A New Beginning in Indian River County: Some Ideas to Act On

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
October 2006

All praise for the voter’s wisdom in the election and their ability to see through the subterfuge of highly orchestrated campaigns meant to confuse us voters. In spite of this, we will have two new first time commissioners in November, and we at Audubon look forward to working with them as well as our incumbent commissioners. As mentioned in last month’s Hoot, there are a number of important issues such as our water supply and transportation that need immediate attention. Over the last few years, we have made a mess of much of our growth. To preserve our paradise, we must change course, and we must change the way we do things in Indian River County.

In addition to transportation and water issues, we need to be concerned with our whole community: change how we amend our zoning, insure that we do not move the urban service area without a referendum, protect our lagoon, preserve our beach reefs, put our beach homes on the county sewer system, protect habitat for our wildlife (our scrub jays, gopher tortoise as well as some sea turtle populations are seriously declining), and expand and improve our parks, conservation areas, and recreation facilities.

Gopher Tortoise by Bob Montanaro

Some suggestions to correct the mistakes of the past.

1. Develop land use regulations and design standards to make our natural systems healthier. The correct quantity and quality of clean water and air are essential to be available to sustain our Lagoon and other natural systems. We need a sustainable water supply to meet the needs of our community in the future while addressing storm water storage and wastewater reuse. We must stop all dumping of storm water (which can be recycled) into the fragile Lagoon while we drill new wells into our precious Floridan Aquifer. Every scrub lot should have an environmental review and a countywide survey for scrub jays and gopher tortoises, and we should provide funding for banding or marking them. This information should be put on a Geographic Information System (GIS). We cannot depend on Federal or State agencies to protect our county’s wildlife.

2. Retain our rural lands and promote sustainable agriculture practices that restore our natural systems by providing local funding for innovative programs and creative research. Encourage innovative farming based on cutting edge research such as organic and sustainable farming and our own homegrown sanitary spinach, which we can trust, permanent agricultural conservation easements, agriculture coordinators, community-supported agriculture (CSA) and farmer’s markets, special agricultural zoning, community stewardship organizations, and compact rural developments. Deter annexation and sprawl by cities, but….

3. Encourage and support the efforts of our local leaders to provide vibrant city centers by requiring developments and urban renewals that incorporate energy efficiency, green space, conservation of natural resources, housing for various incomes, and a multi-modal transportation system that maximizes access and mobility that promotes economic prosperity, but does not degrade established neighborhoods. Bicycle paths and sidewalks must be encouraged so we can exercise to get somewhere. The public county buses could provide for transporting bicycles the length of our county, reducing our use of cars.

4. Provide exemplary, affordable, and accessible life-long learning, cultural, and healthcare opportunities for all citizens. Education at all ages is necessary but quality pre-kindergarten programs provide children with the greater opportunity for success in school. The “Research Coast” initiative requires better schools to attract top-notch workers in the biotech and knowledge industries (the kind of clean industries that are well suited to our county’s future). And, part of that pressing need is a K-16 initiative to address the gap in science education here. Basic health care services for the poor and other special populations with special emphasis on chronic diseases such as HIV/AIDS and TB are essential. If all of our citizens are strong and knowledgeable, our businesses will thrive and be creative.

5. Promote our citizens to invest in businesses that sustain our workforce and environment and provide us with economic diversity and overall prosperity. We need to enlist our many wealthy folks with business experience who could provide investment support and advice for start-up businesses that would offer jobs and economic sustainability in our community.

If you want to make these changes for the good of our County, then make your opinion known to your Commissioner. If you want to work directly on any of these issues, please let me know. In the meantime, there are still important races in the general election on November 7th that will affect our life in Indian River County. Hope to see you at the polls then.

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