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More Urban Service Boundary Education, Big Sugar Lawsuits, and more!

May 25 Weekly Newsletter

This article is the second in a series aimed at educating the community about the potential move of the urban service boundary. If you missed the first article last week on Density and Sprawl, please click here to read it.


The Importance of Deliberate Decision

Making in Extending the Urban Service Boundary


Indian River County is at a pivotal moment where decisions about growth and development will shape our community for generations. One of the most critical choices is whether to extend or change the Urban Service Boundary (USB). This decision requires careful consideration and thorough study to avoid costly mistakes and preserve our county's unique character.


Risks of Rushed Decisions

Extending the USB without fully understanding its implications can lead to numerous issues. Sprawl, characterized by higher taxes, increased traffic congestion, and loss of open spaces, is a major risk. It is vital to weigh long-term costs against any immediate benefits carefully.


Economic Impact

Changes to the USB can significantly affect the local economy. While expanding the boundary might create new business opportunities and jobs, it could also increase infrastructure costs and place a financial burden on taxpayers. Thorough economic analysis is essential to understand these trade-offs.


Environmental Considerations

Extending the USB can have profound environmental impacts. It might lead to the loss of natural habitats, increased pollution, and strain on local water resources. Sustainable growth within the current USB can help mitigate these environmental risks.


Importance of Comprehensive Studies

Investing in detailed studies now can save significant resources in the future. These studies should explore all options, including increasing densities within the current USB and the potential impacts of expansion, as well as whether county services can sustain such expansion. Understanding these factors will help make informed decisions that benefit the community.


Strategic Planning for Sustainable Growth

Strategic planning prioritizing higher-density development restricted to targeted areas (such as downtown Vero) within the current USB can help manage growth sustainably. This approach was discussed in the last edition of the IRNA Weekly Newsletter, and you can read more here.


Community Education and Involvement

Educating the public, decision-makers, and planners about the benefits and costs of different growth strategies is crucial. There is still one workshop left on this topic for the current study the county is undertaking. We encourage you to attend if you haven't been to one already. It will be on May 29 at 11:30 AM or 6:30 PM in the County Commission Chambers. Make your voice heard!



 

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Big Sugar has responded to the petition regarding their lawsuit over the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) reservoir with a statement filled with misleading claims. They attempt to portray their actions as aligned with the interests of other groups, such as fruit and vegetable farmers, and the city of West Palm Beach. However, the lawsuit is primarily driven by major sugar entities: United States Sugar Corporation, Florida Crystals, and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative.


In their response, Big Sugar claims to support the water rights of American farmers and millions of South Floridians. They argue the lawsuit concerns the operation of the EAA reservoir, not its construction. Critics believe this legal challenge aims to secure public water for private profit, potentially disrupting Everglades restoration efforts and causing more environmental harm.


For more information, visit Captains for Clean Water.


Related News Stories

  1. Big Sugar's Legal Battle Over EAA Reservoir (Miami Herald)

  2. Lawsuit Threatens Everglades Restoration (Orlando Sentinel)


These articles provide additional context and details about the ongoing legal dispute and its implications for the Everglades and South Florida's environment.


 

Study says a lot as Indian River County considers urban expansion (Opinion, TCPalm) - Amid increasing development pressure, the County is considering urban service boundary expansions to manage growth while addressing residents' environmental, traffic, and infrastructure concerns.


Indian River Lagoon clam restoration sees progress (WESH) - The Indian River Lagoon Clam Restoration Project has successfully introduced over 40 million clams to the lagoon, with recent evidence of reproduction, aiming to release a billion clams in the coming years to restore the lagoon's ecology and water quality.


Hike in housing density seen needed to revitalize downtown (Opinion, Vero News) - Vero Beach City Council is proposing to increase the downtown housing density limit to attract young residents and revitalize the area, aiming for a November referendum to amend the city charter while ensuring no changes to the current 50-foot height restriction.


Vero Beach in high demand: Prudence needed to boost, preserve downtown (Opinion, TCPalm) - Vero Beach City Council is urged to carefully consider and refine the downtown density proposal, ensuring comprehensive community engagement and thoughtful planning, to avoid potential setbacks and ensure a successful referendum.


Waste Management extends contract with Indian River County until 2035 (TCPalm) - The County has approved a 10-year universal garbage and recycling service contract with Waste Management, starting October 2025, which will increase monthly trash collection and recycling costs.


2 on Vero council cite big projects in seeking re-election (Vero News) - Vice Mayor Linda Moore and Councilman John Carroll are seeking re-election to the Vero Beach City Council to ensure the progress of five major projects, including the Three Corners development, a water reclamation facility, marina expansion, wastewater treatment plant relocation, and downtown revitalization.


Vero Beach three corners final rankings released, final vote May 28 (TCPalm) - The Three Corners selection committee ranked Clearpath Services first among four developers for its ambitious $504 million waterfront development proposal in Vero Beach, despite concerns about its cost and financial risk, with SuDa Crec, Vista Blue, and Edgewater following in the rankings.


Journey Through the Wetlands of Vero Beach (Vero Beach Magazine) - The West Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility Wetlands in Vero Beach, designed to naturally purify water through vegetation, also serve as a vibrant habitat for over 170 bird species, making it a prime spot for birdwatching and demonstrating the effective integration of environmental engineering with ecological conservation.


 

A coalition of organizations, including the City of Stuart and Friends of the Everglades, on May 23rd urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish numeric criteria for cyanotoxins. These harmful byproducts of blue-green algae are a significant concern in Florida's waterways. If the EPA sets these criteria, it could enforce regular waterway sampling and state pollution laws under the Clean Water Act, helping manage and reduce toxic algae blooms in areas like Lake Okeechobee, the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, and even Blue Cypress Lake and the Lagoon in Indian River County.


The petition aims to enhance human health protection and environmental accountability by providing clear benchmarks for water quality. Stuart City Manager Mike Mortell emphasized that EPA criteria would empower the city to challenge harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee, potentially preventing them altogether. This initiative seeks to address the underlying pollution issues that have led to repeated toxic algae outbreaks, significantly impacting local ecosystems, public health, and the economy.


It does make one wonder, why are the EPA and DEP not already monitoring for cyanotoxins and what else should be but is not being tested for. More on these actions in TCPalm here. Read more from the Friends of the Everglades here.


 

Health Alert issued for blue-green algae in Lake Okeechobee (CBS 12) - Health officials have issued an alert for harmful blue-green algae toxins in Lake Okeechobee, advising residents and visitors to avoid drinking, swimming, or using personal watercraft in affected areas, and to keep pets and livestock away from the water, due to the potential health risks associated with the algae blooms.


Toxic bloom poisoned a dream (Opinion, News-Press) - Karl R. Deigert, once a thriving waterfront motel owner in Matlacha, now advocates for the 2026 Florida's Right to Clean Water constitutional amendment to hold polluters accountable and restore Florida's waters, after toxic algae blooms devastated his business and dreams.


South Florida’s heatwave reminds us to protect our water supply (Opinion, South Florida Sun Sentinel) - With South Florida facing increasing droughts and severe weather due to climate change, it is essential to reimplement and strengthen water management policies to ensure a sustainable water supply for the region's growing population and protect natural resources.


Polk County is experiencing a water supply challenge as irrigation demands grow (ABC Action News) - Polk County is facing a water supply challenge as irrigation demands nearly doubled during April and May due to hotter weather, minimal rainfall, and population growth, prompting residents to adopt water-saving measures and consider Florida-friendly landscaping to ensure a sustainable water supply.


NOAA predicts 'highest ever' number of named storms in preseason forecast (South Florida Sun Sentinel) - NOAA predicts the 2024 hurricane season will be the most active ever, with 17 to 25 named storms, 8 to 13 hurricanes, and 4 to 7 major hurricanes, driven by record-warm Atlantic waters and a high probability of La Niña conditions reducing wind shear.


UF finds PFAS in Brevard soils may be from reclaimed water (Florida Today) - A University of Florida study has identified reclaimed water as a major source of PFAS "forever" chemicals in Brevard County soils, with high levels found near Patrick Space Force Base and other industrial sites, raising concerns about the safety of using reclaimed water for irrigation and its long-term health impacts. This has happened to our north and south... will IRC be next?


Deep Dive: As STA costs go up, Big Sugar's share of the bill goes down (VoteWater.org) - Stormwater treatment areas (STAs) built with $1.2 billion of taxpayer money to clean water headed to the Everglades primarily benefit Big Sugar by treating runoff from sugarcane fields, and with the agricultural privilege tax set to decrease, taxpayers will increasingly shoulder the rising costs of STA operation and maintenance, leading to an even more inequitable system by 2036.


 

 Seagrass is essential for manatees, providing them with a critical food source and serving as a habitat for various other species in the Indian River Lagoon. Recently, a resurgence of seagrass in the lagoon has drawn more manatees in search of food. Unfortunately, this increase in manatee activity has led to a rise in watercraft-related fatalities.


To help ensure the safety of manatees and the protection of seagrass beds, here are some important tips for boaters:


  1. Steer Clear of Seagrass Beds: Avoid boating directly over seagrass to prevent damaging these vital habitats.

  2. Adjust Your Motor: If navigating over seagrass is unavoidable, trim up your motor and idle through to minimize harm.

  3. Use Polarized Sunglasses: These can help reduce glare, making it easier to spot manatees and seagrass beds.

  4. Report Distressed Manatees: Should you encounter a manatee in distress, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) immediately at 1-888-404-3922.


By adopting these practices, boaters can play a crucial role in safeguarding the environment and protecting the manatees that depend on seagrass beds. Enjoy your time on the water responsibly, knowing that you're helping to preserve our natural resources for future generations.


Graphic courtesy of the Marine Discovery Center.


 

Army Corps' Lake O plan finally reaching finish line after 5 years (TCPalm) - The Army Corps of Engineers' new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), set to take effect by late summer, aims to reduce harmful freshwater discharges to the St. Lucie River by 40%, a significant improvement over the previous LORS08 plan, offering long-term benefits for the river and southern Indian River Lagoon.


Rising waters plague septic tanks, threatening pollution and health risks (Washington Post) - Rising sea levels are compromising septic systems across South Florida, causing environmental and health hazards as groundwater levels rise, overwhelming septic tanks and threatening to pollute local waterways and the drinking water supply, with Miami-Dade County racing to replace vulnerable systems amid high costs and funding challenges.


Cement Recycling Method Could Help Solve One of the World’s Biggest Climate Challenges (Environmental News Network) - Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a method using electrically-powered arc furnaces to recycle cement and produce very low-emission concrete at scale, potentially revolutionizing the transition to net zero by significantly reducing the 7.5% of global CO₂ emissions attributed to concrete production.


Warm Water Rushing Under "Doomsday Glacier," Scientists Warn (Futurism) - Warm ocean water is penetrating miles underneath Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, known as the "Doomsday Glacier," causing extensive melting and raising concerns about its stability, as its complete melting could raise global sea levels by over two feet, according to new research using space-based imaging.


It’s the hottest May in Miami. Ever. (Miami Herald) - Miami is experiencing its hottest May ever, with a record-breaking heat index reaching 112 degrees, driven by a combination of climate change, high pressure ridges, and moist air, leading to concerns about increased heat-related illnesses and a potentially scorching summer ahead.


EPA sets limits on 'forever chemicals' in drinking water (Bay Journal) - The EPA has set enforceable nationwide limits for six per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water, aiming to reduce exposure to these "forever chemicals" that have been linked to serious health issues, though the costs of compliance could be significant for many communities, including those in the Chesapeake Bay region where contamination is widespread.


 

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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