions is critical," Fuller said.

Read more about the merger idea in this Times December story.