JOHN TOBIA: This issue goes beyond politics
Thanks to a law signed by Gov. Rick Scott on March 16, local governments such as Brevard County now have an additional “tool in the toolbox” to heal our Indian River Lagoon.
The county can now spend revenue previously earmarked for politicians’ pet-projects directly on cleaning the lagoon. The Board of Brevard County Commissioners, however, continues to shirk its responsibilities by insisting on spending this money on projects such as a $500,000 lighthouse cottage.
On March 20, after being given the option to reallocate revenue to heal the sick lagoon, three county commissioners instead chose to go ahead with a plan to bond $5 million for a no-bid contract to buy AstroTurf for a park in Viera.
Just days before, the board was briefed by Virginia Barker, director of natural resources in the county, on the unusually high likelihood of a fish-kill in the Lagoon. Commissioner Kristine Isnardi and I dissented from spending this $5 million on fake grass.
This issue goes beyond politics. Both Republicans and Democrats have called on politicians to stop serving special interests and clean up our lagoon. Residents are tired of seeing our once-beautiful lagoon turn into a massive pile of muck, stinking with the smell of death and decay.
Citizens whose families’ livelihood has been tied to the lagoon for generations are suffering. Tourists who have come to experience Brevard County’s natural beauty are revolted at our neglect of precious resources.
According to a study commissioned by the county, conducted by Tetra Tech, Inc., a clean lagoon would have an economic impact of $2.1 billion, $997 million of which is due to increased tourism.
Some commissioners have argued that we already have the funds to clean up the lagoon, thanks to the generosity of our residents in agreeing to pay a half-cent sales tax. I believe that we can, and must, do much more.
Duane DeFreese, executive director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, has made clear that money from the county’s lagoon sales tax won’t be enough to address the crisis.
Residents who voted to tax themselves did not do so in the belief that we would not try to find creative ways to use existing revenue to supplement their sacrifice.
While the county has now committed to spending $5 million on fake grass while real seagrass in the lagoon is dying, there is still over $9.4 million that can be directly used to clean our lagoon instead of pet projects.
The projects these funds are currently allocated to are:
• A lighthouse keepers cottage museum in Cape Canaveral ($500,000)
• A boat dock in Indian Harbour Beach ($200,000)
• A sports stadium in Titusville ($7 million)
• A campground in Palm Bay ($1.7 million)
As an alternative, we might choose to accelerate muck removal projects, some of which are not even planned to begin until 2026. Or, if this idea is too ambitious for some commissioners, we might choose to fund some of the $39.5 million in unfunded projects contained in the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan. We could even look at planting real, live seagrass in the lagoon once water visibility improves to more than a few inches.
I will be introducing proposals to reallocate funds for these projects to heal our lagoon during a board meeting on April 10. This meeting will take place in the boardroom at the Viera Government Center, 2725 Judge Fran Jamieson Way in Viera, at 5 p.m.
If you believe that it is wrong to spend $200,000 for a boat dock on a lagoon which, because of aging and overwhelmed infrastructure, we keep having to discharge raw sewage into, please contact your county commissioner.
Brevard County Pet Projects vs. the Indian River Lagoon Fact Sheet
• On March 16, 2018, Governor Rick Scott approved HB 7087, this year’s tax reform package, sponsored by Representative Randy Fine. One provision of this bill allows local governments to choose to re-direct funds earmarked for politicians’ pet-projects directly to cleaning the Indian River Lagoon.
• On March 20, 2018, after newly having the option to re-direct funds to the lagoon, three County Commissioners – Jim Barfield, Rita Pritchett and Curt Smith – instead chose proceed with a plan to bond $5 million for a no-bid contract to buy AstroTurf for a park in Viera. Two weeks before, on March 6, 2018, Natural Resources Director Virginia Barker warned the Commissioners of the likelihood of an upcoming fish kill due to increased algae blooms in our Lagoon. Similar blooms have resulted in severe fish kills in 2013 and 2016. County experts also informed the Commission that the pollution in the river also is a main contributor to the substantial loss of seagrass beds.
• Currently, the 1/2 cent sales tax, passes by 62.3% of voters in 2016, goes towards cleaning the Indian River Lagoon. Duane DeFreese, Executive Director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, has made it clear that money from this tax won’t be enough to address the crisis. These funds should not take the place of other potential allocations made to protect the Lagoon.
• There is still $39,592,000 in unfunded projects contained in the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan, according to the Citizen’s Oversight Committee.
• At the October 10, 2017, County Commission meeting, four out of five Commissioners, John Tobia being the only nay vote, approved plans and improvements (totaling $9,4 million) that have been prioritized over the unfunded Lagoon projects.
– Lighthouse Keepers Cottage Museum in Cape Canaveral ($500,000). Period furniture, landscaping and picnic tables that were mentioned in building plans, should not have precedence over healing the Lagoon. This project would still be viable without these tourism dollars, according to the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Foundation in their grant application.
– Pier expansion for Oars & Paddles – Park & Pier in Indian Harbour Beach ($200,000). It is illogical to renovate a boat dock on a dying lagoon where people do not feel safe to go in the water due to pollution, which is the result of underfunded infrastructure.
– Titusville Multi-Use Sports Arena ($7 million). This project has multiple concerns, including funding and parking. The lagoon should take precedence over space for archery and field hockey tournaments.
– Palm Bay Nature Center & Campground ($1,7 million). Preserving the current natural beauty of Brevard is more important than creating additional ways for citizens to enjoy nature. These projects do not come close to the value of a clear and beautiful lagoon.
• The potential restoration of the Indian River Lagoon has been projected to increase the economic impact of tourism by over $997 million, according to a study conducted by Tetra Tech, Inc. If not restored it is estimated that the local economy would lose approximately $3 billion in tourism and recreation revenue
We must continue to advocate for this valuable resource here in Brevard, not only for the significant positive economic impact but for future generations to experience and enjoy.
I will continue to advocate that the board come to its senses and get serious about the Indian River Lagoon.
– District 3 Brevard County Commissioner John Tobia
HOW TO CONTACT YOUR BREVARD COUNTY COMMISSIONER:
District 1: Chair Rita Pritchett; 321-607-6901; D1.Commissioner@BrevardFL.gov
District 2: Commissioner Jim Barfield; 321-454-6601; D2.Commissioner@BrevardFL.gov
District 4: Commissioner Curt Smith; 321-633-2044; D4.Commissioner@BrevardFL.gov
District 5: Vice-Chair Kristine Isnardi; 321-253-6611; D5.Commissioner@BrevardFL.gov
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