Miami Developer to Give Gov. Rick Scott Environmentalist Award

By most expert accounts, Gov. Rick Scott's tenure in Tallahassee has been a flat-out catastrophe for the Sunshine State's already-fragile environment. He slashed water management budgets and stacked regulatory boards with developers. He battled tooth-and-nail against new clean water mandates. Even muttering the words "climate change" was banned in state offices

But Rodney Barreto thinks Scott has been a tree-hugging warrior for Mother Gaia. The Miami developer, who also chairs the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, announced via email this week that at the BlueGreen gala this fall, he'll honor Scott for his conservation work.

“Governor Scott has been instrumental in helping develop a strong connection between fish and wildlife conservation and traditional outdoors activities like hunting and especially fishing,” Barreto says in a release.

Local environmentalists are aghast at the news. "It's laughable," Alan Farago, president of Friends of the Everglades, tells New Times. "In terms of the environment, I think he's the worst governor in modern Florida history."

That's hardly a fringe viewpoint among mainstream environmentalists. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board in September called him "an environmental disaster." Politifact, meanwhile, found that Scott repeatedly lied on the campaign trail about investing "record" state funds in environmental projects and about a commitment to battling sea level rise.

Even after voters last year overwhelmingly passed Amendment 1, a mandate to spend $300 million annually on conservation, Scott and the Republican legislature basically ignored the rule.  

"Rick Scott not only is tone deaf to the environment, his entire record is undermining decades of bipartisan consensus that points in the direction of what Floridians want," Farago says, "which is good water quality, adequate space parks, protecting the waters of the state. Everything he's done has been to undermine that."

So why in hell is the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida honoring Scott for his green good deeds? 

Barreto hasn't returned a call from New Times to talk about the prize, but in a release from the foundation (which actually came out last month but was just noticed this week by a Tampa Bay Times reporter after it circulated by email), the developer credits Scott and his wife, Ann, with conservation efforts.

"Ann is an outdoors enthusiast in her own right, dedicated to getting our kids outdoors," Barreto says in the release. "Together they provide leadership for effective conservation and youth engagement in Florida.” 

Beyond the simple problem of an anti-environment politician like Rick Scott receiving a conservation award, Barreto's role in the process is also raising ire among activists like Farago (who this morning wrote his own piece about the situation at Eye on Miami). 

Barreto, who also chairs the South Florida Super Bowl Committee and is a partner in one of Miami's top lobbying firms, is a former Jeb Bush confidant with ties to controversial developments such as a plan to widen Krome Avenue at the fringes of the Everglades. Last year, he gave a similar award to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, not long after Putnam infuriated environmental groups with what they saw as Big Agriculture-friendly water reforms. 

"He's been criticized for his role on a conservation board," Farago says. "There's a fair question what he's even doing in a position like that."

Barreto will hand the award to the Scotts November 14 at paving magnate Ron Bergeron's ranch in Weston.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink