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Why We Conserve Land, Balancing Green Space with Development, and more!

June 22, 2024 Weekly Newsletter


This is the sixth and final (for now) of a series of articles on moving the Urban Service Boundary. The previous articles in this series are available on our website, if you missed them:

  • On sprawl vs. density here.

  • On why we need careful planning and deliberation here.

  • A deep dive into what density means here.

  • How moving the UBS will not help with Affordable Housing here.

  • The USB and our Water Supply here.


A Call to Protect Our Green Spaces

and Conservation Lands in Indian River County


Indian River County has a rich history of valuing and protecting its natural landscapes. This commitment is evident even today in the overwhelming support we saw in 2022, when 78.2% of voters backed the acquisition of more conservation lands. Our community has always understood the intrinsic value of preserving our natural environment, a tradition dating back to the establishment of Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge, the first of its kind in the nation. Our dedication to conserving wild spaces has consistently set us apart and enriched our quality of life.


The Value of Conservation Lands


Green spaces and conservation lands are not just beautiful; they are essential to our well-being. Numerous studies have shown that access to green spaces can improve mental health, reduce stress, and increase physical activity. Research by the CDC highlights the mental health benefits of green spaces, noting their role in reducing stress and promoting overall well-being​ (CDC)​. Additionally, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has reported that living near parks and recreational areas is associated with increased physical activity and lower rates of obesity​ (IU Blogs)​.


Many of us chose to live in Indian River County because of its unique outdoor culture and commitment to the environment. We are drawn to the open spaces, the wildlife, and the natural beauty that define our community. It is these same qualities that keep us here, fostering a deep connection to the land and a shared responsibility to protect it for future generations.


The Urban Service Boundary: A Line We Should Not Cross


Our county's staff and consultants have made it clear that we have the capacity within the current Urban Service Boundary (USB) to meet our housing needs through at least 2050. In fact, we have capacity within the USB to accommodate and additional 51,049 people. This capacity does not include the municipal areas or the annexed areas inside the USB. Expanding this boundary is unnecessary and would undermine the efforts and legacy of our early pioneers who worked tirelessly to conserve these lands. There may be specific, targeted instances where it makes sense to adjust the USB, such as near the new interchange on Oslo Road with I-95. However, a broad expansion of the USB contradicts the values that have shaped Indian River County.


The Legacy of Conservation


Our early pioneers and conservationists left us a legacy of stewardship and respect for the natural world. They understood that protecting our green spaces was crucial not only for the environment but also for future generations’ sake. Today, we must honor their legacy by continuing to prioritize conservation and responsible land use.


We can achieve our county’s development goals through smart, sustainable practices within the existing boundary. Higher-density developments and mixed-use areas can provide the housing we need without sacrificing our precious green spaces, such as they are discussing in downtown Vero Beach. This approach not only preserves the environment but also fosters healthier, more vibrant communities.


A Call to Action


It is time for us to reaffirm our commitment to conservation and the responsible use of our land. We must advocate for policies that protect our green spaces and prioritize sustainable development. Let us honor the legacy of those who came before us by ensuring that future generations can enjoy the same natural beauty and quality of life that we cherish today.


Attend county meetings, voice your support for maintaining the USB, and educate others about the importance of our conservation lands. Together, we can protect the unique character of Indian River County and build a future where growth and the environment coexist in harmony.


 

Conservation for All Ages

 

Conservation of open space is not just for adults. The Audubon Advocate education program aims to get young people outdoors to appreciate land and water conservation. Tackling "Nature Deficit Disorder" one child and family at a time, they've reached over 900 fifth graders in the past decade and hundreds more in camp programs. Understanding ecosystems and their role in conservation empowers them to make a difference. Parents, get outside with your kids and let them share their knowledge from this impactful program!


 

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Balancing Development and Green Spaces


The Intrinsic Value of Green Spaces

As mentioned above, Indian River County is well known for its natural beauty and dedication to conservation. Beyond the psychological and recreational benefits, green spaces offer chemical and environmental advantages that are essential to sustaining a healthy ecosystem. Trees and green areas are not just aesthetic assets; they are vital components in improving air quality, reducing pollution, and maintaining the ecological balance.


The Chemical Benefits of Trees and Green Spaces

Trees play a crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, thereby purifying the air we breathe. This natural process helps mitigate the impacts of pollution and contributes to a healthier environment. Additionally, green spaces help regulate urban temperatures by providing shade and cooling the air, which is particularly important in mitigating the urban heat island effect that often plagues developed areas.


Furthermore, green spaces support biodiversity by providing habitats for various species, fostering a balanced ecosystem. They also aid in water management by absorbing rainwater, reducing runoff, and minimizing the risk of floods.


The Need for Walkable Areas

Recent development in the county have sparked discussions about the need for walkable green spaces in new residential projects. While the dedication of acreage to ponds for rainwater mitigation is commendable, there is a noticeable lack of walkable green areas in many modern developments. Stormwater ponds often count towards a greenspace requirement in developing properties. This highlights a broader issue in urban planning where functional green spaces are often overlooked in favor of other infrastructure.


Higher-Density Development with Green Spaces

We have been talking about density a lot the last few weeks. Is it possible to achieve higher density in urban development while preserving significant green spaces? Yes! One effective approach is called Clustered Subdivisions. This means that the building is on a smaller portion of the land, such as developing on 50 acres out of a 100-acre plot and keeping the remaining 50 acres wild. This method allows for double the density on the developed portion while maintaining half of the land as natural green space.


Other ways to have green space in higher density areas include creating community gardens, pocket parks, greenways, and preserving natural buffers in and around developments. Such planning ensures that residents could benefit from both higher-density housing and access to open, natural areas, thereby supporting a balanced and sustainable community.


The Importance of Political Will in Urban Planning

Achieving a balance between residential development, stormwater mitigation, and green space requires strong political will and a forward-thinking approach. It is essential for policymakers to prioritize sustainable development practices that incorporate ample green spaces into urban planning. This not only enhances the quality of life for residents but also ensures the long-term sustainability of our environment.


Moving Forward: A Call to Action

As Indian River County continues to grow, it is imperative that we remain committed to the principles of conservation and sustainable development. We must advocate for policies that protect our green spaces and ensure that new developments incorporate sufficient green areas. This includes supporting projects that balance residential growth with environmental stewardship.


Conclusion

In conclusion, the chemical and environmental benefits of green spaces are indispensable to our well-being and the health of our ecosystem. As we look to the future, let us strive for a balanced approach to development that honors our commitment to conservation and ensures a sustainable and vibrant community for generations to come.


 

How did Treasure Coast fare on Gov. Ron DeSantis' large veto list? (TCPalm) - In a recent budget decision, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed $11.5 million in projects across the Treasure Coast, significantly impacting local government infrastructure and environmental projects. This included $375,000 intended for Indian River Lagoon outfall upgrades in Indian River County, affecting crucial baffle boxes projects for stormwater nutrient and waste removal. Despite expressing support for water quality projects, the Governor suggested seeking funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) instead of new legislative appropriations. Maybe next year...


This is it, y'all: Ed Killer's final fishing report for TCPalm (TCPalm) - Ed Killer bids farewell in his final fishing report after 30 years, detailing current Florida fishing regulations, reporting local fishing conditions, and paying tribute to three recently deceased local fishing legends.


Qualifying deadline passes, who is running for Indian River offices? (TCPalm) - Forty-three candidates are running for 21 positions in Indian River County's upcoming elections, including key races for county sheriff, County Commission spots, School Board positions, state representative, and state senator. IRNA and CWC will be asking all County Commission Candidates about their positions related to our issues. Look to see these as we get closer to the election.


Should a boardwalk that was 'part of the fabric of Vero Beach' be saved? (Vero News) - Vero Beach City Council decided to replace the storm-damaged Humiston Beach boardwalk with a more cost-effective sidewalk, despite support for the historic boardwalk, primarily due to budget constraints and lack of shared tourist-tax revenues from the county. Also check out a gallery of historical images here.


Indian River Lagoon shows signs of improvement during ongoing water quality projects (Yahoo News) - Environmental efforts in the Indian River Lagoon are showing progress with increased seagrass growth in some areas, despite declines in others (such as our area), as nearly 70 water quality improvement projects are currently underway. However, the density of sea grass in the beds remains sparse. 


New project adds to frustration of A1A motorists (Vero News) - Motorists on State Road A1A face new construction as the Florida Department of Transportation installs a pedestrian crosswalk at Pelican Plaza, causing intermittent lane closures and adding to ongoing frustration with lengthy road projects.


County Lifts Burn Ban (Indian River Guardian) - Indian River County has lifted the Burn Ban declared on May 7th after recent significant rainfall reduced the wildfire threat, as proclaimed by County Administrator John Titkanich based on the counsel of Emergency Services Director David Johnson.


 

Mangroves in Florida are facing a significant new threat from a cocktail of disease-causing fungi. This pathogen, first identified in Miami mangrove trees in 2019, has now been found along the Indian River Lagoon and is suspected to be present in other areas of the state, including the Tampa Bay area. The fungi, similar to chicken pox or shingles in humans, can lie dormant in healthy trees and emerge when the trees are stressed, causing symptoms like yellowing and curling leaves, dark spots, and stem lesions.


Mangroves are crucial to Florida's coastal ecosystems. They stabilize shorelines, reduce erosion, absorb runoff, and protect against storm surges. However, they are already under stress from habitat loss, climate change, and pollution. The new fungal threat could exacerbate these challenges, particularly if the trees are already weakened by other environmental factors.


Efforts are underway to manage this disease. Researchers at the University of Central Florida are testing a liquid treatment that helps mangroves absorb anti-fungal particles. However, this treatment is not a cure and emphasizes the need for preventative measures to reduce stress on mangroves. Ensuring healthy growing conditions and minimizing additional stressors such as poor water quality, human development, and boat traffic are essential steps in protecting these vital ecosystems.


The potential spread of this pathogen poses a significant risk to mangrove conservation and restoration efforts. It highlights the need for ongoing research and the implementation of effective management strategies to safeguard Florida's mangrove forests from further decline.


Learn more here.


 

Big Sugar gives big bucks to Rick Scott (VoteWater.org) - Big Sugar has heavily funded Rick Scott's tight Senate re-election campaign, contributing significant amounts to his supporting PACs and campaign, while his opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, has received no such support.


Billions of Gallons of Freshwater Are Dumped at Florida’s Coasts. Environmentalists Want That Water in the Everglades (Inside Climate News) - Environmentalists want the billions of gallons of freshwater currently being dumped from Lake Okeechobee into the sea to be redirected through constructed wetlands into the Everglades to prevent harmful algal blooms and better support the ecosystem.


Miami Is Entering a State of Unreality (The Atlantic) - Despite significant adaptation efforts, Miami's infrastructure remains ill-equipped to handle increasingly frequent and severe flooding caused by rising sea levels and extreme rainfall, with experts warning that without addressing the root causes of climate change, retreat may become the only viable option.


South Florida’s heavy rains triggered sewage spills (Miami Herald) - The recent tropical wave that hit South Florida caused severe flooding, overwhelming sewage systems and resulting in multiple spills, including 80,000 gallons of raw sewage in Hialeah, which led to water contamination and health risks from pollutants and waste bacteria in storm runoff.


Remember they said Miami would be under water? A preview of the future (Phys.org) - Recent intense flooding in Miami-Dade and Broward counties highlights the increasing reality of sea-level rise and climate change, showing that Miami's infrastructure is unprepared for such events despite substantial investments, signaling an urgent need for more effective climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.


How climate change could amplify rainstorms in Florida (Miami Herald) - Climate change is intensifying South Florida's rainfall, overwhelming its drainage systems and causing severe flooding, as demonstrated by recent storms that dumped a month's worth of rain in just one day, revealing the region's urgent need for enhanced infrastructure and long-term climate adaptation strategies.


Forever chemicals are poisoning your insurance (Grist) - Insurance companies are increasingly excluding coverage for PFAS-related liabilities due to the high costs of potential lawsuits, likening the situation to asbestos, which leaves small businesses vulnerable and raises concerns about adequate protection and recourse for PFAS contamination victims.


 

The IRNA is committed to ensuring that our community is well-informed and engaged in the electoral process. Recently, a debate was held featuring the four candidates for Indian River County Sheriff. This debate, hosted by the Taxpayers Association of Indian River County at the Indian River Charter High School’s auditorium, provides an in-depth look at each candidate's vision and policies. We encourage all voters to listen to the candidates' perspectives to make an informed decision at the polls. Watch the full debate to hear directly from those seeking to serve and protect our community!


 

Oneka Technologies is harnessing wave power to create fresh water (The Cooldown) - Oneka Technologies has developed wave-powered desalination buoys that convert seawater into clean, drinkable freshwater, offering a sustainable solution to water scarcity by using no polluting emissions, electricity, or land, and protecting marine life while providing vital resources to coastal communities.


Students team up with NASA for innovative water quality research (WMTW) - NASA is collaborating with students at Florida Gulf Coast University to analyze water quality, focusing on cyanobacteria and algae, and testing the relevance of NASA's earth science data for the Seminole tribes in Southwest Florida, while also providing the students with valuable coding and teamwork skills.


Advanced artificial intelligence: A revolution for sustainable agriculture (ScienceDaily) - Advanced artificial intelligence, particularly edge AI, promises to revolutionize sustainable agriculture by enhancing efficiency, yield, quality, and safety of agricultural production while addressing environmental, social, and economic challenges, as demonstrated by a recent study.


Farmers who graze sheep under solar panels say it improves productivity. So why don’t we do it more? (Grist) - Grazing sheep under solar panels has shown to improve productivity and diversify income for farmers, yet it remains underutilized due to a lack of planning adjustments by developers, despite its benefits in maintaining grass and providing shelter, as evidenced by increased wool production and healthier pastures on some farms in Australia.


Downstream effects: The cautionary tale of the Mississippi River (Grist) - In "The Great River," Boyce Upholt explores how the history of human attempts to control the Mississippi River through engineering has led to catastrophic consequences, offering lessons for modern efforts to manage natural systems amid climate change, ultimately advocating for a harmonious approach that respects natural rhythms rather than attempting to dominate them.


EV prices are dropping so much that even experts are shocked (The Cooldown) - Electric vehicle prices have dropped significantly, driven by price cuts from major manufacturers like Tesla and Ford, resulting in increased availability and record sales, yet demand still lags behind production, presenting a "Field of Dreams" moment where supply exceeds consumer interest despite the positive market trends.


How this summer's brutal hurricanes might one day save lives (Grist) - With the end of El Niño and the possible onset of La Niña, coupled with extraordinarily high Atlantic sea surface temperatures, the 2024 hurricane season is primed for severe storms that provide crucial data for improving rapid intensification forecasting, ultimately helping to save lives through better preparedness and response strategies.


 

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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