FCC News Brief - June 21, 2019

Read Bombshell ruling against leading Florida environmentalist; is state Supreme Court next stop? - “ A leading Florida environmentalist will have to pay $4.4 million to a Martin County-based rock mining company after a bombshell appeals court ruling that some legal experts fear will muzzle free speech. The conclusion released Wednesday by the 4th District Court of Appeal says Maggy Hurchalla, a Martin County commissioner from 1974 to 1994, acted maliciously when she emailed elected officials about concerns she had with the operations of the billionaire-backed company Lake Point Restoration in 2013. The 12-page decision, which upholds a Feb. 2018 lower court ruling, also contends that while Hurchalla was a regular citizen at the time of the emails, she had heightened influence over Martin County Commissioners, and made “false statements” to purposefully harm Lake Point… A coalition of environmental and free speech organizations supported Hurchalla in the appeal including the First Amendment Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida… The Lake Point saga dates to 2008 when the company bought about 2,200 acres near Lake Okeechobee. It decided to mine the land for limestone and then donate the holes after 20 years to the South Florida Water Management District for water storage and treatment areas. To make the mining more palatable, and get approval to pull rubble from property that once grew sugarcane, Martin County was courted to join an agreement that would allow the mining. The selling point was that Lake O water would be diverted from the fragile St. Lucie Estuary…” Kimberly Miller reports for the Palm Beach Post.

Read First seasonal rains causing pollutants to flush toward rivers, Gulf - “The beginning of the rainy season brings with it a concentrated blast of nutrient-rich waters to rivers, lakes and bays as heavy rains wash off months of built-up pollution.  It's called the "first flush effect," and it's been happening across the state in recent weeks as the dry season has given way to summer-like rains. "The first flush is heavily polluted with not just nutrients but oil and grease from roads and lots of pesticides and herbicides that run off at the same time — that’s really the worst water of the season," said Rick Bartleson, a water quality scientist with the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. "In between rain storms you can have a build up of those chemicals again and as soon as the rain starts washing the surface again, the ditch and drain surfaces, that water is always more polluted." The rainy season runs from May 15 through Oct. 15 and delivers several feet of precipitation to the Sunshine State. "These things do happen and basically it’s going to be a higher concentrations of pollutants with these first rains of the season," said Jim Beever, with the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council. "This year we’ve had some rain so it’s not been a bad season…” Chad Gillis reports for the Fort Myers News-Press.

Read Mosaic will permanently close its long-idled Plant City fertilizer plant - “Mosaic announced Tuesday that it will permanently close its Plant City fertilizer plant, which has been idled since 2017 because of slowing demand for phosphate. However, some employees will have to remain on site to help decommission one of the plant's phosphogypsum stacks, a process company officials expect to take several years. To get rid of the water on top of it, the company has been transferring some of it to other facilities every day since 2017, according to spokeswoman Jackie Barron. Such gypsum stacks, built with slightly radioactive material from phosphate processing, loom over the Florida landscape, with a pool of acidic water on top. In 2016, a sinkhole opened beneath a Mosaic gypsum stack in Mulberry, draining the pool on top into the aquifer and setting off a major public health scare and public relations problem for the company...Mosaic has been working hard to shift its Florida operations southward. Last year, DeSoto County commissioners voted 4-1 to deny the company a zoning change on 18,000 acres that would allow it to open a new mine there. But earlier this year the commissioners voted unanimously to void that vote and let Mosaic come back and try again in four years. The Plant City plant was one Florida facility not targeted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for mishandling hazardous waste. In 2015 Mosaic settled with the EPA for improper storage and disposal of waste from the production of phosphoric and sulfuric acids, key components of fertilizers, at Mosaic's facilities in Bartow, New Wales, Mulberry, Riverview, South Pierce and Green Bay in Florida, as well as two sites in Louisiana. The EPA said it had discovered Mosaic employees were mixing highly corrosive substances from its fertilizer operations with the solid waste and wastewater from mineral processing, in violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws…” Craig Pittman reports for the Tampa Bay Times.

Read Activists lose last legal battle to protect rare Miami forest from Walmart development - “Activists fighting to preserve a slice of one of the world’s rarest forests lost what was likely the last legal battle to stop the imperiled ecosystem from turning into a Walmart-anchored development. One of the last remnants in Miami-Dade of pine rockland, a forest that is home to the endangered Miami tiger beetle and more than 20 protected species of animals and plants found no place else, is being reduced to two small preserves within Coral Reef Commons, a mixed-use project spread across about 140 acres next to Zoo Miami. A 2017 lawsuit challenging the project’s zoning process was struck down last week, clearing the way for the big-box store to replace plants like the deltoid spurge, a tiny endangered herb that is only found at that spot. The legal hearing was too late to save much of the forest anyway. Bulldozers have already cleared much of the ground, and the concrete foundation of a strip mall can be seen from Coral Reef Drive, near the entrance of the site. One morning this week, workers were laying the roof on dozens of three-story buildings that seem near completion. For years, environmentalists and private citizens have tried to protect the shrinking ecosystem that exists only in south Miami-Dade. The Richmond pine rockland, a sparse forest dotted with slash pines, is inhabited by more than 20 protected plants and animals. One of its endangered residents, the iridescent Miami tiger beetle, is so rare it hadn’t been seen for decades until it was rediscovered on the site in 2007…” Adriana Brasileiro reports for the Miami Herald.

Read Lee County takes contractor bids to aid in the next water crisis - “Bracing for another hit to our water quality as Lee County commissioners are already looking at contractors to take care of algae in case it ends up in your backyard. With unprecedented algae and water problems last year, Brian Hamman, a Lee County commissioner, admits they were not prepared. “Last year, we were hit with an algae crisis like this county has never seen,” Hamman said. “We didn’t even have companies on stand by. Actually, there weren’t companies to hire. No one had been vetted by the state for clean up.” Now, they are evaluating pilot programs used last year and vetting other companies with solid techniques to hire and put on stand by for the next potential crisis. “We had proposals from using ozone or hydrogen peroxide or biological remediation and chemical treatment,” said Roland Ottolini, director of Lee County Natural Resources. “We’re doing this up front, so if we have a crisis, we can bring one two or three companies and have them work simultaneously.”... Beyond cleaning up what we can see is getting to the bottom of the problem underneath. Commissioners have approved two nearly $90,000 programs for more studies to help identify the source of the problem. One of them it has recently learned are septic tanks. “If you have a septic tank that’s failing and you’re within the watershed,” said Cecil Pendergrass, a Lee County commissioner, “you need to get your septic tank fixed.” Britni McDonald reports for Wink News.

Read ‘It brings us hope’: Mother panther, kittens captured on video in Hendry County - “Panther sightings are not out of the ordinary for the Florida Wildlife Federation, but seeing a mother panther followed by three spotted panther kittens is much rarer. The Florida Wildlife Federation captured photos and videos of a mother panther and a cluster of kittens during an ongoing study at Keri Road and Corkscrew Road in Hendry County. The panthers, an endangered species, were seen crossing through the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest on April 12 at 5:52 a.m. and April 13 at 6:56 p.m. and 6:58 p.m. "We don’t see kittens on the cameras that often, so this is something that we were excited to see," said Meredith Budd, Southwest Florida field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation. "That’s not to say they’re not out there, they’re just rarer for us to capture on our wildlife movement cameras.” The panther footage was discovered by Daniel Smith, the transportation ecologist contracted to conduct the study, Budd said. Smith periodically collects the footage off the cameras set up along the Keri Road corridor, then reviews it. The Florida Wildlife Federation is conducting the study to determine best locations for potential wildlife crossings. The Keri Road corridor has not been previously studied for panther movement, Budd said. “We initiated the study along Keri Road so we can document where the panthers are moving along that corridor,” Budd said. “Then, perhaps, if there’s will and funding, we could propose potential wildlife crossings based on the findings of the study.” The study is set to be released this summer. Budd said panthers are the guiding “umbrella species,” meaning what is good for the panther is going to be good for all native wildlife. “It brings us hope,” Budd said. “It’s very inspiring to see kittens out there. Seeing footage of kittens means we’re having new litters, and so that sheds hope on an increasing panther population, which is ultimately our goal. We are working to protect wildlife habitat because that’s what they need to survive and to sustain populations.” Madison O’Connor reports for Naples Daily News.

Read How to tell if a presidential candidate has a serious climate change plan - “Voters care about climate change. It’s become a top issue in the Democratic presidential race. Republicans worry, too, especially in places like Arizona and Alaska where hotter summers and melting permafrost have become impossible to ignore. Caring about climate is a good start. But it’s not enough. Voters need to be able to choose candidates whose climate plans will actually make a difference. Here’s what any serious climate plan should do. First, it should leverage American strengths to enable global action. Even cutting U.S. emissions to zero will not come close to solving the problem. Second, it should cover all sectors that produce emission, taking a comprehensive approach that addresses industry, buildings and agriculture as well as electric power and transportation. Third, it should embrace a broad and growing portfolio of potential solutions. Surprises are inevitable, and the world needs to be able to sustain its momentum toward zero emissions even when problems emerge. Finally, it should be built to last. Solutions will take decades to put in place. The plan must receive deep and wide public support to withstand changing political tides over such a long period...The United States must focus the talent and resources of America’s globally preeminent universities and national labs on finding solutions that will reduce emissions from industry, agriculture, and other hard-to-abate sectors worldwide. Contrary to the belief in many quarters, climate solutions are not merely a matter of political will but also require transformative innovations and rapid progress in science and engineering. Plans that call only for deployment of existing technologies are not serious…” David M. Hart writes Special to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

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Upcoming Environmental Events:

June 24-June 25 - Miami’s Feeling the Heat & Paying the Price - (Miami) - Pay Up Climate Polluters Miami in collaboration with muralist @MDOTBlake present Miami’s Feeling the Heat & Paying the Price on June 24th and 25th. Concerned about the rising costs of flooding, sea walls & extreme heat? Join us as we raise awareness about costs, industry deception & making polluters pay. June 24 / 10 am-4 pm/ Mural-Making in Allapattah & Little Havana. June 25 / 10 am-4 pm/ Mural-Making in Liberty City & Little Haiti. For more information, click here.

June 26 - 6:00pm-9:00pm - Climate Action: Inform & Empower - (Miami) - Take the future into your own hands and join us for a discussion and hands-on activities designed to inform and empower locals around climate action. The Miami chapter of the United Nations Association, The CLEO Institute and Vizcaya have come together for this very special evening. The night begins with a discussion among experts about the state of our climate, the urgency for climate action, and solutions. All guests are welcome to submit questions for the panel during registration as well as talk with experts one-on-one throughout the evening.
Vizcaya’s gardens will be open for visitors to enjoy along with snacks provided by Hungry Harvest and beer courtesy of Saltwater Brewery. Click here for more information.

June 27, 6:00pm-7:30pm - Underwater Climate Rally - (Miami) - The first democratic presidential debate is our opportunity to let the candidates - and the world - know that Floridians want lawmakers to offer solutions for the #ClimateEmergency. Climate has got to be a central platform for any serious Presidential candidate. Come to the “Underwater Climate Rally” and add your voice calling for action on climate. Wear Blue - to signify the “underwater” theme. Bring blue tarps, snorkel gear, paper towels, masks, rainboots or umbrellas - whatever you have handy to let everyone know you do not want to be "underwater" and signify you're ready for the candidates to #ActOnClimate. Gather: 6:00 p.m. Press Conference: 7:00 p.m. March to Debate: 7:30 p.m. (The debate airs from 9pm - 11 pm) For more information visit Facebook event here.

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. For more information and to register, click here.

September 30th - October 2nd- Public Land Acquisition & Management (PLAM) Partnership 2019 Conference - (St. Augustine) - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is proud to announce the Public Land Acquisition and Management (PLAM) Partnership Conference. This statewide conference focuses on public land acquisition and management issues in Florida. PLAM has typically been hosted on a rotating basis by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the five water management districts. The conference will be held at the World Golf Village Renaissance Resort (500 S Legacy Trail, St. Augustine, FL 32092). WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Local, regional, state, federal, non-profit and private land managers; Land acquisition specialists and agents; Water managers; Engineers, planners, attorneys, surveyors, appraisers, architects; Public officials; Non-profit groups; Consultants; Others interested in conservation land planning. Registration coming soon. For more information, click here.

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