EPC 50th anniversary celebration

County marks half-century of environmental stewardship

Amid surging growth, Environmental Protection Commission preserves, improves area's natural assets

The guardian of Hillsborough County's natural environment is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Established by the state Legislature in 1967, the Environmental Protection Commission was ahead of its time among Florida counties, championing measures that vastly improved water, air, and soil quality. While the county's population has nearly tripled in the last five decades, awareness of environmental matters and efforts to preserve nature have increased immeasurably.

The EPC has had four top leaders. The first and longest-serving, Roger Stewart, set a high bar for establishing environmental standards. His vision prevailed throughout the past half-century, and continues to inspire the agency as it moves forward.

The organization's perpetual mission: Bring environmental excellence to a changing world.

Before the EPC, environmental concerns largely were afterthoughts. Raw sewage poured into Tampa Bay in some places. At times, smokestack emissions turned crystal blue skies a murky gray. Garbage dumps were prevalent, and often unregulated.

Much has changed. "Now our bay is in one of the better conditions that it has ever been in, and our drinking water is good. We're just blessed, and EPC has been right at the center," says Jan Platt, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and namesake of the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, which manages more than 61,000 acres of sensitive wildlife habitat.

EPC helps out with beach erosion
Abbie O’Hern Weeks, an environmental scientist in EPC’s Wetlands Division, plants seagrass.

The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, sitting as the Environmental Protection Commission, sets environmental policy and oversees the agency.

Current and past EPC staffers, along with distinguished guests, gathered June 15 at the Robert Saunders Sr. Library to celebrate a half-century of environmental progress in Hillsborough County. Along with announcing inaugural members of the agency's Hall of Fame, they watched a video reviewing the history of the EPC.

Photo information: EPC staffers celebrate the agency's 50th anniversary in Hillsborough County