Yeah, OK, I admit it…I let that pile of bar journals stack up until they are just about to the ceiling before I take the time to peruse them for little jewels. Well I recently perused the stack (really for office safety and ingress/egress reasons) and there it was, a little gem in the form of Anna Long’s article entitled Negotiating Consent Orders and Settlement Agreements with Local Environmental Agencies. It appeared in the March issue of the Briefs which is a publication of the Orange County Bar Association.
Anna is an attorney with Lowndes Drosdick Doster Kantor & Reed, P.A., in Orlando who specializes in environmental law. Her article was most interesting to me because it focused on the practical aspects of dealing with environmental agencies and environmental Notices of Violation (“NOV”) rather than the technical aspects. Not surprisingly, most landowners on the receiving end of these little NOV gifts respond with a knee-jerk reaction which is to immediately go on the attack like rabid dogs. Anna wisely encourages landowners to step back and suggests a more measured response. Her suggestion is simply to do your homework. She suggests that you hire the right people, and gather the right team before walking through the environmental agency’s front door. I would add to her advice by simply stating that it is wise for landowners to also check their foaming mouths at the door. Anna also suggests that you research with whom you will be meeting and what their education, background with the agency and level of decision-making authority is. I note here as well the importance of actually scheduling a meeting rather than raging into the agency’s office unannounced (not a good way to set the right tone for warm fuzzy feelings of negotiation and compromise). Her approach to the actual meeting and necessary follow-up is equally as level-headed. Go on, read her article for the rest. It is really great.
And, if all else fails and the NOV sticks, don’t forget that there is a seldom-used relief valve for landowners in the form of Florida’s Environmental and Land Use Dispute Resolution Act. Sure it has its own problems but in this economy isn’t a stab at resolving the dispute a better alternative than filing suit and enduring the often drawn-out and expensive litigation process?