Epilogue: Derrill S. McAteer, a pioneering board chairman of Swiftmud

   December 28, 2015    

Derrill S. McAteer, one of the earliest and most influential board members of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, was a Republican and staunch believer in property rights but nevertheless fought for the right to regulate groundwater pumping.

Mr. McAteer, 83, who died early Monday of heart disease, also was an early advocate of the detailed mapping of floodplains to control flood-prone construction. And though he was the child of farmers, he used eminent domain to acquire crucial sections of the Green Swamp.

"He had strong ties to agriculture, and people would come to him with third or fourth-generation farms and say, 'Please don't condemn our farms,' or 'Please don't take away our pumping rights,' " said his son, Derrill L. McAteer, 38, of Tampa.

"That was one of the toughest things he had to do. He had to choose (the public interest) over their right to farm."

Jake Varn, the water management district's former general counsel, said Mr. McAteer should be remembered not only for helping to build the district, but also for a balanced approach that could serve as an example to current conservatives intent on dismantling regulation.

"These days, with Gov. Scott in charge, I don't think most people would have any idea what (Mr. McAteer) did to make this state a better place," Varn said.

Besides serving on the district board for 13 years, from 1967 to 1980, and as chairman for the last 11, Mr. McAteer worked for Lykes Bros. Inc. for nearly 40 years.

A graduate of Tampa's Hillsborough High School and the University of Florida, and a former Navy pilot, he moved to Brooksville in the early 1960s to run a Lykes feedlot operation.

His support of Claude Kirk, who in 1967 became Florida's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, helped get Mr. McAteer his appointment to the Swiftmud board.

The older Mr. McAteer, he said, who went on to run Lykes Development Corp. and spend much of his free time coaching youth baseball, owned and later lived on a ranch south of Brooksville.

He hunted and fished there, hosted father-and-son camp-outs and would sometimes take a moment to soak in its beauty.

"There were several times we'd be driving along, going to fix fences or whatever, and he would stop the pickup and roll down the windows," the younger McAteer said. "And I understood that meant silence."

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