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Water-Related News

Hearing officer backs DEP employee who challenged mitigation permit

By Bruce Ritchie

An administrative law judge issued an order Thursday solidly backing a Department of Environmental Protection employee who testified against bosses who recommended issuing a permit.

DEP wetlands expert Connie Bersok testified in November in a legal challenge to the proposed permit for the Highlands Ranch LLC wetlands mitigation bank covering 1,575 acres in Clay County.

Developers who want to build in wetlands can buy credits from a mitigation bank to receive their state permits allowing them to build in wetlands. The Florida Wildlife Federation filed an administrative appeal of the DEP decision in August to issue the permit for 424 credits.

Last May, Bersok, who had recommended issuing 280 credits, wrote a memo objecting to a proposed permit for the Highlands Ranch project. A few days later she was suspended from her job with pay amid a department investigation into possible work leave and attendance violations that were not substantiated.