USF researchers committed misdemeanor by driving on beach

USF geosciences professor Ping Wang  and his research team were seen driving a pick-up truck on the beach in Indian Shores on January 12th. When Wang was asked to produce the required Florida Department of Protection (FDEP) permit for their activity, neither Wang nor any other member of his team were able to produce such a permit.

A further Florida public records request made to USF revealed that Wang and his beach survey team did not have the required permit. Or as USF put it, at this time, the University has been unable to locate the requested permit.”

Professor Ping Wang

Under Florida Statute 161.58, vehicular traffic is prohibited on beaches “except that which is necessary for cleanup, repair, or public safety.” A beach survey is not such an activity, and USF has not argued in their communications with The Guardian that its activities were lawful under FS 161.58.  A violation of the statute is a second degree misdemeanor.

Instead, in response to our inquiries USF said “the University will suspend any contract activity that requires vehicular traffic on the beach until we can look into the permitting matter further and review requirements.”

Wang’s work is funded by this “Cooperative Funding Agreement” between USF and Pinellas County. The agreement is silent about who is responsible for obtaining the required FDEP permit. Under Florida Statutes, the ultimate responsibility lies with the driver.

Pinellas County demonstrably knows that a permit is required for otherwise prohibited activities on the beach. The county obtained such a permit for this “employee appreciation day” event in 2018 in which county employees had a party on the beach that no private group would be allowed to have.

When we sent Dr. Wang written questions about his survey team’s lack of permit, USF’s “Communications and Marketing” Department responded instead. USF, like PSTA and many other entitites, thinks it’s possible for a public agency to “communicate” and perform “marketing” at the same time.

Neither Wang nor the Propaganda Communications and Marketing Department answered our questions about why Wang thought it was Pinellas County’s responsibility to obtain the FDEP permit. We asked several other questions, e.g. “who was the driver?” That’s important information, because the agreement with the county allows only Wang or a person named Mathieu Vallee to be the driver during their surveys.

USF’s Communications and Misdirection Marketing Department provided this statement, which they said “should be attributed to” Wang…who won’t talk to us directly:

“The USF Coastal Research Lab has been collecting beach profile data since 2006, in partnership with Pinellas County. Our data has been used in numerous ways to help keep County beaches healthy and safe, and to optimally maintain the nourished beaches. We provide quantitative data on the performance of the beach nourishment projects, and subsequently improve the design of maintenance re-nourishment of the beaches. This research also benefits the general public greatly as it informs others about the state of our beaches, such as where the beaches are eroding and are accreting, why a certain section is eroding, and the effects of storms. We believe continuing to collect this data is important work. However, as we shared with you previously, the University will suspend any contract activity that requires vehicular traffic on the beach until we can look into the permitting matter further and review requirements.”

Put another way, USF is saying that because their researchers collect “important” data and “help keep the beaches healthy and safe,” they didn’t look in to what the law requires of them.

Because what transpired is a crime, the Guardian will file a report with the Indian Shores Police Department. If they chose to take no action, then the door is open for any and all who claim to do “important work” to drive there.

Just as there are emotional support animals everywhere these days, might citizens one day find emotional support trucks on the beach? Perhaps the privilege of driving on the beach is only available to certain coastal elites whose “important work” means that they’re above the law.

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.