You can make a difference for our environment!

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
February 2017

What can you do to help protect our local environment?  You can take action on at least three important issues affecting our environment that will be decided in the coming weeks at the Federal, State, and local level:

1. Scott Pruitt is a Dangerous Pick to head the EPA.  David Yarnold, National Audubon Society’s president and CEO, says the former Oklahoma Attorney General is unfit to head up the agency. Audubon opposes the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency because of his extensive record seeking to weaken or end the very protections he should be enforcing on our behalf.  Pruitt has consistently opposed the work of EPA and especially its work on climate change.  David Yarnold writes: “In the largest scientific investigation of birds and climate change, Audubon found that more than half of all birds in the U.S and Canada are likely to lose 50 percent or more of their current ranges by 2080 unless the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming are significantly reduced. We need to do more to protect our environment, not less. The EPA does life-saving work for the birds we cherish, the wild places we treasure and the families we love. The Senate should not hand the keys to the EPA to a man who has shown by his words and his actions that he has every intention to undo nearly a half-century of progress.” Please email and/or call Senator Bill Nelson (202) 224-5274, and Senator Marco Rubio (202) 224-3041 and urge them to oppose Scott Pruitt’s nomination and to demand a nominee who is committed to protecting our clean air and water and implementing common-sense solutions to address climate change. 

Manatees at Round Island. Photo: Bob Montanaro

2. “Buy the Land and Move the Water South.” Eric Draper, Audubon Florida Executive Director, strongly supports Florida Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee to eventually be utilized as a reservoir to store and clean Lake Okeechobee water. Rather than send polluted water to our beautiful estuaries, this project would allow governmental agencies to send the polluted water south where it would be cleaned, and later released into the Everglades during periods of drought. This was the natural flow of the water before the Herbert Hoover Dike was built along the rim of Lake Okeechobee and water was pushed east into the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon and west into the Caloosahatchee River rather than south.  The money is available thanks to the 75% of Florida Voters who passed Amendment One! However, even though the sugar industry once supported this concept and even executed option purchase agreements with the State of Florida to sell the land, because sugar prices have risen, they no longer want to move forward with this needed project. They have assembled a massive team of lobbyists walking the halls of the Legislature trying to convince our elected officials to do their bidding. Unfortunately, special interests have been the big winners in years’ past, even over the interests of our citizens and natural environment.  We must change this! Senator Negron is from the Stuart area that has witnessed much of the damage done from releases of polluted Lake Okeechobee water, and he faces a tough fight to get this passed by the Florida Legislature and Governor Scott. Please email and/or call the following: The most important is the Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, (850) 717-5650,, Governor Rick Scott (850)-717-9337,, Representative Erin Grall (772) 778-5005, Florida State Senator Debbie Mayfield (321) 409-2025. Tell them to “Buy the Land and Move the Water South!”

3. Create a Vero Beach Stormwater Utility.  At a recent joint meeting between the City of Vero Beach Finance and Utility Commissions, Commissioners voted 11-1 to support the creation of a Vero Beach Stormwater Utility. Communities up and down the Treasure and Space Coasts are laying the foundation to provide funding sources for necessary water-quality projects. The cities of Melbourne, Stuart, Ft. Pierce, Sebastian, and Fellsmere have created stormwater utilities, and voters in Brevard County recently passed a ½-cent sales tax to fund lagoon oriented projects. Vero Beach derives a significant economic value from the Lagoon, and yet only 34% of the City’s urban area has any form of stormwater treatment. The areas of the City drained by the Lateral E canal currently have no stormwater treatment.

Penny wise and pound foolish is not a viable policy. We cannot expect other jurisdictions to clean up their sources of pollution while we continue to foul the Lagoon with nutrients. City engineers have developed a five-year plan to treat an additional ~20% of the City’s urban area at a projected cost of $2.3 million dollars. While that is not an insignificant sum, given the substantial increase in stormwater-treatment- area coverage, it is a bargain. To achieve this, the City needs a funding source: the creation of the stormwater utility is a step in the right direction.

For too long communities have profited from the economic value created by the Indian River Lagoon without adequately funding projects to protect this major economic driver. A recent study estimates the total economic value of the Lagoon at $7.64 billion. Just as any business must protect its greatest assets with investments in order to thrive, so must our community. Despite there being 11 to l vote in favor of the utility from the two committees, the Mayor of Vero Beach suggested the City send to referendum the creation of the proposed stormwater utility. Referendums are usually proposed when issues are controversial.  Yet protecting our Lagoon is one of the least issues we face because we depend upon it for our health, our recreation, our businesses, and the beauty and attractiveness of our community. The City Council should follow the recommendation of its advisory committees and approve the creation of the stormwater utility now, not delay with a referendum. Please email and/or call: Mayor Laura Moss ((772) 978-4700, Vice Mayor Harry Howle (772) 978-4700, Councilmember Dick Winger (772) 231-0580, Councilmember Lange Sykes (772) 473-7983, Councilmember Tony Young (772) 321-2692 Tell them to approve!

Participate in our democracy! Make your voice heard.  Write a letter to the Press Journal stating your concerns too!

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