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February 3, 2024 Weekly Newsletter


The Florida Legislature Comes After Vacation Rental Regulations, Again


In recent legislative developments, HB 1537/SB 280, also known as the "Party House" Bill has alarmed many Florida residents. Spearheaded by Senator Nick DiCeglie (R-Pinellas), this bill is seen as a move favoring major vacation rental platforms like AirBNB and VRBO, along with other out-of-state vacation rental industry players.


Critics argue that HB 1537 significantly diminishes the regulatory powers of local authorities, potentially transforming residential neighborhoods into zones for unrestrained revelry. The crux of the issue lies in the bill's provisions, which are perceived to strip local governments of their ability to effectively manage and regulate vacation rental properties within their jurisdictions.


Key points of contention include:

  • Local Registration: Advocates for stricter regulation argue for the necessity of a robust local registration system, ensuring accountability and oversight of rental properties. The bill as proposed would put a cap on registration fees, restrict the use of registration information for enforcement purposes, and prohibit certain local government actions, such as requiring property inspections or the presence of the property owner during registration.

  • Annual Inspections: The call for regular inspections is aimed at safeguarding the well-being of both weekly renters and local residents, ensuring that rental properties adhere to safety standards. The bill restricts local governments from requiring annual inspections of vacation rental properties as a part of their registration or regulatory processes.

  • Occupancy Limits: Limiting the number of occupants in rental properties is seen as a crucial measure to prevent the emergence of "Party Houses," addressing concerns about noise and public disturbance and public safety. The bill prevents local governments from imposing specific occupancy limits for vacation rental properties.


Further, one of Indian River County‘s regulations is that there is a limit on the number of cars allowed at a vacation rental. This bill would remove that local ordinance and prevent the county from enforcing it.


As the debate around HB 1537/SB 280 continues, stakeholders are urged to pay attention to our analysis and the text of the bills to understand the implications fully and engage in informed discussions about the future of vacation rentals in Florida's residential neighborhoods.


Reach out to Senator Grall and Representative Brackett through emails, calls, or letters. Express your stance as a constituent against the undermining of local regulations by HB 1537/SB 280 (and many other bills we’ve discussed before!) Highlight the importance of home rule in preserving the charm and order of our neighborhoods and communities. Collective, vocal action is crucial to stop legislative overreach and safeguard our community's uniqueness and environmental treasures. Your engagement is vital for maintaining the essence and sustainability of Florida's vacation rental neighborhoods.


Contact Information:

Sen. Erin Grall

Phone: 850-487-5025

Address: 3209 Virginia Avenue, Suite A149, Fort Pierce, FL 34981


Rep. Robbie Brackett

Phone: 772-778-5005

Address: Suite B2-203, 1801 27th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960


 

Last week we linked to an article about a survey being conducted by UF/IFAS seeking boater input on existing and needed resources. We apologize for the error and here is a working link.


 

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Together, we are planting seeds of change, nurturing a vision of a vibrant, sustainable Indian River County. Your support is the water that will help these seeds grow and blossom. Your contribution today is more than a donation—it's a commitment to our community's future. Thank you for being the lifeblood of our mission. Join us, as we turn ripples of change into waves of progress.


 


Empowering Condo Owners: Defunding Fossil Fuels in Florida


If you own a Condominium in Florida or know someone who does, you have an opportunity to help the environment by addressing how Condo Association funds are inadvertently supporting the climate crisis. The fossil fuel industry can't exist without money from banks and investors. The major banks, including Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo, have collectively funded over $1 trillion in new fossil fuel projects since 2016.


If your Condo Association keeps its money in one of these four banks, these funds are directly contributing to the financing of these projects. Medium-sized condo associations, similar to homeowners associations, might have reserve funds of up to a million dollars, which banks are using to finance fossil fuel expansion.


If we can shift our Condo Association deposits in Florida out of the big banks to local or community banks, or savings associations committed to environmentally-friendly investments, we can help change that.


Here's how you can help: If you have a friend or relative who is a Condo owner in Florida – please forward this message to them. You can also help identify Florida Condo owners who would like to support this campaign and would be willing to work with their Condo Association to move their money away from these banks by signing up here.


This initiative is sponsored by Third Act, an organization dedicated to harnessing the wisdom, experience, and skills of elders to address social and environmental issues, fostering a culture of active, intergenerational engagement and advocacy.


By taking this step, you’re not just protecting your investments, you’re also investing in a sustainable future for us all.



 


New Sebastian waterfront hotel moving forward amid opposition (Vero News) - Despite facing opposition and concerns about environmental impact and traffic, the riverfront hotel project in Sebastian, initially proposed as Sebastian Eco Lodges and later revised to a Hampton Inn, is moving towards county approval with a reduced footprint and room count, aiming for groundbreaking by summer.


Vero Beach City Clerk Tammy Bursick set to retire after 39 years with city (TCPalm) - After 39 years of dedicated service, Vero Beach City Clerk Tammy Bursick is retiring, celebrated for her professionalism, adaptability to technological changes, and significant contributions to the community, including co-chairing the city's centennial celebration.


Duany: Downtown needs to be ‘cooler and hipper’ than Ocean Drive (Vero News) - Architect and urban planner Andres Duany advocates for a "radical" redevelopment of Vero Beach's downtown, emphasizing the need for an affordable, vibrant urban space that appeals to young adults, differentiates from Ocean Drive, and is supported by local government cooperation and potential private-sector incentives.


Special guest at 121st anniversary celebration of Pelican Island Refuge (Indian River Guardian) - The Pelican Island Conservation Society celebrates the 121st anniversary of the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge with a weekend of activities, highlighted by the attendance of President Theodore Roosevelt's great-grandson, Ted Roosevelt IV, an advocate for conservation and climate change initiatives, along with other notable guests.


Bird's-eye view: Drone shows Oslo Road work toward I-95 interchange south of Vero Beach (TCPalm) - The construction project on Oslo Road in Indian River County, accelerated due to funding from the American Rescue Plan, involves a $95.8 million bridge replacement and the addition of an Interstate 95 interchange, aiming to enhance infrastructure and potentially stimulate industrial development in the area.


Seven-member panel will field, rank best Three Corners pitches (Vero News) - A seven-member panel, comprising city department heads and chairs of key commissions, has been formed to evaluate and recommend the most suitable developer's proposal for the Three Corners waterfront project in Vero Beach, with the process involving independent review, in-person presentations, and a final recommendation to the City Council.


Will there be a safe haven on Treasure Coast from unchecked growth after comp plan reboot? (TCPalm) - Recent amendments to Martin County's comprehensive growth management plan blur the lines between urban and rural development, raising concerns about preserving the "Martin County Difference" amidst a trend of unchecked growth and development.


Florida sheriff’s office working to combat squatters moving aboard derelict boats (Fox News) - Video on how the Martin County Sheriff’s Office is working to remove derelict boats off its coast, which have increasingly been targeted by squatters.


 

An Update from our Friends at ORCA

The Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) is enhancing the Indian River Lagoon’s health through its Kilroy Network. This extensive monitoring system, now spanning five counties with 22 stations, has grown with additional funding from the State of Florida. The network, adding three Kilroy systems and fifteen new weather and air quality stations, allows for comprehensive tracking of 15 water quality parameters and environmental data.


This network is crucial for real-time monitoring and is a valuable resource for scientists, community members, and policymakers. The user-friendly access to data through ORCA’s Kilroy website (access the data here) promotes detailed analysis and trend monitoring. Notably, recent data shows a link between temperature increases and algae growth, underlining the system’s ability to detect and analyze environmental shifts promptly.


Beyond monitoring, ORCA’s collaboration with institutions like Clemson University and the University of Florida has yielded over 80 pollution maps from 20 mapping projects, pinpointing pollution hotspots and aiding restoration (explore pollution maps here).


Furthering their commitment, ORCA is excited to announce the upcoming opening of the DJ Rainone Research & Science Center in Vero Beach, FL, in Spring 2024. This center will serve as a hub for research, technology, and conservation, marking a significant stride in ORCA’s mission to revitalize the Indian River Lagoon. All of this marks significant progress in environmental monitoring and research for the Indian River Lagoon.


 

Rogues gallery: Who’s behind this year’s dirty-water bills? (VoteWater) - VoteWater.org criticizes Florida legislators for proposing bills that could lead to increased environmental degradation, highlighting their receipt of campaign contributions from industries that would benefit from these legislative changes and the lack of electoral competition as factors contributing to the persistence of such proposals.


Deep Dive: What will it cost to fix the Indian River Lagoon? (VoteWater) - The cost of restoring the Indian River Lagoon, including a range of critical projects to reduce nutrient flow and pollution, far exceeds recent allocations, with estimates nearing $23.2 billion needed by 2050 due to inflation, project scope changes, and additional necessary initiatives.


Expert explains why North American bird populations are declining (Phys.org) - North American bird populations have declined by 2.9 billion since 1970 due to factors like habitat loss, climate change, collisions with windows, and predation by cats, highlighting the urgency for improved conservation efforts and individual actions to protect these critical environmental indicators and contributors.


Man walking on tracks struck by Brightline in Indian River County (Vero News) - A man was fatally struck by a Brightline train in Indian River County, marking the first such incident in the county, with the train traveling at 110 mph when it hit the pedestrian trespassing on the tracks, leading to investigations and no reported injuries among the train's passengers.


How many Brightline deaths have there been on the Treasure Coast? Where have they occurred? (TCPalm) - Since Brightline passenger railroad service began between Miami and Orlando last year, there have been two fatalities on the Treasure Coast, with the most recent occurring when a 29-year-old Wesley Alan Ducheneaux Walsh was struck and killed by a northbound Brightline train in Indian River County, and the first incident happened on September 28, 2023, when a 25-year-old man was killed north of Midway Road in St. Lucie County.


Ban train horns? Quiet zones in best interest of Brightline, Vero Beach, FEC, Sebastian? (TCPalm) - Residents in Indian River County, particularly Kathy Davis, express frustration over the constant noise from train horns, leading to debates about implementing quiet zones and balancing safety concerns with noise reduction.


Young climate activists flood Tallahassee, asking Legislature to protect their future (Miami Herald) - Young climate activists gather in Tallahassee to advocate for climate and energy policy bills, including heat illness prevention, mangrove replanting, and opposition to a bill supporting "renewable" natural gas operations that may benefit fossil fuel companies.


 

The Emerson Center is set to host an E-Series lecture titled "The Plastics Problem" on February 13, 2024, at 7:00 p.m. Dr. Jim Masterson from FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Sue Flak, Recycling Coordinator for Indian River County, are the speakers who will dive into the detrimental effects of plastic on ecosystems, particularly focusing on the Indian River Lagoon. They'll discuss innovative solutions to combat plastic pollution, such as community clean-ups and reduction in single-use plastics. The Emerson Center, known for its commitment to engaging and educational events, invites the community to this free lecture, with a suggested donation of $10 to support their initiatives. Doors open at 6:00 p.m., promising an evening of dialogue aimed at preserving our precious marine environments.

 

Across the country, houses of worship are going solar (Grist) - An idea for your church? Houses of worship across the United States are increasingly turning to solar energy projects, with about 2 percent of them having solar systems as of 2021, facilitated by incentives such as tax credits and power purchase agreements, despite some challenges like budget constraints and bureaucratic paperwork, driven by their commitment to environmental care and sustainability.


Latest EPA assessment shows almost no improvement in river and stream nitrogen pollution (AP News) - EPA assessment finds ongoing nutrient pollution in rivers and streams, mainly from agricultural areas draining into the Mississippi River, impacting drinking water and causing a significant dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, with over half of river miles in poor condition for pollution, exacerbated by climate change-induced storms, posing challenges for controlling farm runoff and limited progress in reducing pollution.


Plastic bans work. Billions of plastic bags were avoided in the US alone (ZME Science) - Plastic bag bans have been effective in the United States, resulting in the avoidance of billions of plastic bags; however, it's again worth noting that the Florida Legislature has made it illegal for cities or counties to ban plastic bags.


Manatee deaths in Florida plummet to lowest levels since 2017 (WINK News) - Manatee deaths in Florida dropped significantly in 2023, with 556 manatees reported dead, marking a notable decline from the higher mortality rates in 2021 and 2022 when around 1,100 and 800 manatees died, respectively.


Use it or lose it: How seagrasses conquered the sea (GEOMAR) - New research reveals that seagrasses, which form the basis of diverse coastal marine ecosystems, evolved to adapt to their marine environment through genome duplication and fine-tuning of supportive pathways, shedding light on their conservation and biotechnological potential; this adaptation allowed them to thrive in the highly saline, submerged marine environment despite the loss of certain genes that became redundant.


Water, water everywhere and now we may have drops to drink (ScienceDaily) - Researchers at NYU Tandon School of Engineering have improved the salt removal rate and lowered the energy demand of Redox Flow Desalination (RFD), an electrochemical technique for turning seawater into drinking water and storing renewable energy, offering a sustainable solution to the global water crisis while advancing renewable energy integration.


2020 US rule dramatically deregulated wetlands, streams and drinking water (ScienceDaily) - Machine learning analysis revealed that a 2020 rule removed Clean Water Act protection for 25% of US wetlands, 20% of US streams, and deregulated 30% of watersheds supplying drinking water to households, leading to significant environmental policy changes.


Developer seeking to build 10,000 homes in habitat critical to Florida Panther in eastern Lee County (WGCU) - Environmental activists and conservationists are protesting a proposed Lee County development that could involve building 10,000 homes in critical Florida panther habitat, potentially endangering the already threatened panther population.


 

More great manatee comics from Rachel Arnow in Man versus Manatee available here.


 

Want your voice to be heard? Use this link to easily contact elected officials—from your city council to the President. Your voice can make a real impact. While the IRNA may occasionally prompt you to contact specific officials about urgent issues, we keep this list handy for your convenience. Can't find who you're looking for? Just let us know; we're here to help connect you with the right people.


 

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