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January 20 Weekly Newsletter


In an unprecedented power grab that spells disaster for local governance, the Florida Legislature is seemingly poised to severely cripple home rule in the 2024 session. Apparently abandoning their previous strategy of death by 1000 cuts, lawmakers are now brazenly seizing control with extraordinary ferocity, aiming to centralize authority and strip local communities of their decision-making power.


This aggressive push to preempt local jurisdictions threatens to dismantle the very fabric of community-led governance, leaving residents voiceless in the face of sweeping statewide mandates. It's not just a shift in policy; it's a full-scale assault on the constitutionally protected principle of local autonomy that has been the bedrock of Florida's vibrant communities for decades.


Some, but nowhere near all, of the most problematic bills are:

  1. SB 738/HB 789 - Environmental Management: This bill, driven by special interests, threatens local autonomy and environmental protection. It introduces prohibitive legal costs, complex stormwater designs, and limits legal actions against polluters. It also weakens coastal permitting safeguards under the guise of efficiency, blatantly empowering big players at the community's and environment's expense.

  2. SB 812/HB 665 - Expedited Approval of Residential Building Permits: Favoring rapid development, this bill compromises environmental and safety standards, erodes local control, and heavily leans towards developers, risking overdevelopment and sprawl. It grants developers undue influence in planning and encourages irresponsible building practices, blatantly disregarding responsible planning.

  3. SB 702/HB 1167 - Attorney Fees and Costs in Property Rights Disputes: Prioritizing property owners over environmental protection, this bill dissuades legitimate environmental challenges with the threat of legal fees. It broadly defines 'property rights' in ways that could excuse environmental damage and shields compliant property owners from accountability, tilting the balance towards unchecked development. It should be noted that property rights are very important, but they have been significantly empowered already over the last decade.

  4. SB 1150/HB 791 - Development Permits and Orders: Pushing for rapid development, this bill accelerates permit processing, risking poor urban planning and environmental harm. It pressures authorities to overlook details and diminishes local oversight, heavily favoring developers and risking unchecked urban sprawl.

  5. SB 1184/HB 1221 - Land Use Development Regulations:  Threatening community and environmental interests, this bill weakens the data foundation for planning and narrows comprehensive plan scopes. It enforces dense development standards, risking resource strain and urban sprawl, favoring rapid growth over balanced planning.

  6. HB 527/SB 664 - Land and Water Management: This bill undermines local environmental governance by mandating eminent domain for buffer zones and centralizing dredge and fill regulation--preempting local ordinances. It removes stakeholder input mechanisms in land management, favoring central authority over local environmental protection.

  7. SB 1110/HB 1177 - Land Development: Compromising sustainable planning, this bill shifts power from local governments, potentially underestimating development impacts on traffic and the environment. It weakens impact fees and allows significant unvetted changes in regional developments, favoring development interests over responsible planning.


In light of these alarming legislative proposals, it's clear that the time for complacency is over. The Florida Legislature, under the heavy influence of special interests, is on a dangerous trajectory, one that prioritizes rapid development and corporate gains over the well-being of our communities and the environment. Each of these bills, with their various detrimental implications, forms part of a larger pattern that threatens to undermine local autonomy, responsible urban planning, and environmental stewardship.


Residents, local governments, and environmental advocates must unite and raise their voices against this onslaught. We must stand firm in demanding that our elected officials prioritize the needs and rights of their constituents over the interests of a few powerful entities.


Please reach out to Senator Grall and Representative Bracket. Email them, call them, write them. Tell them that you are a constituent who will not stand for this continued assault on home rule. Only through collective action and vocal opposition can we hope to halt this reckless legislative agenda and protect the future of our communities and natural resources. The time to act is now; the future of Florida's environment and community integrity depends on it.


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


While it's true that we're facing a lot of challenging legislation, there's still a glimmer of hope on the horizon. In the near future, we'll shift our focus to highlight some positive bills that are in the pipeline. Although they are fewer in number and face tougher odds in passing compared to the more problematic ones we've discussed, it's important to recognize and support these constructive initiatives. These promising bills, though rare, remind us that there's always room for positive change and progress.


 

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In 2023, we made strides towards a greener tomorrow. To extend our impact, we humbly request your continued partnership. A donation today helps us secure a sustainable Indian River County for all. Thank you for being a pillar of our progress.



 

Sebastian Luncheon a Success!


The Indian River Neighborhood Association recently hosted its annual Sebastian Luncheon at Woody's. It was held on January 17th and brought together members of the community for a blend of good food and enlightening discussions.


We were delighted to welcome Karen Miller, Public Works Director/City Engineer, and Brian Benton, City Manager of Sebastian. Karen's presentation on the city's new stormwater master plan was not only informative but also crucial for understanding the future of stormwater management in our community. The insights and detailed explanations shed light on the strategies and impacts of this important initiative, making it an invaluable session for all attendees.


Special appreciation goes to Mayor Ed Dodd for his engaging comments and contributions to the discussion. His perspectives enriched the conversation, highlighting important aspects of community development and environmental stewardship.


Looking forward, the IRNA is excited to announce the next luncheon scheduled for February 28th, featuring John Titkanich, our County Administrator, as the speaker. The details will be announced soon, and we anticipate another engaging and informative event.


We extend our sincere thanks to all who attended and contributed to the success of our Sebastian Luncheon. Your involvement is key to our mission of educating and advocating for a better community. We look forward to your continued participation in our upcoming events.


 

Today is the day! Don't miss your chance to be a part of the Pelican Island Audubon Society's 5th annual conference, "Transforming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future." Join us today at the Emerson Center in Vero Beach starting at 8 a.m. This event is a crucial initiative towards preserving Florida's unique habitats and waterways, focusing on reducing pollution in our waterways by advocating for native plant landscaping.


This conference offers a packed schedule with expert speaker presentations, a native plant sale featuring selections from Native Butterfly Flowers Nursery and Nancy’s Nursery, and hands-on planting demonstrations. Learn about the benefits of native plants, including water conservation, reduced need for fertilizers and herbicides, and support for local wildlife.


Registration is still open! It is $35 at the door and includes a box lunch. Don't miss this opportunity to gain valuable insights and practical knowledge.


HOA board presidents can enjoy free admission. For more details and to view speaker bios, please visit PIAS' website. Your participation will contribute significantly to the efforts of transforming landscapes for a sustainable future in Florida. Join us today and be a part of this important conversation!


 


Kudos to city staff for meeting all challenges (VeroNews) - City staff in Vero Beach is commended for their dedication and hard work in managing multiple major projects, including the Three Corners development, wastewater-treatment plant relocation, and municipal marina expansion, despite facing challenges and staffing shortages, which highlights their remarkable effort to serve the community.


County administrator feels at home here despite delays in getting into his house (VeroNews) - County Administrator John Titkanich faced construction delays in moving into his newly-built house in the county, leading him to lease a vacation home to meet the residency deadline required by his contract, incurring extra costs and uncertainty about the completion date.


What's going on at east end of Alma Lee Loy Bridge in Vero Beach? When will it end? (TCPalm) - The construction work on the Alma Lee Loy Bridge in Vero Beach is causing inconvenience and is expected to continue until at least summer 2028, with challenges related to environmental concerns, tight spaces, and utility lines, and it could have been completed sooner if the bridge had been completely closed...


More than 35,000 Treasure Coast voters became inactive last year amid new state laws (TCPalm) - Over 35,000 Treasure Coast voters became inactive last year due to new state laws, but they can regain their active status by taking various steps, including voting in upcoming elections or visiting the supervisor of elections office, with a reminder that they are not removed from the voter rolls entirely as long as they vote in the next two general elections.


Big Sugar has at least 48 lobbyists in Tallahassee; how many do YOU have? (VoteWater) - Big Sugar in Florida has a significant influence on water policy due to the employment of at least 48 lobbyists in Tallahassee, including influential figures and former politicians, while clean-water advocates face challenges with fewer resources and lobbyists in the state's political landscape.


Legislative session 2024: It’s going to be a long two months (VoteWater) - The 2024 Florida Legislative session, which began on January 9 and continues until March 8, is expected to be marked by bills impacting clean water, with a focus on spending more on clean-water projects amidst concerns about potential dirty-water bills, including bills seeking to reduce local wetlands protections and expand mitigation banking, along with efforts from the "sprawl" industry to limit citizen challenges, local government authority, and accelerate residential building permits, potentially affecting water quality.


Tornado touches down in the North River Shores community in Martin County (TCPalm) - A tornado touched down in the North River Shores community in Martin County, causing damage to trees and properties.


 

Biosolids Update


The Clean Water Coalition (CWC) and Indian River Neighborhood Association (IRNA) advocate for extending the moratorium on Class B biosolids land application in Indian River County. This move aims to protect local ecosystems from potential hazards like toxic algae blooms. Simultaneously, we endorse exploring innovative waste management technologies, such as those used by Sedron Technologies, which offer environmentally friendly alternatives. This strategy represents a commitment to environmental protection and innovation, striving for a balance between ecological safety and advanced waste solutions.\



 

Rainfall pushes Lake Okeechobee back over 16 feet (South Central Florida Life) - Recent rainfall has caused Lake Okeechobee to rise above 16 feet, making it challenging to manage water levels and flow in the region, particularly in the Caloosahatchee River and other water conservation areas.


Here are the environmental bills to watch as Florida’s legislative session starts (Sun Sentinel) - Florida's legislative session will address several environmental bills, including the Safe Waterways Act to inform the public about waterway risks, legal fees for failed permit challenges, restrictions on releasing balloons, and potential threats to seasonal fertilizer bans, among others.


NTSB investigating Melbourne train accidents after 2 fatal Brightline crashes in 3 days (TCPalm) - The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating two fatal Brightline train crashes that occurred at the same crossing in Melbourne within three days, resulting in three deaths, as authorities investigate the circumstances of the accidents and implement safety measures to address concerns about train safety in the area.


Python found nowhere near the Everglades lead northward invasion of undesirable pests (TCPalm) - A 12-foot-long Burmese python was found in T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area in southern Brevard County, far from the Everglades, highlighting the ongoing problem of invasive species in Florida's diverse ecosystems and the challenges in controlling their spread.


Composting 101: How to start making what South Florida gardeners call ‘black gold’ (Miami Herald) - Composting, also known as "black gold" among South Florida gardeners, offers numerous environmental benefits but is underutilized, with only 3% of household waste being composted, and this article provides a primer on how to start composting, including what materials to use, the process, container options, the potential for worm composting, and alternatives like compost pickup services.


 

The Ripple Effect of Water Quality

on Southwest Florida's Economy


Southwest Florida's economy, deeply intertwined with its pristine coastal ecosystems, faces a significant threat from harmful algal blooms (HABs). These water quality events, like the notable 2018 incident, have far-reaching impacts, not only on the environment but also on vital economic sectors including tourism, fisheries, and outdoor recreation. A recent study conducted by Greene Economics, representing local environmental and conservation groups, highlights the necessity of clean water for both the region's ecological and economic health. This comprehensive analysis illuminates the stark economic consequences of water quality deterioration, underscoring the intrinsic value of environmental stewardship​​.



The findings are alarming: a recurrence of HAB events akin to those in 2005/6 and 2018 could result in devastating economic losses for Charlotte, Lee, and Collier counties. The potential fallout includes over $460 million in losses in the fishing industry, the disappearance of more than 43,000 jobs, a $5.2 billion decrease in local economic output, a staggering $17.8 billion reduction in property values, and a $60 million cut in property tax revenue. Moreover, the value of outdoor recreation, central to the region's lifestyle and allure, could plummet by $8.1 billion. This analysis not only quantifies the dire economic impacts of poor water quality but also accentuates the substantial financial and societal benefits of proactive environmental investments, reinforcing the call for urgent action to safeguard Southwest Florida's water resources​​.



 

Companies are hiding their climate progress. A new report explains why. (Grist) - A new report by South Pole reveals that around 70 percent of sustainability-minded companies worldwide are practicing "greenhushing," deliberately hiding their climate goals to comply with new regulations and avoid public scrutiny, which could impede genuine progress on climate change and decrease pressure on big emitters lagging behind, with heightened scrutiny, changing regulations, and a lack of clear industry guidance cited as reasons for this trend.


Can carbon capture solve desalination’s waste problem? (Grist) - Capture6, a startup, plans to build a carbon-capture facility in South Korea that will work in tandem with a nearby desalination plant, capturing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in desalination brine while extracting fresh water from the brine, aiming to address the environmental issues associated with desalination.


Toxic Algae Blooms: Study Assesses Possible Health Hazards to Humans (ENN) - Researchers from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute conducted a study to assess potential health hazards to humans associated with harmful algae blooms in Florida's Indian River Lagoon (IRL), where algal blooms have been linked to measurable amounts of microcystins in nasal swabs of people living and working near the area.


Manatee specialist marks over 40 years of research, genealogical records (My News 13) - Wayne Hartley, an 80-year-old manatee specialist and principal investigator for the Save the Manatee Club, has spent over 40 years collecting data on manatees, maintaining meticulous records, and establishing the longest body of manatee genealogy research in the world, helping answer questions about their habits and contributing to manatee conservation efforts.


Central Florida lawmakers want new state standards for contaminants in drinking water (ClickOrlando) - Central Florida lawmakers, State Sen. Linda Stewart and Rep. Rachel Plakon, have filed joint bills to establish a new state standard for the maximum amount of the contaminant 1,4-dioxane allowed in drinking water, setting a maximum level of 0.35 micrograms per liter, following a report revealing its presence in parts of Seminole County, Lake Mary, and Sanford, with the proposed legislation also including requirements for reporting and financial assistance for infrastructure upgrades.


American Petroleum Institute Plans Election-Year Blitz in the Face of Climate Policy Pressure (Inside Climate News) - The American Petroleum Institute (API) has launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, "Lights On Energy," in the run-up to the 2024 election, advocating for expanded U.S. fossil fuel exploration, production, and exports, while portraying the industry's work as vital to the economy and key to achieving global greenhouse gas reductions. This campaign mainly focusing on natural gas as a cleaner energy source, although critics argue it's a repackaging of API's long-term effort to delay meaningful action on climate change.


Beaches and dunes globally squeezed by roads and buildings (NIOZ) - Beaches and dunes globally are being squeezed between infrastructure and rising sea levels, with researchers finding that on average, the first building or paved road is located 390 meters from the sea, threatening natural flood protection, drinking water extraction, and biodiversity, but nature protection measures can help alleviate this issue.


 

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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