FCC News Brief - June 10, 2019

Read Gov. Ron DeSantis OKs restrictions on petition gathering, 37 other bills - “Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Friday that Democrats and other critics say is designed to thwart citizen-led petition drives opposed by Republicans. The measure (HB 5), one of 38 bills the governor signed, was one of the most contentious of the legislative session. It requires petition-gatherers to register with the state and have a Florida address and mandates fines of $50 to $250 for each petition submitted to the state 30 days after it was signed. DeSantis had earlier said he would sign the bill, saying the petition process had gotten unwieldy and it had become too easy to change Florida’s constitution. For Democrats and progressive groups, however, the bill is a political power play. Democrats have been shut out of the governor’s mansion and outnumbered in the Legislature for the past 20 years, but have been able to win support for several ballot measures over the objections of GOP leaders. Florida Republicans have groused about having to accommodate classroom size caps, anti-gerrymandering laws, calls to spend more on land conservation, legalizing medical marijuana and automatically restoring the right to vote to felons who’ve completed their sentence…” Gray Rohrer reports for the Orlando Sentinel.

Read City of St. Augustine considers managing Fish Island as part of state acquisition - “As the acquisition of Fish Island nears a decision by the state, officials are looking to the city for help. The North Florida Land Trust and state officials are asking the city to agree to manage Fish Island “as a passive recreational park” if the deal goes through, according to a memo from city budget director Meredith Breidenstein. It’s not clear yet what that might cost, but it would likely require little infrastructure. Jim McCarthy, president of the North Florida Land Trust, said the state won’t allow the land trust to manage it, and it would make sense to have the city manage it. “Their citizens are the ones who made this happen,” he said. D.R. Horton attempted to put a housing development on the property, but the city’s Planning and Zoning Board rejected the proposal amid public pushback… The North Florida Land Trust has been negotiating to have the state acquire the property using Florida Forever funds. While the property owners recently agreed to sell, the deal will go before Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Cabinet in July for a decision, McCarthy said. Sen. Rob Bradley, chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, agreed to share his support of the acquisition at the Cabinet meeting, McCarthy said. Meanwhile, locals are preparing to keep pushing for the deal to go through…” Sheldon Gardner reports for the St. Augustine Record.

Read Seminole looks at buying wooded land off SR. 46 to protect it from development - “Seminole County commissioners on Tuesday will consider spending $1.2 million to buy back from the School Board nearly 13 acres of old Florida woods and savannah just north of State Road 46 to preserve it from development. Known as the Yankee Lake property, the parcel is next to a Seminole wastewater treatment plant just west of Sanford and on the edge of nearly 50,000 acres of pristine land home to the the Florida black bear and the endangered Florida scrub-jay...If county commissioners decide to move forward with the purchase, the School Board would place the money from the sale into the district’s capital budget. The money could then be used toward renovating schools, buying new buses or purchasing classroom equipment. Commissioner Jay Zembower said the purchase would essentially be “swapping tax dollars” because it’s going from one county government entity to another. Commissioners are scheduled to discuss and vote on the purchase during Tuesday’s morning session, which begins at 9:30 a.m. at the County Administration Building, 1101 E. First St. in Sanford…” Martin E. Comas reports for Orlando Sentinel.

Read County must upgrade wastewater facilities - “Sarasota County government conducted an informative, first-rate “summit” on water quality Wednesday, providing elected officials, appointed staffers and members of the public with clear data and inspirational testaments to the value of preserving and protecting the natural environment. But earlier in the week, behind the scenes, the Sierra Club sent the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation a letter that should remind everyone: The county’s actions speak louder than its words at a community gathering. The letter — from Cris Costello, a local manager of the private-sector environmental-protection group, to the DEP — concerns the department’s actions against Sarasota County and failures of the county’s utility system, including spills and discharges of inadequately treated wastewater...Prior to the summit, the County Commission heard a substantive report from its staff on how the quality of treated sewage, stormwater runoff and septic tank discharges can be improved — with a particular focus on reducing the amount of nitrogen in the liquids. The staff cited three main contributors to nitrogen-laden waters: runoff from watersheds; septic systems in areas with high water tables or near waterways; and public wastewater-treatment plants. As we have written previously, each area must be part of any comprehensive approach, but improvements in sewage treatment should be the short-term priority. In light of the DEP’s regulatory actions and a lawsuit over sewage-plant failures, upgrades to AWT (advanced wastewater treatment) would provide a substantial return on financial investments and decreases in nitrogen loads. Yet, according to the Sierra Club’s letter, Sarasota County has offered a counterproposal to the DEP that would make some progress but fail to pursue the AWT standards…” From the Herald-Tribune Editorial Board.

Read Arguments set in conservation funding case - “The 1st District Court of Appeal will hear arguments July 16 in a long-running battle about whether state lawmakers properly carried out a 2014 constitutional amendment that required spending on land and water conservation. The Tallahassee-based appeals court issued a two-page notice Tuesday scheduling the arguments. Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson last year ruled that lawmakers had failed to properly comply with the voter-approved constitutional amendment, which required using money from a real-estate tax to bolster land and water conservation. Environmental groups contended that lawmakers improperly diverted portions of the money to other expenses. Attorneys for the House and Senate appealed, arguing in part that Dodson’s ruling would infringe on the Legislature’s authority to set spending priorities…” From the News Service of Florida.

Read Lake commission must protect Green Swamp - “...Florida is no longer wild and untamed. The population of Lake County during [Theodore] Roosevelt’s time was around 7,000 people, now it’s 350,000. I’m a strong advocate for economic prosperity and growth. But I won’t sacrifice my children’s and grandchildren’s prosperity to obtain a prosperous short term for myself. Florida’s water is more vulnerable and of lower quality than it was just a generation ago. There is less open space and natural areas now than 20 years ago. This is fact and not open to debate. The rate of land development in Florida outpaces the rate of land preservation and conservation or agricultural use. I’m proud of the economic gains made in Lake County since the Great Recession. But we must strike a balance. Economy and environment can co-exist in Florida. We can start by looking at our natural areas as “Green Infrastructure” critical for protection of water resources, wildlife movement, and providing open spaces connecting the remaining pieces of Florida and don’t face daily inputs of pollutants from run-off, noise, septic tanks, and light. Green Infrastructure is as important to our Florida economy as roads and utilities. Thankfully, our governor, Ron DeSantis, has expressed similar sentiments. This summer and starting at a public hearing on June 11, I hope the Lake County Commission will take further steps to protect the Green Swamp. Property rights are not at issue with this effort. I envision Green Swamp protection efforts to include better defining the development process to include more specific Low Impact Development rules, establishing performance criteria for septic systems, land acquisition and transfer of development rights to reduce density utilizing free market principles. It’s time we get focused on protecting and enhancing our valuable Lake County Green Infrastructure like the Green Swamp. I’m certain President Roosevelt would be proud…” Sean Parks writes Opinion for the Orlando Sentinel.

Read Florida’s ongoing struggle with non-native water hyacinth - “… Native to the Amazon River, this class I prohibited aquatic plant was introduced to the river around 1890 by an admirer who loved its attractive purple flower and wanted to “beautify” the waterway. It was a bad idea: Within a few years, its prolific growth completely clogged sections of the river, displacing native species. The dense mats blocked light from penetrating the water, shading out submersed plants, reducing oxygen production, and promoting the breeding of mosquitos. Within a few years of its introduction, alarmed by reports from panicked skippers and lumber companies that used the river to transport wood that sections of the river were impassible, Congress authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to use “any means necessary” to clear the noxious weed and free the river for commercial transportation.  Still, the “weed from hell,” as it’s sometimes referred to, has spread to most of Florida’s lakes and 33 other states...Fishing enthusiasts and environmentalists have long pointed to the potential impacts of the state’s spraying program, including pollution of state waterways, impacts on other plants and animals, and the accumulation of decomposing plant matter...The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which is tasked with managing invasive plants and administering the state’s longstanding aquatic plant management program, in January decided to take a pause from herbicide treatments as they went on a “listening tour” around the state to collect comments from various stakeholder groups. At these well-attended meetings attendees questioned the efficacy and safety of herbicide use on the water hyacinth, the qualifications of the vendors who applied the chemicals, and the effects on marine life, native plants, and habitat...Since the listening tour, the FWC has resumed its spraying program but has directed its staff to make changes in its habitat management plans, which include: improving timing of herbicide-based invasive aquatic plant treatments each year; exploring new methods and technologies to oversee and increase accountability of aquatic plant control contractors; exploring ways to better integrate and increase the strategic use of mechanical aquatic plant harvesting; and developing pilot projects to explore better plant management tools…” Robert Beringer writes for Earth Island Journal

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Upcoming Environmental Events:

June 10. 6:00pm - June Earth Ethics Environmental Education Series- (Pensacola)- Join us at Ever'man Educational Center located at 327 W Garden Street. This month we welcome Mr. Vernon Compton. Mr. Compton works for The Longleaf Alliance as Director of the Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership.  The Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership is a voluntary public/private landowner partnership formed in 1996 that now sustains over 1.3 million acres of diverse habitat in northwest Florida and south Alabama.  The partnership allows the partners to combine their expertise and resources to more effectively manage their individual properties and to meet the challenges of restoring and sustaining the larger longleaf ecosystem.  Vernon has a Bachelor of Science in Forest Management from LSU and prior to joining The Longleaf Alliance in 2010 worked for the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the Florida Forest Service at Blackwater River State Forest.  Mr. Compton will discuss "The Importance of Trees." Check out the Eventbrite page here, and Facebook event here. For more information, email earthethicsaction@gmail.com

June 10-14, June 24-28- Camp Kids in the Woods at the Austin Cary Forest - (Gainesville) - Is your 6th-9th grade child looking for fun adventure this summer?  Consider Camp Kids in the Woods! Campers will conduct various field explorations led by local scientists from forestry, wildlife, and water resources. Highlights include: fishing, handling wildlife, exploring local ecosystems, a trip to a local spring, camping out one night at the Austin Cary Forest, building wildlife nesting boxes, and participating in games and scavenger hunts. After a week of fun in the forest, campers gain a better understanding and deeper appreciation of their natural world and what is required to be a good steward of the environment. Camp Kids in the Woods summer program is a collaborative effort between the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation and the USDA Forest Service. Session 1: June 10-14, 2019; Session 2: June 24-28, 2019. For more information and to register visit: www.campkidsinthewoods.org , or contact the Camp Director, Molly Disabb at kidsinthewoods@ifas.ufl.edu

June 12, 6:00pm - Know your GREEN - (Orange Park) - The St. Johns Riverkeeper is already getting several reports of algal blooms across the Lower Basin of the St. Johns River from Palatka to Jacksonville. Read WJCT’s recent news story covering the issue. Now’s the time to take action and help us raise awareness to get the GREEN out! Join St. Johns Riverkeeper staff for this evening presentation to learn what causes these blue-green algal blooms and why they’re harmful for you and our River. We’ll also teach you ways to help us reduce algal blooms by living a more River Friendly lifestyle. You’ll also learn: What happened on nutrient pollution bills in the 2019 Legislative Session, How to report algal blooms when you see them, and Upcoming algal bloom outreach events, summer volunteer opportunities, and more! Light snacks and drinks provided. RSVP here. Location: Orange Park Town Hall, 2042 Park Ave, Orange Park, FL 32073.

June 13, 6:00pm - Know your GREEN - (Palatka) - The St. Johns Riverkeeper is already getting several reports of algal blooms across the Lower Basin of the St. Johns River from Palatka to Jacksonville. Read WJCT’s recent news story covering the issue. Now’s the time to take action and help us raise awareness to get the GREEN out! Join St. Johns Riverkeeper staff for this evening presentation to learn what causes these blue-green algal blooms and why they’re harmful for you and our River. We’ll also teach you ways to help us reduce algal blooms by living a more River Friendly lifestyle. You’ll also learn: What happened on nutrient pollution bills in the 2019 Legislative Session, How to report algal blooms when you see them, and Upcoming algal bloom outreach events, summer volunteer opportunities, and more! Light snacks and drinks provided. RSVP here. Location: St. Johns River Center, 102 N 1st St, Palatka, FL 32177.

July 8, 6:00pm - July Earth Ethics Environmental Educational Series - (Pensacola) -Join us at Ever'man Educational Center located at 327 W Garden Street. We will be viewing A PLASTIC OCEAN.  A PLASTIC OCEAN begins when journalist Craig Leeson, searching for the elusive blue whale, discovers plastic waste in what should be pristine ocean. In this adventure documentary, Craig teams up with free diver Tanya Streeter and an international team of scientists and researchers, and they travel to twenty locations around the world over the next four years to explore the fragile state of our oceans, uncover alarming truths about plastic pollution, and reveal working solutions that can be put into immediate effect. We'll discuss what you can do to help reduce your use of plastics! One lucky winner will receive a giftset to jump start a plastic reduced life. Check out the Eventbrite page here, and Facebook Event here. For more information, email earthethicsaction@gmail.com

July 11, 7:00pm - Toxic Puzzle Screening & Environmental Panel - (Orange Park)- TOXIC PUZZLE is a medical and environmental detective story where documentary filmmaker Bo Landin follows ethnobotanist Dr Paul Alan Cox and his scientific team around the world in a hunt for the hidden killer. The pieces come together in a toxic puzzle where cyanobacteria in our waters become the culprit. Are these organisms, fed by human pollution and climate change, staging nature’s revenge by claiming human lives? Join the St. Johns Riverkeeper at the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts in Clay County (283 College Dr, Orange Park FL 32065) for a live screening and panel discussion on the issue of toxic algae blooms and the serious short and long-term health effects it’s having on our communities, wildlife, and habitats of our River and what YOU can do to help.

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