In this episode, Brett heads to the empire headquarters of Florida’s most prolific environmental professional, Jeff Littlejohn. Jeff is a principal at the National Stormwater Trust, OnSyte Performance, and the Florida Environmental Network (host of the Environmental Permitting Summer School in Marco Island); a Senior Advisor with the Adams and Reese Law Firm; and the Founding Editor of the newly revamped Florida Specifier.
They talk about growing up the son of Florida environmental royalty; how Top Gun and his step-father influenced his decision to attend the U.S. Naval Academy; what brought him back to Florida to work as an engineer; his sometimes controversial tenure at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; and whether he’s the Nicolas Cage of Florida environmental entrepreneurs.
To check out The Florida Specifier – Jeff’s latest endeavor, visit the website here: Floridaspecifier.com
To learn more about what Jeff is doing at the National Stormwater Trust, go here: Nationalstormwater.com
To find out how if Jeff can help you from his chair at the Adams and Reese Law Firm, email him here: Jeff.email@example.com
If you’re looking to see how Jeff and his team at OnSyte Performance are innovating the way we think of wastewater management in Florida, go here: www.onsyte.com
If you want to see what’s going on at the 37th Annual Environmental Permitting Summer School, look here: www.floridaenet.com
Please support our sponsors, RES and Sea & Shoreline.
Sea & Shoreline is a Florida-based aquatic restoration firm that is on a mission to restore Florida’s water bodies and to protect our coastline communities against severe storms. You can check out their projects at www.seaandshoreline.com
RES is a national leader in ecological and hydrological restoration, offering nature-based solutions with guaranteed performance through innovative delivery options. Discover more about their work and commitment to Florida and its environmental challenges by visiting www.res.us.
Welcome to Water for Fighting, where we discuss the past, present, and future of water in Florida, what the people will make it happen. I’m your host, Brett Cyphers. This week’s discussion is brought to you by Sea and Shoreline and Resource Environmental Solutions.(…) Sea and Shoreline is a Florida-based aquatic restoration firm that’s on a mission to restore Florida’s water bodies and to protect our coastline communities against severe storms. You can check out their projects at seanshoreline.com. And of course, REZ. REZ is a national leader in ecological and hydrological restoration, offering nature-based solutions with guaranteed performance through innovative delivery options. Discover more about their work and commitment to Florida and its environmental challenges by visiting www.res.us.(…) Alright, I’m happy to introduce this week’s conveniently timed guest, Jeff Littlejohn. Now, when I met Jeff, he was the Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. He’s now a principal at, and this is a long list everyone, National Stormwater Trust, a principal at On-Site Performance, Senior Policy Advisor at the Adams and Reese Law Firm, part owner of the Florida Environmental Network, and is now the founder of the Relaunch Florida Specifier. Now, that’s a mouthful, and we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it. Jeff, welcome to Water for Fighting. Thanks a lot, Brett. I’m really excited to be here. I typically move from birth forward with podcast guests, but part of your childhood, and nearly every year since, is intertwined with the events of this week. It’s Environmental Permitting Summer School Week in Marco Island, or as I sometimes refer to it as, the Super Bowl of Environmental Professionals here in Florida. Your father, Chuck Littlejohn, started it all. And now you’re carrying that torch all these years later. Talk about summer school’s inception and what it means to you. It’s really meaningful to me and my whole family, Brett. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be in this position now to kind of carry the torch that my dad lit so many years ago when he started this whole thing with the chamber back in 1986 or 87, I believe. You’re right. It’s been part of my life for almost as long as I can remember. It was always billed as a family-friendly event. A lot of people that have been down there many years, if you’ve gone through a part of your life where you’re having kids, it’s a great place to bring them. And I think a lot of people have taken advantage of that. And we’ve really encouraged that over the years. And I was certainly part of that from the very beginning. I think the very first year would have been 1987 because I was 16.(…) And I remember that summer getting to go down there, and I got to hang out at the pool and the beach. And I never really understood what my dad did. So he was inside doing his thing, and I was just out by the pool. But there were always a lot of kids there, and it was always easy to meet other kids who had parents at the event. And it was really cool. I don’t remember Ryan Matthews early on, I think, in those first couple of years that I went before I went off to college. Because I think he was a lot younger than me, so he might have been in the kiddie pool. But I do remember, I just remember thinking, as Ryan and I have been talking about this lately, how cool it is that he remembers growing up there too as a kid and his dad going. And we’ve had those experiences and kind of bonded over that shared experience. And it’s really meaningful that we get to do it together now, knowing that our fathers were involved from the very beginning. And now we’re doing it together. It’s pretty cool. Yeah, I think that is cool. And myself off and on for the last 21, 22 years have gone. I find myself not on the beach or in the pool because obviously we’re down there to work more. When it comes to you, was there a point when you were younger, what was that point when you started to pay attention to what was going on inside of the building rather than out back? Oh, it wasn’t until I came back later as an environmental professional and went as an attendee. I mean, as a kid, it was just a fun place to go. Nice. Okay. Let’s press the rewind button a bit. Now back to standard operating procedure. You were born in Melbourne here in Florida, but you grew up in a bunch of different places, right? Yeah, that’s right. See, yeah. And I want to talk about not just your parents, but I also want to talk about your step parents a little bit. Because based on your choices of career, it seems like they’ve had a significant impact to you all the way around. First, let’s start with your dad and mom. Where are Chuck and Donna from and how did they get to Florida? Yeah, that’s an interesting story. I ended up calling my mom this week to make sure I had all the details right. She’s going to listen to this, I’m sure, and she’ll fact check me if I’m wrong about something. So my dad’s family is from Western South Carolina, Greenville, Clemson area. And if yes, if you Google it or didn’t know the Little John Coliseum, they’re at Clemson University is a relative. Oh, yeah. But anyway, that must of my family’s from there. But my little John Klan originated from there. But my grandfather moved my dad and his two sisters and my grandmother down to Fort Lauderdale in would have been the fifties for work. He was a World War Two Navy guy and ended up working for Sears as a store manager and opened up a lot of different Sears stores for the company. And one of those brought him to Fort Lauderdale. And that’s where my dad grew up mainly in his kind of middle school, high school years, graduated from high school down there. And and even after he went off to college and I got older and started coming home. And when I visit my parents, I got to go see the house where he spent most of his life down in Fort Lauderdale. It was pretty cool. My mom is from Waco, Texas. She’s from a large Catholic family. She was one of eight siblings. She’s got a very interesting story, too. She’s the oldest. So she tells me that growing up there, she almost felt like she didn’t have much of a childhood. She became a babysitter as far back as she can remember. So I think by the time she got ready to graduate high school and look for what to do next, it was get as far away from Waco as possible and have a different life. So after high school volunteered to go on a U.S.O. tour and she ended up going to Europe and all kinds of places, sing for GIs around around the world. At some point, she met a boy and followed him to Atlanta, Georgia, and he ended up being a roommate of my dad’s.
He also ended up having a fiance. Oh, yeah. But anyway, this was I forgiven him because it got my mom to meet my dad and they ended up hitting it off. And she might say he was a rebound. I don’t know. I think that’s probably accurate.
They started dating and she got a job there. And when he graduated, he took her back to Waco to get married in her hometown and home church. And then after that, they went down to Florida. Is your dad Catholic or no? No, it was my mom’s family. OK, they went back to Waco, Texas to get married. At what point you were I think you were. Oh, I wasn’t born yet. Yeah, no, they they just got married and then my dad got a job. This was in the late 60s, maybe 70. And he got a job at Harris Corp. Working in the Apollo program. So that’s what got them to Melbourne. That’s that’s how I ended up being born in Melbourne is he was working at Harris Corp. At the time as an engineer, you know, he just graduated from tech. He was doing kind of that industrial engineering thing. And I learned later from him that that just wasn’t just didn’t it wasn’t interesting to him. I think he thought he wanted to do that, but he didn’t like it for some reason. He ended up going back to college, went to UF to study environmental engineering. And so that’s where you know, you said I moved around a lot. I did. I think I moved two or three times while I was still in diapers. So went from Melbourne to Gainesville. He got his master’s there, I think, either right after he graduated or maybe even right before he was he graduated. He was recruited in the Law and Child Administration to come up to Tallahassee and join. I don’t think it was DER was his first job. I think he he was at a predecessor agency, but he was there right near the very beginning of the establishment of DER with some of those other old timers you’ve heard about Jay Landers and that he worked for Jay Landers. Okay. And so that brought us all up to Tallahassee. So I was still very young boy and up here in Tallahassee. He had the state job. My mom was going to FSU trying to get a get a degree in nursing. That’s kind of I think when the wheels fell off and our little family. Not that those types of things are fortuitous necessarily, but it does bring your stepfather Mac into the story. Sounds like an interesting guy. I know your dad. I do not know Mac, but I think he’s part of why you spent a lot of time moving around and also your attachment to the Navy, right? Yeah, that’s right. So he is very different from my father. He had been a corpsman in Vietnam deployed with the Marines. He was definitely his big guy, tough guy, wore a lot of that experience on his sleeve. He was a Navy guy for sure. So he came back from there and went to FSU on the GI Bill. His family is from the Panhandle. So I think he just FSU was a natural place to go. He was also in the nursing program. So yes, he was a Navy nurse. But I think if you were to try to imagine what that’s like, he was more his personality was a lot closer to the to the door gunner in full metal jacket than to like Gaylord Fokker. All right. That’s a picture. Yeah. Yeah. So a little closer to the door gunner. They both were in the same nursing school.
Class.(…) And so they knew each other only because they were going to school together, taking classes together. But they were not together until after my my mom and dad had separated and divorced and a couple years later. And they were getting close to graduation. And I think that I made a connection. And it wasn’t long after that that we all got shipped off to San Diego, which was his first duty station after graduating became an officer. And they got married out in San Diego. And I went with them.(…) Well, let’s let’s try to contextualize your life in the middle of that now, because I mean, all that’s like, I love family dramas and and how how where people come from. And it informs how their their minds work a lot. But I want to focus on you a little bit in the midst of that. What were you like as a kid? What activities did you enjoy? I remember not having a lot of close friends. We moved a lot. You know, I was in San Diego as a six or seven or eight year old. We went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, nine, ten, eleven, went to Pensacola, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and went out to Houston, Texas for the rest of high school. And so I never really stayed in one place long enough to have very close friends. I’d meet some people in school or neighbors or whatever. And I end up having some friends. But I think because maybe because of all of the moving around or just my personality, I was kind of a bookish type. Right. I like to read books. I like I had an Atari 2600 and a Commodore 64 and an Intellivision and a Betamax. So like I was in the like that’s the that’s your house was the place to be. Oh, in the 80s, we had all the all the latest tech. So but I played a lot of games. I read a lot of books and I don’t think you should cut this out. But I played Dungeons and Dragons. I mean, I was definitely a nerd. Yeah, I think it’s cool. But the academics, I think, was a huge part of how you ended up at Naval Academy. Right. I mean, they don’t let people like me in the Naval Academy.
Yeah, I didn’t get a Dungeons and Dragons scholarship. No, I also didn’t put that on my application, though. I think that might have been a negative with my dad and my stepdad in the in the Navy and mom always working as a nurse. I was a latchkey kid and I don’t remember a lot of vacations. So yeah, schooling was was always relatively easy for me. I think I probably in a lot of places like my teachers more than I liked most of the kids I was going to school with. I wasn’t terribly outdoorsy. I did play soccer growing up and I was good enough to be kind of a bench warmer on the varsity team and in high school. And I think that helped round me out just enough to maybe be socially acceptable at some point later in high school. And that helped that helped with my application Academy.(…) Did you already know before you went to the Academy what you want to study in college?(…) The path that brought me there, obviously I was experienced or had some exposure to the Navy through my stepdad, of course, but it was really the summer of eighty six when Top Gun came out that I that I got the bug. Right. I just knew I wanted to be a pilot in the Navy and I wanted to have I wanted to be an engineer and and I wanted to relive that movie. Right. I mean, it was just it was a childhood fantasy for a 15 year old at that at that point in your life. I got a chance to go to summer camp for nerds basically at the at the Naval Academy the next year. And that just sealed the deal for me. I got to see the campus and it was a great experience. And but yeah, so I came home that next year going back to high school and immediately applied. I was appointed in eighty eight and then graduated from high school in eighty nine. Yeah. You mentioned the pilot thing and I think I’m not sure any 15 year old or or in that age range that saw Top Gun when we were kids had any other idea and they wanted to be a fighter pilot for the Navy. Your eyes had other ideas in that sense, right? Maybe genetically or maybe just because of all of the studying. But my eyes went bad. I think my sophomore year and not terrible, not not like disqualified from active duty kind of bad, but disqualified from pilot capability. You had to have perfect vision back then and you couldn’t get them your eyes surgically corrected back then. So yeah, I dropped out of the candidacy for for aviation. I think sophomore year. Not that you had to declare that early, but that was just my that was my calling back then is that’s what I wanted to do. And yeah, that changed when my site failed. That’s how I understood the policy to be used that you had a perfect eyesight and it can be corrected. Is that different? Yeah, I think it is. I don’t know when it changed exactly. But I do remember hearing later with a lot of disappointment, of course, that look at these lame kids now they can go in with crappy eyesight and get cut on and they’re they’re fine. They can become Africa. So yeah, it’s a little bit of if you can tell that yeah, there’s a little sour milk there. Definitely.(…) So you can’t be a pilot. So naturally, you choose the job that’s the exact opposite of flying around the air and that’s hanging around underwater. So I was I was a little disappointed. And when I learned from the docks that I couldn’t fly and of course, I knew the Navy had ships and that was the natural backup plan for 75 80% of the kids they’re going on ships and or submarines or something like that. I just didn’t feel like something that it was an exciting to me. And so I was looking around for other things to do and other opportunities. And there was a chance to compete for a spot to go to dive school as a midshipman, you know, as a student at the Academy. So I went the summer between my junior and senior year, I got a spot to go to Panama City Beach, Florida and go to to Navy dive school and it was it was a just a very, very cool experience. It was tough. It was a lot of fun to and I just really liked it. I liked the culture. They never made any top gun movies out of it, you know, about it but but it was a lot of fun. The culture was great. And I just liked the guys and the missions and it called to me from there. So that was what I pursued from that from that point on and a year later when I graduated I got a spot to go to to go back to dive school and become a dive officer. I want to take just a moment to talk about my friends at res. 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Cleansing water sheltering wildlife buffering storms and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. Join res on their mission to restore and uplift Florida’s ecosystems. Visit www.res.us to learn more about res and their commitment to creating a resilient future for Florida. Alright, let’s get back to the conversation.(…) And talk a little bit about your jobs your duties in the Navy you were in EOD right that’s an interesting choice of jobs there. Talk about that a little bit. Yeah, I didn’t tell my mom that that’s what I selected for for maybe years later till it’s too late for her to intervene. So when the in the dive community in the Navy, you can you can choose to go on to additional training and learn how to diffuse military ordinance and going from kind of what you call salvage diving or traditional ships husbandry diving into into explosive ordinance disposal and again, I think it just the challenge and the, you know, being young and believing you’re immortal.(…) It just seemed exciting and I signed up for it and got a spot and went to that training and that led to all kinds of just, you know, fantastic adventures and stories and the training was was great, the opportunity to legally set off explosives, you know, for a job, I mean, just never seem real, most of the that experience, I had to pinch myself because it just it just felt like it’s too much fun to be deserving of that. I got to spend a lot of time overseas. I served in Europe, mainly in that in those in those jobs and got to go into Bosnia and clear land mines and pick up unexploded ordinance and, you know, got to do a lot of diving get to parachute. I mean, it just it was just it was awesome. Yeah, it has to be like super rewarding. Your mom does know that that’s what you do. Yeah, sorry, Mom. I withheld that from you. I survived it. So she doesn’t care anymore. So raise the question.(…) Why leave the Navy? And I think I know the answer. I think one point you said that you left for a girl. Did I get that right? I left for reasons.(…) The the next job that the Navy told me I was going to have was a what I considered a desk job in a in a pretty bleak part of the world in the Middle East. And this was in 2000. And I just thought, well, that’s the last place I want to spend the next three years of my life. Now,(…) you know, not knowing that the next year would become the epicenter of all kinds of activity. But but at that time, that just did not appeal to me. I also I served with a lot of guys who were married, some of whom had children. And I don’t remember a lot of very happy families. Yeah, you know, they and I, you know, and I grew up in a similar lifestyle. My dad didn’t deploy as much as as we were deploying, but moving around all the time and spending time from home. You know, they were very happy. Happy marriages and happy families. And I thought I knew I wanted to have a family. I, you know, I did meet my my future wife back then. And not that I necessarily knew. I mean, she would call me on this if I said, oh, I knew I was going to marry her. I knew that I wanted to have a family one day. And I knew that that that was not going to be pretty if I stayed in the Navy and in the Navy just it wasn’t exciting. Like the next thing for me wasn’t exciting. And I hate the way that sounds, as I say, because it almost sounds like I’m being selfish. Oh, it’s not fun anymore, Jeff. So okay, do something. You know, anyway, I, I also really wanted to become what I call a real engineer. I got an engineering degree from the Academy. But you know, when you’re in the Navy, you’re not, you know, with with few exceptions, you’re not using your degree. I mean, they’re, they’re, you know, English majors that fly airplanes and engineers that just fool around with the fact that they’re not going to be able to do that. I mean, it still looks like it’s an machinesative melody. I mean, so I, I spent my first kicked under like, oh, I you, people don’t even know me. They’re trying to be more that my science engineer it’s that just fool around with explosives and play. I saw myself as an engineer, I wanted to become one and I wanted to go home to Florida.
But I think the that last one finally got my mom is where I’ll be stuck in in Hillsborough County She’s like, I don’t want to I just don’t want to move anymore And he loved it. I you know the dollar of the world. He said, you know, maybe I like yourself, but it gets tough I mean after after a while So you wind up back in in Florida and you want to do some real engineering was family The reason why you chose to come to Florida for sure. I mean I was born in Florida You know, I can’t say I was raised in Florida like in a traditional sense But my dad had always been in Tallahassee and you know, we didn’t really talk about this much But one of the things that I that I remember very fondly growing up is in the summer times I would always look forward to the chance to go and my dad would get me for a month or six weeks in the summer and And so I would fly from wherever we were living at the time back to Tallahassee And so if there’s any place that really felt like home growing up It was Tallahassee when I left the Navy edit and moved back to Tallahassee But I kind of knew I wanted to be in Florida. My my dad was still in Tallahassee He he married Cindy when I went off to college And so he was there with with Cindy’s daughters Jamie and Tracy. They were all in Tallahassee My mom and stepdad settled in Tampa where I had a brother who was still in high school at the time Uncles and aunts and so I just have a lot of family in Florida and it it felt like the place to go so yeah, when I got out of the Navy, I went back home and Stayed in Tampa for like a week before I just had to get out of there so I had done my resume already and sent it out everywhere and I just got a did a road trip and met with a bunch of engineering firms and I think I picked my firm and Agreed to a you know a start date in about a week and I think I was working like the next week Yeah,(…) and I guess I don’t want to gloss over too much of that because I mean it’s the reason why you came back was to to to do engineering but But I want to talk about your transition from being a working engineer to the that world of policy because your father(…) Famously involved in environmental policy in Florida for many decades. When did you start feeling?
That need to edge in that direction. It wasn’t for many years later I was doing engineering for for company called isominger and stubs engineering in Palm Beach County You’re very niche a small engineering firm is a great fit for me I don’t think I would have done well going to a big production engineering company because I was a brand new engineer at 30 years Old right? I would have been in the cubbyholes or cubicles with with 22 year olds and and I don’t know that that would have gone Well, but but Charlie isominger. He was my mentor my first job my first boss out of out of the Navy and(…) And he was great. He just threw me right into into project management and and and helped me become a real engineer He was not I shouldn’t say it’s not fair to say he wasn’t a policy guy But I think he was focused on serving the client in engineering But he did encourage me to get involved in professional associations And so I joined the Florida engineering society very early and(…) To my in my career and and then I volunteered on one of the committees there’s a policy committees at Florida engineering society and one of them was an environmental committee called CEQ conservation and environmental quality committee and I and and and so Here’s kind of the the part of the connections that begin to happen. So my dad was a lobbyist at that time. He had left DER left it was(…) doing lobbying for the chamber and for lots of other folks including Florida engineering society and He served the conservation environmental quality committee as a policy and advisor and lobbyist when I joined that committee I got to see my dad as a as a lobbyist and I begin to really understand for the very first time What it meant what policy meant and and I begin to slowly Understand the benefit maybe in client service Knowing what maybe changes are happening at DEP or things like that And I you know I would pick those up at those at those committees and then what it meant When I would see him over Thanksgiving or Christmas is now I could have a conversation with him and it wasn’t just complete Chinese arithmetic coming out of his mouth. I could start to understand what he did started to make more sense Still wasn’t terribly interesting to me though at the time I didn’t want to become a lobbyist or become a policy guy What I wanted to be is a regular engineer and have a family It wasn’t long after I moved to Palm Beach County that the January came, you know came home Our family was from South Florida. We we reconnected down there and started a family down there How did you end up in? Tallahassee eventually was it when you ended up at DP or was it before? No, it was actually before then(…) This would have been 2007 or 8 maybe a year earlier than that but right around then we had a client in North, Florida We were spending some time up in North Florida working on that project was actually showpoint Marina Not too far from here And I think we had had one kid Maybe just had our second kid and we had decided that she went to FSU and and you know I’ve got lots of family in Tallahassee We both decided it seems like at the same time that hey Wouldn’t it be better to raise a family up in Tallahassee than down here in Palm Beach County? No offense to the Palm Beach County folks, but we like the small town feel better and yeah My Charlie Aseminger supported the move and we opened up a small Tallahassee office a one-man Tallahassee office And I was working up here What kind of projects were you working on when you when you had your office up here in Tallahassee? Well show show point Marina was was a big project that occupied a lot of my time I spent my time between design and permitting and and that that project needed a lot of both But I was still working on projects that I’d started in South Florida And I picked up a little bit of work here and there up here But that was if you remember back in that time frame That was when the real estate economy was really starting to slide into the ditch and there weren’t a ton of Development projects up here and so did it you know just kept chipping away at at the work And so at some point you end up at DEP. I spent a little time there We were there at the same time with Herschel Vineyard who recruited you to do that How did that happen? Was it him or was it someone else? Yeah, that’s a that’s a great story You remember that committee I mentioned earlier that conservation committee at FES So we had an annual meeting We Florida Engineering Society had an annual meeting of that committee up here in Tallahassee And people that served on that committee around the state would drive up and and we did that So we could have a face-to-face with with some of the leadership of DEP And so this was the the CEQ meeting in early 2011 I think it would would have been February Herschel Vineyard had been appointed maybe a week earlier And I don’t know if you remember but the transition team I think accepted Most of the resignation letters from most of the senior leadership at DEP So he he basically inherited an agency with not a lot of of the leadership positions filled And so he he came to the committee meeting and kind of introduced himself and described his vision For the agency and made an appeal to those of us who may be interested in in serving May have been because he was talking a bunch of engineers, but he also said I’m looking for some Engineers I want to you know want to do some good work and describe that vision and it called to me So after the meeting was over I I picked up the phone and called my boss and told him what I had Heard and told him that I really liked what I heard I kind of described it and I said hey Would you support me throwing my name in the hat just to you know I might get an interview I might get to meet the guy no chance he’s going to hire me I think I was 39 and had no gray hair And I was sure that he would want a gray haired wiser person than me maybe with with a more even Temperament than me I don’t know I didn’t know what he was looking for but I threw my name in the Hat and got an interview and that’s how I actually met him was it awkward I was there a little bit Later I think it was a year after he started at at DEP was it awkward going into a place where You’re kind of playing that whole turned over apple cart rebuild it back into something that Functioned differently I never thought about it that way Herschel and I have shared lots of those Memories of those early days at DEP and the way the way I think I would characterize it I think The way he would characterize it too I think we both felt like I don’t know why wide-eyed or Kind of deer in the headlights we didn’t know what the rules were neither of us had spent any time in State government I think I think when I interviewed that was my first time in the douglas building I mean I didn’t know anything about DEP and suddenly I’ve got that job and I think Secretary Vineyard kind of felt the same way like wow this okay so this is the restroom you know how does This work you know what what is my day supposed to be over here so I think we I think we we had an Understanding I know he he spent some time with the newly elected governor Scott about his vision Herschel had a vision for what he wanted at the agency in it again that was a vision that Resonated with me he expected us to find ways to reduce unnecessary burdens not not enforcing Environmental laws but finding ways to enforce them more efficiently so that those those burdens could Be lowered focusing more on you know the outcome than the process and those were you know as an engineer All of that stuff I just I ate that up all right let’s pause for a moment to talk about my friends at sea and shoreline as we in florida wonder what the future holds when we face the storm season Ahead sea and shoreline is working to protect our coastline communities against severe storms By installing a variety of green and gray infrastructure solutions to make our cities And counties more resilient these solutions include seagrass restoration mangroves oyster reefs riprap oyster breakwaters and something called a WOD which stands for wave attenuation device By installing their patented WODS sea and shoreline can help protect our communities against sea level rise And storm surges by diffusing wave energy stopping shoreline erosion and even rebuilding shorelines Through sand accretion to learn more about how sea and shoreline can protect your community Visit sea and shoreline.com all right let’s get back to the conversation(…) And I guess maybe that’s why I perhaps attribute that that potential awkwardness is neither one of you were government folks or a lot of those government people that have been around for a bit before then and so you walk in it’s like you have an idea what you want to do is like but you don’t know how to do it I think interestingly I mean that became the subject of depending on the week it seemed like the subject of some controversy for you for Herschel what was your approach because I don’t think it was like you were being intentionally controversial like hey we’re going to do this thing that’s going to make someone upset on a on a given moment what was your mindset going into some of the changes that you specifically were working on at the department well you’re right and your characterization of kind of how we were I think covered sometimes by the media but but our our attitude my attitude I’ll speak for myself I was focused on how to get to answers faster you know yes or no I felt like you shouldn’t have to you know get into an unending back and forth with the agency trying to get to a permit decision so you know I also learned through that process with the difference between something that I could just say by decree and it could happen and then and then things that the lawyers would say oh no that that would take rulemaking so you can’t do that so anyway I did I did stumble around a lot in in that world but one of the things that I learned that I could control I tried to pull on those levers and one of the one of the very earliest ones and I think it may still be policy today is on the request for additional information I said all of the the permit processors you get one and then your second one needs to be signed off by your supervisor and you know by the time we get to the third one I’m asking a division director to sign off on it and and I’m the only one that can improve a fourth RAI and I there were no four RAIs that never happened so I think that sent the clear message that I wanted you know I wanted us to get to to answers faster I wasn’t putting my finger on the scale I never asked anybody to you know say yes more often I just wanted to get them to get to answers another thing that we did is we really looked hard at where we were spending our time and energy and one of one of the areas that I felt like we were really spending our wheels is pursuing what I would just call paperwork violations you know folks that had filled out their annual report incorrectly and we would launch the the salvo at them and send lawyer letters and and drag them through the knot hole and charge them 500 dollars and I thought that that didn’t it just didn’t sit right with me there wasn’t any environmental impact associated with a paperwork violation but we were spending the majority of our time maybe 80 of our enforcement effort was on those types of activities so I said let’s get out in the field and communicate with the folks that we regulate we called it compliance assistance and and that was one of those things that I think became controversial I was convinced I continue to be convinced that that’s a better way to regulate if folks that have questions feel like if they call the regulatory agency and it may result in a bad letter from a lawyer you might not call anymore so you just don’t felt like a cops and robbers type of type of relationship but when we got out in the field kind of put our left our enforcement or inspector hat in the car and just started working with people we found that there was just a lot of confusion and a lot of of lack of knowledge about what was expected of them by us and in that interaction I think we we improved our relationships with the folks that we regulated and and I and and that was one of those things that for some reason you know was controversial the fact that we had less penalties or less fines collected or the the feeling that if you go out in the field and meet with a mom and pop and help them understand what the paperwork requirements were that that’s somehow being too cozy with the regulated I never understood why that was controversial but that was controversial yeah I think it was and and some of that carried over to our work at the northwest water management district I think maybe incorrectly people were correlating the number of fines and maybe those decreasing with a correlative decrease in compliance with the rule of law and I don’t think that was the case I know it wasn’t the case at northwest florida no but I don’t think it was a case of dpi no definitely not and and I really was bothered by that characterization of our mission as if our job was to penalize people and and I think I even was allowed once to write an op-ed I think it was my one and only op-ed when I was when I was a dv but I I remember writing an article about equating that to and the you know I’ve never been a teacher but in the in the profession of education you certainly wouldn’t reward teachers on how many f’s you hand out right it’s you’re going to measure your performance as a teacher by how successful your students were and and I felt like that a regulated community that had a close working relationship with the regulator that worked together on solving issues that worked together to avoid violations that would that would create better outcomes for the environment and I and I think that that that bears out and even as I was leaving we started to see some changing in the discussion at epa for example they they began a compliance assistance program not not long after I left and I was happy to see that I think it is a better way to work with the regulator and the regulated other they’re just so few I mean this is not the 1970s with the rivers on fire and people intentionally piping their wastewater out into the environment this is a day and age where the vast vast majority of people and companies want to do everything they can to maintain compliance but we have a very complicated set of environmental regulations and not everybody has a full environmental staff or can avoid or can can afford a high-priced environmental attorney or consultant to help them and and in those cases they sometimes just make mistakes because they don’t know yeah and when did you leave the department I forget which which year it was I think I was already gone by then almost certainly it was 2014 so I joined right before the session in 2011 so it would have been March of 2011 and I left in June of 2014 was that how it was always going to go that you want to go in and get a get a taste for it have a you know maybe have a little fun possibly and then move on or was your expectation I’m gonna do this for for a long time if I enjoy it I didn’t really have a set expectation on how long I would stay I mean I told secretary vineyard you you can count on me for at least two years I’m not going to just come in and leave in six months I think I had convinced my family and myself that I could gut it out for at least four years I didn’t quite make four years but it was definitely hard I mean we as much fun as we had it was constant activity a lot of travel a lot of time away from the house and the family and at that time I think my kids when I when I left the ep I think my kids were five no seven five and three so we’re very they were all very young and my wife was at home with them and I was just away a lot it was it was hard on the family there there was another component to my decision as well you know the governor was coming up for reelection I think secretary vineyard I’m not sure that anybody in the public knew at the time but I think he’d pretty much let everybody know he was done at the end of the term so there wasn’t much time left for his term either my dad had been telling me for a year or so that he he was really ready to retire and I wanted an opportunity to work with him I never worked with him I mean I’ve worked around him I’ve been I’ve seen him work but I as a kid I got to see him in the summers but I never really had a time where I could spend a lot of time with him professionally and and I wanted to have that experience before he retired and so you know he and I talked at some point after session and and we just decided this was a good time did you enjoy that I really did I think I had about a year before he hung up his spurs and and really wrapped everything up his partner Doug Mann was still he worked for several years after that they were fantastic mentors I I’d never intended to become a lobbyist I’m not sure that I could even say I ever really became a lobbyist and certainly not in the way that my dad or Doug Mann were right but it was very cool to have a chance to work at little john man and associates that have been around for at that time maybe 30 years and and learned that trade from them before before he left uh and then you know it was just it was a great experience well lobbying or not you’re easily the most prolific person I can think of when it comes to the number of businesses side hustles full hustles I don’t even know what you call them that you’ve gotten yourself involved in I ran through some of them I think most of them in the intro did I miss any other secret businesses you own or or jobs that you have not that I’m willing to disclose in this format there you go no that was everything so individually you know I think they’re all interesting um some of the things that you’re working on I think are really cool is there a theme to the the collection of them or is it kind of like that Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage thing you don’t know how to say no to a job I have I’m really blessed with the opportunity to do things that I want to do and that I like to do and I rarely work long on things that I don’t enjoy and and I and I realize it’s a luxury I mean I try even when I’m tired or I feel like I’ve got too much on my plate I I try to remember I reflect that a I chose this you know this is my fault there’s nobody else who said yes but but these are things that I am passionate about and I do truly enjoy and it helps me stay energized which is why I think I am doing as much as I’m doing is I’m having a lot of fun I’m working with people that I really respect and I really enjoy working with and I really enjoy the issues and so I’m there isn’t a thing I’m working on right now that I could happily say bye to so I so I don’t I just I just work for you just add on to it well I mean let’s I mean let’s run through at least some if not I want to at least a little bit on all of them because I think they’re all worth talking about first what’s the National Stormwater Trust and what makes it special I really love this company so National Stormwater Trust as the name implies it it’s a stormwater focus company I spent a lot of my time working on this issue I think a lot of people that would listen to this realize that stormwater is a hot topic in Florida and we we’ve recognized that and I think a lot of people in our industry recognize that we’re not going to be able to develop Florida the way we have the last 40 years and so we really do need new tools in the toolbox National Stormwater Trust brought a pretty cool new tool to the toolbox in Florida that we call smart ponds and so we we we got a smart pond technology approved by the water management districts and DEP and we’re starting to add that type of technology into stormwater facilities here in Florida I think our claim to fame where we really showed up on the map is when we approached DOT in 2019 and won a big contract to upgrade DOT’s existing ponds into smart ponds and people are still surprised when I tell them that we have that that opportunity so so now we lease ponds from DOT take those pond permits to the water management districts ask for the upgrade to a smart pond get all of that entitled in a permit and in doing so we are we’re also generating water quality credits that we have arranged a way to transfer those credits to third parties through it through an ERP and we were the first folks to figure out how to make that happen and I think it’s it’s a pretty cool new tool it gives us an opportunity to upgrade a big regional DOT pond and make it more efficient and generate regional water quality benefits and then and then transfer some of those to folks in the watershed and it’s been fun working on on that because it’s kind of groundbreaking and on the cutting edge of I think where we’re going and I’m happy to see that provision is built into the new generation of stormwater regulations and so that I think that’s a an endorsement in some way by by DEP that this is a this is a way that we can really cost effectively lower nutrient loading and when a watershed through through programs and projects like this it is but I think for me personally it’s the the next one that captures the imagination for me more and not just because I work with you a little bit on it and that’s on-site performance talk about that a little because it was one of the the the great white whales of springs and we had a huge number of springs in in north florida you know in northwest florida as well and dealing with septic tanks dealing with wastewater utilities in sparsely populated areas is a real challenge in terms of making it worth the cost talk about on-site little and how it’s kind of changing the way that people think about that I I do love what we’re doing at on-site and if if I could go back to my DEP experience for just a second one thing that I was certain I never wanted to get involved with when I was a DEP is anything to do with septic tanks I just I knew and this is a like you said a white whale really tough issues right you’re talking about folks that you know have a septic tank they’re legally entitled to it now we find out because we’ve allowed too many in a given area we’re creating problems and now we we as a government are asking them to come back and change and that that’s really tough and this company is a wastewater technology company that really is just marrying existing types of technologies in a new and unique way and bringing it to the marketplace in a in a really novel way and and I’ve enjoyed becoming a part of it so the short version of what it is and how it works and why it’s cool is the company has miniaturized a wastewater treatment plant into a form factor that can be used or sized for a single family home and and so this is not an advanced septic tank this is a miniaturized wastewater plant and it is it is controlled in in real time remotely through a connection the internet in a SCADA system by a licensed operator just like a large wastewater plant when we piloted the technology with DEP we were talking with them about the opportunity to permit a system of these individual units in the hundreds or thousands potentially by virtue of their network connectivity and their central control and their and in a common ownership arrangement you know could you DEP permit or issue a permit to a city municipal utility and under that permit allow them to retrofit hundreds or thousands of septic tanks under a single permit and DEP love the idea because I think they recognize this this puts a professional operator in charge of that of the compliance of that unit in a in a wastewater permit that gives DEP a lot of enforceability to ensure that the the effluent limits are met and all the conditions are met and they were very comfortable issuing permits to wastewater operators you know to municipal wastewater utilities they were struggling with how to deal with you know homeowner owned equipment like septic tanks so so the the model just fit and we’ve enjoyed some success getting that model out in the field places like the city of Apopka or Lake County it’s been a lot of fun. One of my own misconceptions going in learning more about what you were up to is the comparison to the typical modern but we call it you know the advanced on-site septic unit and it sounds for someone like myself who is going into it as layman doesn’t understand the distinction between the two but there’s a huge difference and I think you talk a little bit about that in terms of there’s a centralized brain are there any other distinctions and the treatment itself is also better right? I don’t think it would be fair to all of the equipment technology companies the technology companies in the space to say that we are head and shoulders higher performing. I think there are some units out there that have done very well in testing comparing test numbers to our results I think there are some that are that are pretty close but I think the main difference is we are continuously monitoring and operating the equipment and every month sampling the effluent and taking the the grab samples to a lab and having it tested by the lab and turning those lab results to dp so it just it has to do with how much testing we’re doing and how much verification of that performance. It’s one thing to go through a testing program achieve high marks in a controlled environment and then go deploy those units out in the field not knowing how the homeowners are going to actually use them and what we learned as we’ve deployed units in the city of Apopka homeowners are amazingly varied.(…) How much wastewater they generate even you know from home to home certainly and even at the same home from from week to week or month to month and and being able to have a computer on board that’s seeing all of that and making those changes in real time and then having a real human professional operator that oversees it we’re making changes to the to the plant recipe and process all the time. Okay job number three is your senior advisor at the abs and reese law firm with a mutual friend of ours and former secretary your former boss and mine Herschel Vineyard. How did the two of you get hooked up? That’s also a little a little bit of a story well first I greatly respect Herschel Vineyard and I’ve always enjoyed every opportunity to work with him for him. My job number three before I joined Adams and Reese was I was still at little John Mann and associates only there was no Doug Mann anymore and there were no associates it was it was just me and I haven’t ever been a 100% full-time lobbyist but I had a handful of clients there including the Florida Engineering Society and the Florida Ports Council those are fantastic clients and I want to continue to help them but I was a solo practitioner in a lobbying firm of one and also trying to do other things too and administrative and kind of you know paperwork burden associated with owning a lobbying company is it’s not it’s not insignificant so when Herschel joined Adams and Reese he let me know that they could find a home for me over there even with my kind of unusual work situation(…) they were not afraid of me having you know other things going on at that firm and and that was really different I’d been approached by a couple of other firms over the years about maybe joining them or bringing my book into another lobbying firm but there was never it wasn’t just that there wasn’t an appreciation for what I was doing there was really a kind of an intolerance for this idea that I can do all these other things on the side but but at Adams and Reese they’ve got a very entrepreneurial mindset and I think the head of the government relations practice group at the time happened to be a professional engineer that owned an engineering firm as well as working at Adams and Reese and that really appealed to me and of course working for Herschel appealed to me so yeah I closed the books on Little John Mann and essentially just moved everything over to Adams and Reese and I’m doing the same thing there as I was at Little John Mann. Okay now now I’m gonna move on to job number four where you decided to dive straight into the multimedia news business by buying the Florida Specifier pretty well known it’s been around for I think like four decades maybe even more it’s a you know an industry paper for environmental professionals here in Florida and now you’re trying to work with a a crack young team of folks to work with you to expand its reach expanded utility as well what on earth were you thinking when you said let’s do this? The way you described that or asked that question I’m not sure yeah I’m not sure I really did fully think about it. I certainly didn’t need more on my plate but I will confess that Ryan Matthews and I who are both partnered on at Florida Environmental Network where we produced the summer school with that company you know we’ve been thinking over the years over the last few years about how you know is there anything else we can do to grow the summer school and the answer as long as we remain in Marco Island is kind of no you know we’re really kind of busting at the seams down there there there’s no way that I’m you know want to continue to grow that thing to the point where we’d have to move it to Orlando or something like that so you know how do you how do you do more fun stuff like that and you know I didn’t want to do a second class in Marco that didn’t make any sense but we we were trying to you know we were brainstorming and this we learned from the the then current publisher of the specifier that there was an opportunity to to get involved in that paper talked to Ryan and we thought sure we could we could maybe maybe there’s some synergy here with the types of issues that we talk about at Marco and the people that were that are involved in communicating those issues and topics through panels and panelists and speakers and and get them involved in you know providing content and essentially doing kind of what we’re doing in Marco but have that content delivered every other month to your mailbox and that was kind of the kernel of the idea still not sure it’s still not sure sure yeah I think it reinvented itself every few days or so right but it seems like kind of how I’ve seen it in you know my the small part that I play which by the way listeners if you’re not enjoying the sound of my voice you’re going to be in real trouble because in addition to taking over the the print edition the editorial board of the paper which I’m a part of with you and Ryan it’s going to do another podcast but it’s going to be more direct issue related news related and and so I think the maybe the idea is as we add things to it that you want to see as you said before you can only have environmental permitting summer school once a year or it’s too much but can you do these other bits where you kind of have summer school all year round where people have these things that they can turn to for Florida professionals to know about what’s going on and what people are up to yeah I think that’s exactly right Brad I’m I’m very excited about what we could the potential to provide content like this have you really because you’re you’re the the one with the talent and the and the great voice for this format you’re you if you can get really compelling content by talking to people and and through conversation you know whether it’s one-on-one or in groups like we have down at Marco I think people really appreciate the when you’re when you’re done with all the powerpoint presentations and you’re just having a conversation yeah right you’ve got experts maybe they come from different different parts of our industry and they all have their expertise they all have an opinion and through those conversations I think we we can really unpack some some issues and and I think just think that’s very valuable I think that’s one of the reasons people like to go down to Marco is they want to have that time to meet with people and and it’s not just the networking I think it’s really just that unscripted those unstructured conversations in the hallway and things that happen after again after the presentations are over and you’re just in a discussion mode with the panel and if we can create place where people can go online and get that kind of content we can push that kind of content out to people I think I think I think people would appreciate that I know I would yeah I agree let’s move to the the kind of closing out you and I you know spend a fair amount of time I think it’s important though and I think that it’s your fault because you have like 7500 jobs but let’s get to that final race to the end what professional accomplishment are you most proud of so far it definitely has to be my time at DEP I thoroughly enjoyed my job as a consulting engineer at the time I was in it I had no idea that kind of my horizon was limited by where by where I was and when I went to DEP just the opportunity to work the issues I was working and meet the people that I had a chance to meet there and then work with those kind of high quality people there and and the people we got to to work with in that role there’s just no substitution for that kind of experience there would be no other way to go from where I was 10 years ago to where I am now without that job and again the the the issues and the people and the the kind of the mind expanding experience that that was it’s hard to imagine a better place in my career than that and I looking back I mean it was definitely hard but it was also it was hard work but it was a lot of fun I like the positive outlook there and so I focus in on that for for a second for the next question which is of that time there as fruitful as it was was there was there something that you left on the table that you wished you’d either done differently while you were there and had the choice or that if you’d been given a little bit more time that you would have done a little differently oh that’s a hard one I I think that jobs like that at least the way the way I experienced it it felt like we were always dealing with issues coming from every direction and and it almost felt a little bit like crisis management all the time as opposed to being able to set the team you want create a very high functioning cohesive team we were we were trying to do that in the face of a lot of just kind of constant distraction I learned a lot about leadership at that job I mean I had spent some time in the navy but I never had an opportunity in any prior role to to work with and serve and also supervise that many people and I I think back to the those deer in the headlights moments when I felt overwhelmed and I had a I had a mentor at DEP I haven’t mentioned his name yet I want to make sure I do Mike Halpin I don’t know if you remember Mike I do he was such a great man and just a wonderful resource really a fantastic and intuitive leader and he he was the difference between me kind of struggling that whole time and not having any fun and not getting nearly as much done as I wanted to and and getting I think we got a lot done could we have done more absolutely maybe I put a should have put Mike in my spot and I could have I could have done something different you know I wanted to get the 404 assumption program done while we were there I don’t think we had an EPA that had any interest in that but we took a run at that I mean there were a few things that I I certainly might have done differently knowing kind of how things went but no I don’t really have any regrets and and I don’t I don’t think I I don’t think I had any left in me by the time I left so I’m gonna say no that’s a fair answer okay it’s a long way of saying that but it’s fair answer are you optimistic about the future of the environment in Florida I am no I am I I know that humans are very innovative and as long as you don’t prevent them from thinking creatively and working the problem I think we can do a lot of great things and I and I think this is a what Florida has it’s really great I mean I know we have environmental issues here but we also have a very enabling environment for problem solving and I think we’re going to solve a lot of our a lot of our own problems I mean if humans can solve the great horse manure crisis of 1893 I think we can we can manage to find a way to clean up our water(…) is there anything that keeps you up at night about the environment that you don’t know I mean engineers are great at solving problems is there something out there that you’re I don’t know how we’re gonna do that yeah I’m afraid about the way we talk to each other nowadays I’m afraid of that in the public discourse we are not being effective I don’t like inefficient or ineffective policies that are being driven by either ideology or being driven by a public perception rather than than reality right I so I do hope that we can find ways to communicate with each other more effectively I don’t think you know hot topics in the media are the best way to do problem solving I think we have to roll our sleeves up if we’re going to actually solve problems we have to actually talk to each other in a in a meaningful and productive way and I think that’s that’s hard what advice would you give to a young person who’s thinking about entering or has just entered the environmental field that’s another good one never stop learning I think you should get out on the skinny part of the limb and try new things I don’t again I think we’ve got to innovate our way through a lot of the issues we have and I think that humans are really good at that and and you should encourage young people in your organizations wherever you are to to think outside of the box maybe talk to people that you disagree with but really talk to them don’t just disagree with them if people are interested in learning more about how you can help them which of your three odd thousand emails is the best one for folks to reach I’ll put it I’ll put you know all your info on the episode notes but which one do you prefer probably Adams and Reese is the easiest place to get to me uh Jeff dot little john at at arlaw.com there you have it and I’ll put it out there for you folks as well Jeff little john thanks so much for coming on the show I’ve enjoyed it Brett thank you well that’s it for this episode thanks for listening to Water for Fighting this podcast has been brought to you by Res and Cn Shoreline don’t forget to check the episode notes to visit their websites and learn more about how they can help you if you’re enjoying the show please be sure to subscribe on whatever platform you use and don’t forget to leave a five star rating and review you can follow the show on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, probably even twitter at FL WaterPod and you can reach me directly at flwaterpod at gmail.com with your comments and suggestions for who and or what you’d like to know more about production of this podcast is by Lonely Fox Studios thanks to Carl Sworn for making the best of what he had to work with and to Dave Barfield for the amazing graphics and technical assistance a very special thank you goes out to Bow Spring from the Bow Spring Band for giving permission to use his music for the podcast the song is called “Doing Work for Free” and you should check out the band live or wherever great music is sold join me next time for another amazing conversation with someone who has helped shape water and environmental policy in the Sunshine State until then keep your whiskey close and water closer