FCC News Brief - October 24, 2018

Read A 14-year-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico verges on becoming one of the worst in U.S. history - “An oil spill that has been quietly leaking millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico has gone unplugged for so long that it now verges on becoming one of the worst offshore disasters in U.S. history. Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill could continue through this century. With no fix in sight, the Taylor offshore spill is threatening to overtake BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever. As oil continues to spoil the Gulf, the Trump administration is proposing the largest expansion of leases for the oil and gas industry, with the potential to open nearly the entire outer continental shelf to offshore drilling. That includes the Atlantic coast, where drilling hasn’t happened in more than a half century and where hurricanes hit with double the regularity of the Gulf. Expansion plans come despite fears that the offshore oil industry is poorly regulated and that the planet needs to decrease fossil fuels to combat climate change, as well as the knowledge that 14 years after Ivan took down Taylor’s platform, the broken wells are releasing so much oil that researchers needed respirators to study the damage. 'I don’t think people know that we have this ocean in the United States that’s filled with industry,' said Scott Eustis, an ecologist for the Gulf Restoration Network, as a six-seat plane circled the spill site on a flyover last summer. On the horizon, a forest of oil platforms rose up from the Gulf’s waters, and all that is left of the doomed Taylor platform are rainbow-colored oil slicks that are often visible for miles. He cannot imagine similar development in the Atlantic, where the majority of coastal state governors, lawmakers, attorneys general and residents have aligned against the administration’s proposal. The Taylor Energy spill is largely unknown outside Louisiana because of the company’s effort to keep it secret in the hopes of protecting its reputation and proprietary information about its operations, according to a lawsuit that eventually forced the company to reveal its cleanup plan. The spill was hidden for six years before environmental watchdog groups stumbled on oil slicks while monitoring the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster a few miles north of the Taylor site in 2010…” Darryl Fears reports for the Washington Post.

Read ‘Snowbirds’ may be greeted by toxic tides this year- and must join the fight against it - “First it was blue-green algae. Then red tide. But could the fact our water crisis is extending well into autumn provide a silver lining? That crisis should have been over by now. Discharges from Lake Okeechobee, which helped fuel another algae-filled lost summer on parts of the Treasure Coast, ceased earlier this month. But even as the locks closed, a frightening red tide crept up our coastline. It now bedevils Indian River and Brevard counties in particular. That doesn't mean Martin and St. Lucie counties are out of the woods. Last week there was a significant fish kill in the Indian River Lagoon, with thousands of dead fish littering the western bank near Midway Road at Indian River Drive. Though the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission sampled water nearby and said no red tide was present, researchers are worried. Red tide needs salt water to live; but if it's nonetheless somewhere in the lagoon, it could lead to widespread loss of marine life. It's hard to find good news in any of this. But if one positive thing is to emerge from our ongoing ecological nightmare, it's that winter is soon upon us, bringing with it flocks of 'snowbirds' from the north who may experience the Treasure Coast as they never have before: Ruined. Toxic. And a hazard to the health they thought they were preserving here in sunny Florida. Local water warriors have long lamented the fact seasonal residents tend not to get involved in the political fight for cleaner water. Some do, of course; some are in tune with conditions in their part-time hometowns year-round. For others, though, it tends to be a matter of 'out of sight, out of mind.' Surely they know about the discharges, the algae and this year, the red tide. But they, personally, miss the worst of it. That could change this year. Should the red tide persist, those who come here for the beaches may find those beaches closed. Those who enjoy recreating on the Indian River Lagoon may watch dead fishes float by. They may be horrified. They may get angry. And they might add their voices to the growing chorus demanding elected officials and office-seekers move faster and more decisively on potential solutions. The more activism and agitation, the better. Indeed, the timing here might be seen as fortuitous. With an election coming up in just two weeks, Florida will have a new governor and new legislators; counties and municipalities will have new commissioners. As we've noted in our statewide Turning the Toxic Tide editorial series, which began last weekend, the perilous state of our waterways has figured prominently in many political campaigns this fall…” Gil Smart reports for Treasure Coast Newspapers.

Read Florida’s environmental concerns prompt new institute to inform public - “ Florida's environment has been a topic that looms large for the state's residents and politicians this election cycle. Now, the Thompson Institute for Earth Systems at the University of Florida says it wants to make sure people are in the know about the latest environmental risks and developments in the state.  Bruce McFadden, distinguished professor and director of the institute, said the newly opened facility aims to protect the state by educating the public on issues such as storm recovery. 'Does it really make sense for us to rebuild in areas where the sea level is rising or where there is potential for tropical storms?' McFadden said. 'And hopefully we can better understand how to act responsibly in the future.' He added he hopes his research also will find answers to issues such as tropical storm development, Florida's red tide outbreak and an algal bloom that's spread along both coasts, injuring Florida's wildlife and tourism industry. McFadden said the institute will be communicating the kinds of research that advances understanding of air, water, land and life in Florida and beyond. 'We will communicate the research and hopefully improve public understanding about scientific knowledge about our state in a broader context,' he said. A $10 million gift to the university by Fort Myers couple Jon and Beverly Thompson provided the bulk of the funding for the institute. McFadden said the institute will share its research with Florida's future generations, including elementary and high school students, to help improve the state's future.” Trimmel Gomes reports for the Public News Service of Florida.

Read When local communities step up, our waterways win- “ As vice chair of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District and a longtime South Florida resident, I have a deep sense of responsibility to follow sound science in making decisions to keep all of our waterways clean. Our environment and the residents and wildlife that call it home, as well as our burgeoning economy, depend on both state and federal agencies to do their part to ensure the cleanliness and health of this important resource. Everything we do in Florida depends on the health of our water. However, there is one greatly overlooked authority — unlike any other — that has the power to influence the health of water within its own backyard. Of course, I’m referring to local governments. Municipalities and their elected officials have direct ability to improve water quality and stop harmful bacteria by implementing septic-to-sewer conversion programs. By unifying our voice and stepping up to denounce septic as a problem and not a solution, we as stakeholders can ensure the future of South Florida’s waterways and environment. If you want to see local governments that have joined the fight to end beach closings at the hand of human waste-caused bacteria, look no further than Marco Island in Collier County on the west coast and the town of Ocean Breeze in Martin County on the east coast. Marco Island residents have invested $250 million to help combat waste contamination. This proud community refuses to stand powerless as aging and failing septic systems wreak havoc on their way of life. Kudos to this Collier County city for operating a centralized wastewater collection system and implementing a septic tank replacement program.While no resident actively wants to incur additional costs to their household bill, the cost of not embracing conversion and investing in new treatment facilities is far greater to the pristine environment which they protect so proudly.  I had the pleasure of personally engaging with Ocean Breeze Mayor Karen Ostrand at the governing board’s October business meeting. She articulated to board members that there is no conversion too small when it comes to protecting our water quality. While Martin County’s Ocean Breeze is the eighth-smallest town in all of Florida, it still packs a powerful and committed punch to preserving the 112 acres its residents call home. The entire township has converted all 145 of its homes to a sanitary sewer system and, by doing so, has removed approximately 300 septic tanks. The $1.5 million investment was a concerted effort among a community devoted to the health of the Indian River Lagoon. I, for one, see this town as a shining example of true environmentalists making both personal and financial commitments to defend their town and ecosystem. Let’s all embrace these success stories and join in the mantra of areas like Marco Island and Ocean Breeze by never allowing human waste contamination to rob residents and vacationers of enjoying all that our state has to offer.” Melanie Peterson writes Opinion for the TCPalm.

Read Collier development plan ‘inviting disaster’ for panthers - “Environmentalists are sounding the alarm about a plan by the federal government to allow for more development. Environmentalists said it would push panthers from their homes and cause more deaths on roadways. Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its latest environmental impact statement on a plan to develop tens of thousands of acres of land in Eastern Collier County. While the plan calls for 107,000 acres of conserved lands, several environmental groups are taking issue with the plan. 'This eastern Collier multiple species habitat conservation plan is extremely problematic,' Nicole Johnson, Director of environmental policy at the Conservancy of SWFL said. The federal plan works in cooperation with Collier County's rural lands stewardship area plan. Both versions create permits that would enable development on some lands while preserving others. Some groups said this exchange wouldn't work. 'It's just inviting disaster for the panther,' Johnson said. 'Panther habitat in eastern Collier is a limited resource. You can't make more of it. You're taking away an amount when the current amount is not enough,' Sierra Club Organizing Manager Cris Costello said. The Conservancy of SWFL said not only is the primary panther habitat in jeopardy from this development plan but so are the routes where panthers travel. 'Double whammy for the panther,' Johnson said. 'Its habitat is going to be taken away, 20,000 acres, and its movement corridor is really going to be severely hampered.' Some environmental groups had hoped there would be changes to the newest plan, but they said the changes were minimal. 'There are a couple of panther corridors that appear to be widened. It's still insufficient,' Johnson said. A 45-day comment period started Friday, so anyone can submit what they think directly to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service…” Alexa Santos reports for NBC 2

Read Second man arrested in destruction of Cape Coral burrowing owl nests at construction site - “ A St. James City man arrested Friday is the second person charged with a felony for destroying six burrowing owl nests during construction activities in Cape Coral. A report from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission said Joaquin Bernal, a supervisor with Bernal Landscaping, managed construction activities at 904 SE 33rd Terrace. Prior to construction at that site the conservation commission report said there were six burrowing owl burrows on the listed property, and were known by the contractor, neighbors, and the City of Cape Coral to contain burrowing owls. The involved burrows were listed on the construction site plan and four of the burrows were listed on permitting applications. As a direct result of the construction activities, all six burrowing owl burrows were destroyed and rendered uninhabitable, which was confirmed by a conservation commission biologist...Operation of the construction equipment caused the burrows to collapse,  be filled-in and rendered uninhabitable by the burrowing owls. It was confirmed through wildlife commission's permitting database that no permit for the removal of the burrowing owl burrows was issued for the involved property. Bernal was released on $5,000 bond and is scheduled for arraignment Nov. 19. Burrowing owls are a state-threatened species under Florida law…” Michael Braun reports for the Fort Myers News-Press.

Read 5 years later: How is Silver Springs State Park? - “Silver Springs State Park is marking its fifth anniversary in the state park system this month and, according to state officials, there is much to celebrate. The state has renovated and maintained the park’s glass-bottom boat rides — its signature attraction for 140 years — while enlisting an army of volunteers to restore native plants to the 4,666-acre facility, which merged Silver Springs and the former Silver River State Park, among other areas, in 2013. Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which owns and operates the park, has contributed at least $7 million to efforts by the county and the St. Johns River Water Management District to improve the health of the springs. That money has bought environmentally sensitive land, such as the Silver Springs Sandhill property, and has gone toward runoff prevention at Half-Mile Creek. 'We’re much better protectors of the land and water,' said Sally Lieb, park manager. 'We don’t use nearly as much electricity and we don’t consume nearly as much water.' A key difference, according to Lieb, is the discontinuation of the animal exhibits housed for years at Silver Springs. The exhibits used pools with continuously running water, which had to be treated and flushed into a sewer system. 'Getting out of that business, we were able to leave the water in the ground where it belongs and just use it for visitation needs related to food service and restrooms,' Lieb said. Meanwhile, according to Lieb, volunteers work weekly planting and caring for native vegetation — which doesn’t require the irrigation and fertilizer exotic species do — while encouraging area visitors to use the same plants and gardening techniques...An ongoing topic of debate concerning Silver Springs State Park is whether officials should reopen the park to swimming. Zalak is among those having expressed a desire to see that happen. 'People are looking for an alternative to Disney, standing in line for two hours, sweating their tails off,' Zalak told the Star-Banner in April 2017. 'They want to come jump in our springs, and I think we should let them.' In fact, earlier this month, the commission said it plans to ask Marion County’s legislative delegation in Tallahassee to promote a bill that would require the state to allow swimming at the springs. Lieb said her opinion takes in 'a holistic view of the park.' 'Every other state-managed spring has swimming,' she said. 'To me, that doesn’t mean we have to have it here. We have glass-bottom boats and crystal-clear water and nobody else has that.' Lieb said previous eras in which park officials allowed swimming at Silver Springs ended due to concerns over alligators. 'And right now, in every springs-swimming park, if we see an alligator near that swimming area, it’s a death sentence for that alligator,' she said. 'Of course, human life is No. 1, but I don’t feel great about killing an alligator. 'Isn’t it kind of neat that people can go out on boats and see (alligators) here and appreciate them from that perspective?' Lieb said. 'Taking an opportunity away like swimming also creates an opportunity like wildlife viewing.' Lieb said planning talks are happening at several levels within the park system and officials welcome public input...One unexpected development is the return of manatees to Silver Springs for the first time in years, according to Lieb, who worked with manatees in state parks at Homosassa Springs and Fanning Springs. 'Our longtime boat captains say, ‘We didn’t see manatees like this before,’' she said. 'I can’t take credit for it or explain why, but it’s really cool. There were 10 of them in here just a few days ago.” Richard Anguiano reports for the Ocala Star Banner

Read We’re eating bits of plastic, study finds - “ In the next 60 seconds, people around the world will purchase 1 million plastic bottles and 2 million plastic bags. By the end of the year, we will produce enough Bubble Wrap to encircle the equator 10 times. Though it will take more than 1,000 years for most of these items to degrade, many will soon break apart into tiny shards known as microplastics, trillions of which have been showing up in the oceans, fish, tap water and even table salt. Now, we can add one more microplastic repository to the list: the human gut. In a pilot study with a small sample size, researchers looked for microplastics in stool samples of eight people from Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria. To their surprise, every single sample tested positive for the presence of a variety of microplastics. 'This is the first study of its kind, so we did a pilot trial to see if there are any microplastics detectable at all,' said Philipp Schwabl, a gastroenterologist at the Medical University of Vienna and lead author of the study. 'The results were astonishing.' There are no certain health implications for their findings, and they hope to complete a broader study with the methods they have developed. Microplastics — defined as pieces less than .02 inches long, roughly the size of a grain of rice — have become a major concern for environmental researchers during the past decade. Several studies have found high levels of microplastics in marine life, and last year, microplastics were detected in 83 percent of tap water samples around the world (the highest contamination rate belonged to the United States, where 94 percent of samples were contaminated). Most microplastics are the unintended result of larger plastics breaking apart, and the United States, Canada and other countries have banned the use of tiny plastic beads in beauty products. Researchers have long suspected microplastics would eventually be found in the human gut. One study estimated that people who regularly eat shellfish may be consuming as much as 11,000 plastic pieces per year. The new paper, which was presented Monday at a gastroenterology conference in Vienna, could provide support for marine biologists who have long warned of the dangers posed by microplastics in our oceans. But the paper suggests that microplastics are entering our bodies through other means, as well. 'The fact that so many different polymers were measured suggests a wide range of contamination sources,' said Stephanie Wright, an environmental health scientist at Kings College London who was not involved in the study.... Whether microplastics pose a health risk to humans is largely unknown, though they have been found to cause some damage in fish and other animals. Additionally, the microplastics detected in the current study are too large to be a serious threat, Wright said.” News Roundup report from the Tampa Bay Times.

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Executive Director - Friends of Gumbo Limbo

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Upcoming Environmental Events:

October 26, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. - Water Symposium: The State of our Water (DeLand): The Volusia Water Alliance hosts a series of short presentations on the water problems we face and possible solutions by leaders and experts, focused on Volusia County and applicable statewide. This free event features keynote speaker Dr. Jason Evans, Faculty Director of the Institute for Water & Environmental Resilience, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Studies at Stetson University, and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Environmental Management. His topic is "Reclaiming the Future: Science, Engagement, and Hope in Our State of Watery Peril.” Seating is limited; please register online at VolusiaWater.org. Optional catered lunch from DeLand Natural Market (wrap, chips, water, and a brownie) is available for $12 with registration. Visit VolusiaWater.org for more information. Sponsorships are available. Wayne G. Sanborn Activity Center - 815 S. Alabama Ave., DeLand, FL 32724

November 1, 12:00 noon to 1:30 p.m. -- FREE Sustainable Landscaping Principles and Practices Webinar:  This free webinar will explore best practices, trends and market opportunities for sustainable landscaping in the State of Florida. Sustainable Landscaping is a set of landscaping principles and practices which minimize environmental degradation and make more efficient use of energy, water and other natural resources. This course will review the latest research and present current best practices for designing, building and maintaining sustainable landscapes. Project case studies will be used to discuss a framework for how to promote sustainable landscaping on large scale commercial projects working with multiple stakeholders through conceptual planning through implementation and long-term maintenance. The instructors are Pierce Jones, Ph.D., the University of Florida Extension Program Leader for Energy Programs, and Timothee Sallin, president of Cherrylake, an integrated landscape company.  This event has been approved for credits for planners, Certified Floodplain Manger and Florida Environmental Health Professionals and are being sought for Florida attorneys and others.  Register at www.1000friendsofflorida.org/webinar.

November 1-4 - The Florida Springs Restoration Summit (Ocala) - Join the Florida Springs Council in Ocala to learn from state leaders and experts on how we can make meaningful springs restoration a reality. The Florida Springs Restoration Summit brings together scientists, academics, advocates, reporters, policy makers, and other citizens to discuss the status of springs health and steps needed for meaningful springs restoration and long-term protection. The cost to attend the Springs Summit is kept low to encourage participation by members of the public and nonprofit organizations. To learn more about the 2018 Springs Restoration Summit and register, see the Summit website.

November 17 - 9:00am-4:00pm - Highlands County Master Gardeners Festival (Sebring) - Join the Highlands County Master Gardeners for the inaugural Garden Festival. Kicked off at 9:00am by Shannon Reed singing the National Anthem, there will be live music, vendors, food, a kids zone, and plant classes. Where: Bert J Harris Agricultural Civic Center in Sebring: 4509 George Blvd.

November 27 from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. – FREE WORKSHOP -- Palm Beach County 2070:  What’s Next?  (Palm Beach Gardens) - Join 1000 Friends of Florida and the North County Neighborhood Coalition on Tuesday, November 27 to identify the steps needed now to promote a more sustainable future for Palm Beach County. We want to hear from you about what you think the biggest obstacles are to sustainability and what needs to be done, both short- and long-term, to overcome them.   The workshop is at Nova’s Palm Beach Campus, 11501 North Military Trail, Palm Beach Gardens.  This event is free, no registration is required, and light refreshments will be served.  Visit  www.1000friendsofflorida.org/pbco2070plan to find out more.

November 28 from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. – FREE WORKSHOP – Martin County 2070:  What’s Next? (Stuart) - Join 1000 Friends and The Guardians of Martin County on Wednesday, November 28 to share your thoughts on steps needed now to promote a more sustainable future for Martin County. We want to hear from you about what you think are the biggest obstacles to sustainability in Martin County and what needs to be done, both short- and long-term, to overcome them.  The workshop is at the Susan H. Johnson Auditorium, Wolf High-Technology Center, 2400 SE Salerno Road, Stuart.  This event is free, no registration is required, and light refreshments will be served.  Visit www.1000friendsofflorida.org/mco2070plan to find out more.

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End collection & removal of tropical marine life from Phil Foster Park

Stop the spraying of glyphosate herbicide in Florida waters

Stop Development on Fish Island along the Matanzas River

Thinking of going electric? Nextcar Pledge

Another Gulf is Possible

Save the Serenova Tract in Pasco – Say NO to the Ridge Road Extension

Florida Solar Bill of Rights

Protect Florida’s Gulf Coast from Offshore Drilling

Protect Weeki Wachee Springs; Stop the 7 Diamonds Mine in Pasco County

Tell Congress to Stop Sabal Trail

Stop New Phosphate Strip Mining in Florida

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