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January 27 Weekly Newsletter


Florida Court Rejects ‘Rights of Nature’ Challenge


In a legal decision that has reverberated across Florida's environmental landscape, the 6th District Court of Appeal recently upheld a ruling that effectively blocks the ambitious 'rights of nature' charter amendment in Orange County. This amendment, which had garnered an 89 percent approval from voters in 2020, represented an effort to grant legal rights to natural entities like water bodies and forests, underscoring the community's commitment to environmental stewardship.


However, the court's decision, influenced by the 2020 Clean Waters Act signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, underscores a growing tension in environmental governance. This state law, enacted as the local initiative was gaining momentum, explicitly prohibits local governments from assigning legal rights to natural features, effectively overriding the will of a significant majority of Orange County voters. This preemption of home rule is seen by many as a stark example of state intervention in local environmental matters, particularly when such local measures enjoy widespread public support.


This legal outcome has not just halted the 'rights of nature' movement in its tracks in Florida but also sets a concerning precedent for similar environmental initiatives across the country. The ruling highlights the complex, often contentious interplay between local autonomy and state authority in environmental policy-making. It raises critical questions about the effectiveness of grassroots efforts in the face of state-level legislation that can negate local ordinances, even those backed by an overwhelming majority.


The case also shines a light on the challenges faced by local governments in their bid to implement innovative approaches to environmental protection. It underscores the delicate balance that must be struck between state legislation and local environmental advocacy. As Florida grapples with increasingly complex environmental challenges, the need for a dialogue between various levels of governance becomes more apparent.


This development in Florida's legal landscape is a reminder of the hurdles environmental advocacy faces, particularly at the local level, where state laws can swiftly undercut local measures. For advocates of environmental protection and local governance, the court's decision is a disappointing setback, highlighting the ongoing struggle to balance local environmental aspirations with broader state policies. As the dialogue continues, the importance of fostering a cooperative approach to environmental stewardship, respecting both local initiatives and state jurisdiction, remains ever crucial.



 

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Vero Beach Residents: Make Your Voice Heard


The City of Vero Beach Planning Department is actively revising the Land Use Element, particularly Objective 13, which focuses on the preservation and enhancement of neighborhood characteristics. Despite their efforts, recent public meetings on Neighborhood Preservation and Protection saw low attendance, possibly due to insufficient notification. Acknowledging this, Planning Director Jason Jeffries has extended the feedback period by a week. He encourages residents from all areas of the city, both beachside and mainland, to engage in a survey to express their views on maintaining the distinct character of their neighborhoods. This is a valuable opportunity for community members to influence local development policies.


The suggestions gathered will be evaluated and could potentially influence future policy, complementing existing regulations on setbacks, building heights, floor area ratios, and tree and landscaping ordinances. Key points raised in the meetings included the need for specific design criteria, concerns over increasing condo developments, and issues related to commercial expansion into residential areas. These insights will play a crucial role in shaping the direction of neighborhood development in Vero Beach.


To have your say in shaping Vero Beach's neighborhoods, email your comments and ideas to Planning Director Jason Jeffries at jjeffries@covb.org by next Friday. Remember to include “Neighborhood Preservation” in the subject line, along with your name, address, and the specific neighborhood you're discussing. This is a good opportunity to influence the development and character of our city's diverse communities. Your input is essential for the future of Vero Beach. Make sure your voice is heard!


 

Victory for Environmental Advocacy: Key Changes to Florida's HB 789


Advocates, including the IRNA, have convinced the legislature to positively amend Florida's HB 789. The revised bill, once a concern for potentially hindering environmental lawsuits, now aligns better with conservation goals, thanks to the removal of its controversial fee-shifting section in legal disputes against environmental entities.


In the wake of amendments to HB 789, it's crucial to examine Representative Toby Overdorf's role. As the bill's sponsor, Overdorf was instrumental in removing its most contentious sections. However, his initial support for an anti-environmental bill, despite representing a region plagued by environmental crises like Lake Okeechobee's discharges and recurring algae problems, raises questions about his commitment to environmental advocacy. Additionally, his co-sponsorship of HB 791, favoring expedited development at potential environmental and community costs, coupled with significant financial backing from the construction and building sectors, highlights the need for scrutiny of his legislative motivations. With Overdorf up for re-election in District 85, understanding his legislative actions becomes imperative for informed advocacy and representation of environmental interests.


This achievement reflects the collaborative efforts of IRNA members. The focus now shifts to the Senate version, SB 738, maintaining vigilance in the ongoing commitment to protect Florida’s environmental interests. This recent legislative success underlines why the IRNA's advocacy is so important in safeguarding our natural resources through effective advocacy and community involvement. Thank you to everyone who reached out to the legislature about these bad bills!


 

One Jay at a Time (verobeachmagazine.com) - Conservation efforts in Indian River County have successfully increased the population of the threatened Florida scrub jay, a species known for its intelligence and beauty, through habitat management and the dedication of local experts and volunteers.


Urban planner: The future of downtown Vero Beach lies in attracting young adults (TCPalm) - Urban planner Andrés Duany presented a vision for downtown Vero Beach focusing on attracting young adults by improving housing access, walkability, and affordability, marking the first step in a collaborative process to adopt a downtown master plan.


Haste has no place on Three Corners project (VeroNews) - Vero Beach's City Council faces a dilemma with the Three Corners project, debating whether to extend the proposal deadline to attract more developers for the ambitious $200 million waterfront hub, amidst concerns about current market conditions and the city's specific development requirements.


Python found nowhere near the Everglades lead northward invasion of undesirable pests (TCPalm) - The discovery of a 12-foot Burmese python far from its usual Everglades habitat in southern Brevard County, Florida, signals an alarming northward spread of invasive species, posing a significant threat to local wildlife and ecosystems.


UF/IFAS seeks boater input on existing and needed resources (Indian River Guardian) - Florida Sea Grant, hosted at UF/IFAS, is conducting an online survey to understand boaters' needs for sewage disposal resources in Florida's waterways, aiming to improve management and services for the state's significant recreational boating community.


Elections offices keeping a sharp eye on safety, misinformation in run-up to November 5 (TCPalm) - Election offices in Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin counties are intensifying security measures and cybersecurity in response to threats from irate voters, misinformation, and hackers, following a comprehensive review by the Department of Homeland Security.


Water woes: Why the health department wants you to avoid water in the St. Lucie River? (TCPalm) - The Florida health department in Martin County issued a bacteria advisory for the Roosevelt Bridge area, Leighton Park boat launch, and the Stuart Sandbar due to high levels of enteric bacteria, potentially from fecal pollution, which poses health risks such as stomach upset and skin rashes.


St. Lucie County decides no to new high rises on three South Hutchinson lots next to Normandy Beach (TCPalm) - St. Lucie County commissioners unanimously ruled against the construction of new high-rises on three undeveloped lots on South Hutchinson Island, located between Normandy Beach access and the Regency South Island Dunes II.


 

"Sweetwater," a 40-minute documentary by Spencer Miller, exposes Florida's water crisis, highlighting the detrimental impact of the sugar industry on Lake Okeechobee and surrounding waters. Miller, a South Florida native, uncovers the toxic effects of algae blooms and red tides due to poor water management, worsened by the sugar industry's political influence. The film emphasizes the urgent need for public awareness and action, particularly through voting, to combat these environmental challenges and reclaim healthy waterways in Florida. It's a little bit older, but still worth the watch -- the special interests are just as powerful today in Tallahassee and this video will help you understand the issues facing us better. 


 

Plastic bag bans have already prevented billions of bags from being used, report finds (Grist) - These are illegal in Florida, due to actions of the State Legislature. A report by Environment America, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and Frontier Group shows that U.S. plastic bag bans have been effective, significantly reducing single-use plastic bag usage and highlighting the ongoing debate over the environmental impacts of plastic versus alternative materials.


New Year, Same Resolution: Save Wild Florida (wildlifeflorida.org) - The Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida encourages eco-conscious resolutions for 2024, suggesting simple actions like using reusable water bottles and shopping bags, connecting with nature, buying seasonal produce, and planting native yards to contribute to the preservation of Florida's unique ecosystems.


West Palm Beach hopes to tap Floridan Aquifer for water source as population grows (Yahoo News) - West Palm Beach, facing a growing population and vulnerabilities in its surface water supply, seeks to supplement its water resources by drawing from the brackish Floridan Aquifer, which would require constructing a costly desalination plant and securing a 50-year permit from the South Florida Water Management District.


Manatees flooding warm water, says Florida park (Washington Times) - A record number of 932 manatees gathered at Florida's Blue Spring State Park for warm water as the Wekiva River's temperature dropped, surpassing the previous record of 736 manatees.


Manatee caught in fishing lure released back into the wild after yearlong rehabilitation (CTV News) - 'Allure,' a manatee found injured by a fishing hook in Florida, has been successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild alongside another rescued manatee, 'Adobe', highlighting ongoing conservation efforts to protect the vulnerable species.


Manatee Steals Swimmer’s GoPro Camera, Can’t Quite Nail Selfie (InspireMore) - A playful manatee surprised a diver by stealing their GoPro camera, showcasing the creature's curiosity and adding a humorous aspect to their nickname repertoire, which includes "sea cow" and "floating potato."


Lawmakers advance bills to block, remove harmful chemicals from drinking water (Florida Politics) - Florida lawmakers are advancing two bills aimed at reducing harmful chemicals in drinking water, one focusing on industrial sources and the other on contamination levels at the tap.


Saltwater intrusion, an emerging water quality issue below our feet (Florida Weekly) - Saltwater intrusion in Southwest Florida is a growing concern, threatening drinking water sources due to increased groundwater consumption and rising sea levels, with solutions involving careful water usage balancing and adoption of smart irrigation technologies.


 


Florida Embraces Transparency in Real Estate:

Flood Disclosure Legislation

In a move towards enhancing transparency in real estate transactions, Florida has introduced SB 484 and HB 1049, bills that promise to safeguard prospective property buyers against unforeseen flood risks. This legislation, a collaboration between Senator Bradley and Representative Hunschofsky, is poised to transform the property buying experience in a state frequently battered by hurricanes. By mandating sellers to disclose the flood history of their properties, these bills aim to provide a clear picture of potential risks, ensuring that buyers make informed decisions. This initiative is a step towards strengthening community resilience against natural disasters.


The introduction of these bills shows Florida's commitment to ethical practices in property dealings. By requiring sellers to disclose crucial information about flood damages and insurance claims, the legislation ensures that buyers are no longer left in the dark about the risks associated with their potential new homes. This measure is expected to instill greater confidence in the real estate market, promoting responsible development and reducing the likelihood of future financial burdens on taxpayers due to undisclosed property vulnerabilities. Currently, the bills are awaiting consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee. This legislation would be a positive change, signaling a more secure future for property buyers in the Sunshine State.


 

The power of climate fiction and the ethos of Imagine 2200 (Grist) - Grist's Imagine 2200 climate fiction contest celebrates diverse, hopeful stories about climate progress, offering visions of a future free from oppression and environmental harm, and emphasizing the importance of community and hope in overcoming challenges.


The world’s largest cold water coral reef lies beside the first experimental deep-sea mining test site (Southern Fried Science) - NOAA researchers have discovered a massive cold water coral reef on the Blake Plateau, previously considered ecologically uninteresting, now recognized as one of the largest deep-sea coral reef habitats in the world and situated near the site of the first experimental deep-sea mining test.


FEMA to overhaul its disaster aid system after decades of criticism (Grist) - FEMA is launching a significant overhaul of its disaster aid system, introducing rapid cash payments and reducing bureaucratic processes to provide more immediate and flexible assistance to survivors of climate-related disasters.


Study quantifies how aquifer depletion threatens crop yields (Science Daily) - A Nebraska-led study using three decades of data reveals that depletion of groundwater, crucial for irrigation, can significantly reduce crop yields, urging policymakers and resource managers to reassess their use of this vital resource in light of increasing droughts and climate change.


Millions of gallons of sewage spill into Lake Monroe (Orlando Sentinel) - Over 5 million gallons of partially-treated sewage spilled into Mills Creek and Lake Monroe in Florida due to a malfunction at a Sanford wastewater treatment plant, prompting officials to warn the public against water exposure and fishing due to potential high bacteria levels. UPDATE: Sanford sewage spill into Lake Monroe swells to 13 million gallons.


Global groundwater depletion is accelerating, but is not inevitable (ScienceDaily) - Global groundwater levels are rapidly declining, with a study revealing that 71% of the world's aquifers are depleting, a situation exacerbated in drier climates but reversible through targeted interventions and smart water management strategies.


Flooding, groundwater rise can have impact on septic systems (South Central Florida Life) - In Florida, improper maintenance of over two million septic systems poses a threat to drinking water, with flooding and groundwater rise exacerbating the issue, necessitating careful management and collaboration between homeowners, professionals, and local governments.


 

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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