FCC News Brief - October 23, 2018

Read Snow, ice may trump red tide - tourism officials still have hope for good season - “Red tide algae blooms have choked marine life and filled the seaside air with pepper-like respiratory irritants all summer. But, ice and snow are no bargain, either. And trading the cold for Southwest Florida sunshine and warm winter never loses its appeal. Or so goes the hopes of hotel and condo owners looking ahead to the winter season.Despite nationwide reports of our red tide crisis, winter-visitor forecasts are not all gloom along the Southwest coast. Higher-end brand hotels in Collier County are happy with their bookings. Sarasota County winter bookings, on the other hand, are frightful. Charlotte County is not overly worried about its hotel bookings, at least at the branded flag properties that make up the lodging inventory in Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. There is concern, though, about the short-term condo rentals and occupancy of mom-and-pop motels on or near the ocean. Red tide has been especially troublesome for Charlotte’s Palm Island. The island is especially in need of a let up of the toxic algae blooms and a rebound in visitors by winter. Meanwhile, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island, among others, are seeing disappointing booking levels, said Lois Croft, Southwest director of the Florida Lodging and Restaurant Association. ‘It really varies,’ said Croft, whose region includes Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties. ‘From our Fort Myers and Sanibel surveys, we are seeing major drop-offs in bookings and current occupancy.’...Palm Island’s summer tourist development tax collections show the extent of the visitor problem, Croft said. The 5 percent tax lodgers pay on island hotel stays generated $70,370 in May but dove to $13,864 in June and fell even more, to $9,300, in July. An uptick — though still less than half of the May peak — started in August and continued into September. August collections rose to $35,591 and September’s to $31,992. Those numbers, however, are only slightly lower than figures released for 2017, showing an obvious slow down in summer months. In 2017, Palm Island took in $57,638 in May, $21,320 in June, $10,362 in July and $18,489 in August… Virginia Haley, director of Visit Sarasota County, said it appears the hit in visitor numbers the county took in the summer will continue through the winter. 'I am very worried about the winter season,' Haley said earlier this month. ‘We have seen numerous cancellations of reservations for January, February and March.’......Ultimately, the best messaging may come from TV weather reports in the North. 'When it gets really cold up North, yes, I’ll think we’re back. The peak will start when the snows start.’ Ted Carter reports for the Charlotte Sun.

Read They’re all talking about environment now. But what about Nov. 7? - “Florida politicians sure care about the environment. I mean, every time I turn on the television or open up the paper, someone is telling me how much he or she cares about restoring, preserving and protecting our water and land. It’s particularly interesting to see Gov. Rick Scott, now running for the U.S. Senate, and Ron DeSantis, who left Congress to run for governor, talking so much about the red tide and green algae in Florida waters, about beaches, about what’s left of Old Florida. It’s nice to hear. It sure beats other elections when environmental issues seemed to take a backseat, barely getting mentioned in speeches and debates. But the cynic in me says there’s a reason for this: the polls. A recent University of North Florida poll asked likely voters statewide what they think is the most important problem in Florida. The environment was tied for second on the list, just slightly behind education. If politicians care because voters care, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But beyond the polls, there is another reason to be skeptical of some of the green-caped crusaders: their records. Scott didn’t necessarily create the toxic water that has killed millions of fish, sickened people and hurt a wide range of businesses. Spanish explorers noted the red tide centuries ago. The algae blooms can be traced to decades of growth and mistakes. But what happened this summer isn’t just a coincidence….DeSantis has stood up to Big Sugar, receiving the endorsement of the Everglades Trust last week. But most environmental groups have endorsed Andrew Gillum, and not just because the Tallahassee mayor has been firing up crowds by saying he’ll 'put the word ‘protection’ back into the Department of Environmental Protection.' While DeSantis is saying a lot of the right things, the problem is what he’s already done. The League of Conservation Voters tracks bills related to the environment and keeps a scorecard on how Congress members vote. It says that DeSantis voted against the environment 98 percent of the time. DeSantis likes to say he’s a politician in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt conservationist. There are numerous flaws with this. But start with this one: He supported attempts to gut the very act that Teddy Roosevelt signed and used to protect places like the Grand Canyon. He said that when Scott became governor, it was a different time. The priority had to be the economy and jobs. Now we can afford to pay more attention to the environment. This is exactly the kind of thinking that has backfired on Florida. It’s how we’ve repeatedly fallen into the trap of environmental destruction — a trap that often has costly repercussions. Our land and water should be a priority in all times. Not just because it’s beautiful and historic and worth protecting for future generations. It’s a massive economic engine, a job creator and sustainer…” Mark Woods writes Opinion for the Florida Times-Union.

Read Water managers to meet in Fort Myers Monday to talk recreation, but locals want to talk pollution - “An influential committee arm of the South Florida Water Management District is coming to Fort Myers to talk about recreational opportunities here, but some locals want to focus on Lake Okeechobee discharged and the blue-green algal bloom that's plagued the Caloosahatchee River all summer.  The Water Resources Analysis Coalition, often called WRAC, is meeting Monday at 5 p.m. at the district's Fort Myers office off McGregor Boulevard. WRAC's agenda centers mostly around the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, or CREW, and recreational opportunities that will be included in restoration projects like the Caloosahatchee Reservoir and the restoration of Lake Hicpochee...But some local groups want WRAC to expand the agenda to include issues like Lake Okeechobee discharges, blue-green algal blooms and legal water reservations for the Caloosahatchee River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts Lake Okeechobee released with input from the district.  'They're talking about (the Caloosahatchee reservoir) and recreation on it, but I don't think that's what people here are interested in now,' said Jason Pim, with Calusa Waterkeeper. 'It doesn't seem to be about our quality of life in Southwest Florida. We want to talk about the water that's showing up behind our houses.' The highlight of the meeting will focus on CREW, a 60,000-acre watershed that drains parts of south Lee and northern Collier counties and is managed by the district. It flows into Corkscrew Swamp and feeds Lake Trafford.  CREW is an untouched part of the historic Everglades and is a popular attractions for hikers, campers and birders. 'We assist with land acquisition, but our biggest role is education,' said CREW director Brenda Brooks. 'In 2017 we educated over 6,300 people on the trails about the importance of the watershed and the wildlife within its borders. Over 60,000 people visited the three hiking trails last year." Chad Gillis reports for the Fort Myers News-Press.

Read Climate change prompts a rethink of Everglades management - “Efforts to restore the rich ecology of the Florida Everglades have so far focused on fighting damage from pollutant runoff and reestablishing the natural flow of water. But now, an expert panel is calling for federal and state agencies to reassess their plans in light of threats from climate change and sea-level rise. A congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, released on 16 October, asks the managers of the 18-year-old Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) to conduct a 'midcourse assessment.' The new evaluation should account for likely conditions in the wetlands in '2050 and beyond' and model how existing restoration projects would fare under various sea-level rise scenarios. 'I use the analogy of a hockey player,' says environmental economist William Boggess at Oregon State University in Corvallis, who is chair of the panel behind the new report. 'Maybe we should be skating to where the puck is going to be rather than where it is right now.' The Everglades watershed once included more than 1 million hectares of wetlands, sawgrass plains, and tree islands across southern Florida, but agriculture and human settlement have shrunk that habitat by half. Phosphorus from agricultural runoff has killed sawgrass that thrives in the Everglades’ naturally low-phosphorus conditions. In its place, dense cattail habitats have sprung up, choking off water access for animals and birds. Eighty plant and animal species in the larger region are now threatened or endangered...To account for the impacts of climate change, CERP should incorporate the most recent climate models, and should appoint an independent 'Everglades lead scientist,' the report says, to make sure these models inform all CERP projects. Lake Okeechobee, the largest water source in the Everglades system, gets its own chapter in the report. The lake feeds estuaries and wetlands to the south, and is home to the Everglade snail kite, an endangered bird of prey. The report recommends closer monitoring and research on the lake’s levels to inform a new regulatory plan. Low water levels can minimize dangerous flooding and foster submerged vegetation. High levels, which ensure water for human use and natural preserves southward, also spread contaminants to cleaner shallow zones. The report also discusses tentative plans to add nearly 350 million cubic meters of surface storage and 80 aquifer storage and recovery wells around Lake Okeechobee. That would help managers control water levels, notes ecologist Paul Gray, science coordinator for Audubon Florida’s Everglades restoration program in Florida, who was not on the report committee. But competing demands on the water supply from communities, agriculture around the lake, and the wetlands to the south could complicate the management efforts, he says. 'We are trying to restore a whole ecosystem, not just move the harm from one part of the ecosystem to another.” Richard Blaustein writes for Science Magazine.

Read Four nonpartisan principles on Florida’s water - “It is often said that campaigning is easier than governing. This is especially true concerning the environment, where Floridian’s love of the outdoors, our tourism, our farming, and our housing all intersect. These interests deserve thoughtful consideration beyond the platitudes required by today’s election and media cycle. Whoever wins Florida’s upcoming elections will — or should — face difficult decisions on Florida’s water supply, water quality and environmental restoration. Collaboration is more effective than confrontation. Florida has the legal tools available to protect the environment, and these can be used and implemented in the face of stiff opposition. A forced solution is rarely effective, however. Lawsuits often overturn new regulations or plans but even if not successful, litigation can lock things up for years...beware of the ‘fix du jour.’ It’s tempting for each administration to put aside all the previous plans and demonstrate its leadership and responsiveness by going in an entirely new direction. Remember, however, new plans or regulations require time to craft, establish, implement and become effective. Transitioning is often the biggest challenge, and large-scale redesigns require a lengthy multiyear pause in existing programs while the changes are accommodated...Don’t demonize the opposition. Because of its vital importance, water concerns inspire fear and fear inspires anger that causes people to demonize those who disagree with them. Once demonized, the group’s views become invalid. This issue is nonpartisan and bipartisan. The antidote is engagement...Follow the science. Environmental regulation and restoration are complicated and difficult to convey. It will be distorted by advocates for and against an issue. Government is in a unique position to provide scientific information that is unvarnished and unspun. If this role is perverted to partisan ends because government is one of the advocates, its scientific credibility will be hard to restore…” Greg Munson writes Opinion for Florida Politics.

Read Venice to start monitoring stormwater outfall to curb red tide- “ The city of Venice is moving close to a deal with a consultant to start monitoring the city’s stormwater outfalls, the latest in the ongoing efforts to figure out the best course of action to stem the growth of red tide. The monitoring program was one of the steps members of the Venice City Council authorized at an Aug. 20 meeting on red tide. That deal could be in place in the next two weeks, according to an email update from City Engineer Kathleen Weeden to City Manager Ed Lavallee and members of the Venice City Council. Weeden said in a separate email Friday that the city is negotiating with Taylor Engineering, of the city’s Coastal Engineers of Record. Once that deal is struck, VHB, one of Coastal’s subcontractors, will be tasked with sampling the water at the city’s 16 stormwater outfalls.  national company with offices in 12 states — four in Florida, including Sarasota — VHB was previously used to sample water during previous outfall projects. Weeden said via email that the team would 'conduct limited outfall water quality testing, outfall pollutant load estimates and recommendations for outfall prioritization while grant applications are being processed by the agency.' As part of its work, VHB will use an existing Southwest Florida Water Management District information drainage and a Sarasota County model that tracks pollution and runoff as part of its analysis. One issue with the Sarasota model is that the stormwater drainage areas it tracks are fairly large — the entire island of Venice is one drainage basin. That’s where the second task — monitoring of the outfalls — comes into play…” Earl Kimel reports for the Herald-Tribune.

Read Fish kills on the Apalachicola possibly linked to sewage spill - “Researchers with Florida Fish and Wildlife suspect that a sewage release is partially responsible for fish kills in Gulf and Franklin Counties.  The source of the sewage is a treatment plant in Wewahitchka, on the Chipola River.  Earlier this week the plant was reported to have released 80,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater after losing power during Hurricane Michael.  FWC has received several reports of dead fish in the Apalachicola River delta downstream of the spill. FWC researchers are currently investigating the causes and extent of the fish kills.  Apalachicola Riverkeeper Georgia Ackerman encourages citizens report any sightings of dead fish. 'Getting tissue samples from the fish, getting water quality samples, understanding what’s going on with the system so that we know all these different variables and can get good science and facts.' Georgia said. Riverkeeper Georgia Ackerman has been in touch with Alex Reed of the Department of Environmental Protection Division of Water Resource Management, located in Panama City.  After Hurricane Michael, the Division is operating at Gulf Coast Community College with limited phone and wifi connectivity. Per Alex Reed, DEP and FWC are working together to gather data at points upstream and downstream of the sewage spill. They’ll be sampling for a variety of contaminants, salt, and oxygen levels. While a sewage spill is a likely cause for fish kills, these events are common during hurricanes. For an explanation of how a strong storm can affect fish, continue reading….'One of the things Roy and I were really heartbroken to see today were gulf sturgeon.' Georgia said.  Gulf sturgeon is a state and federally threatened species. 'And to see one of those floating belly up, it saddened us.' The presence of these dead fish downstream of the sewage spill is suggestive, but more research is needed to determine exactly how much of a role it played. 'We understand that oxygen deprivation events happen a lot with hurricanes.' Georgia said. 'We saw that with Hurricane Florence in other regions.' Fish kills are common after hurricanes. Retired FWC biologist Michael Hill explains. 'The violent wind churns up the bottom.' He says. 'And there’s a lot of organic material that is going though the decomposition process.'  This is a process that uses up oxygen in the water. “And that’s called Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD). That violent stirring suspends all that organic material in the water column. And then all of it starts to decompose.'...” Rob Diaz de Villegas reports for WFSU Public Media.

Read Justice delayed: Merces-Benz’s diesel pollution remains unprosecuted- “To serve the cause of justice, law enforcement must be prompt, even-handed, and appropriate to the circumstances of individual cases. In their handling of an important recent pollution case, however, the enforcement activities of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have been none of those things. The case involves the alleged use by Mercedes-Benz of software "defeat devices" in its diesel cars to override pollution control devices. There is considerable evidence that Mercedes' misconduct was intentional, and that over a period of years, its systematic cheating resulted in the emission of many times the allowable amount of nitrogen oxide – a pollutant that harms human health and contributes to climate change, smog, and other air pollution problems. In fact, one Mercedes diesel model's maximum emissions were found to be a whopping 91 times the emission standard. The Mercedes-Benz defeat device scandal came to light in early 2016, prompting EPA and DOJ to launch investigations into Mercedes and its parent company, Daimler AG. However, since the Trump administration took office in January 2017, this investigation appears to have stalled. No enforcement action has been taken against Mercedes or any of its executives, and Trump administration officials have offered no explanation for the more than two-and-a-half-year delay in completing a review of the facts. We know that U.S. authorities can move quickly in such cases because they did so when Volkswagen (VW) broke the law in the same way. In 2015, EPA received information that VW was using defeat devices on its diesel vehicles when they were driven on roads but not during testing, and, as a result, unlawfully emitting vast quantities of nitrogen oxides into the air. After 18 months of providing the regulators with bogus "explanations" for its diesel car pollution, VW ultimately admitted to California and EPA that its sophisticated cheating was the cause of the air pollution in question...As things stand now, the only credible explanation for the kid-glove treatment the Trump administration is giving Mercedes is that it's yet another example of the administration's wholesale abandonment of its obligation to faithfully execute the nation's environmental laws and protect Americans' health. Complaining about environmental regulations is a standard track on the president's rhetorical play list. This is what it translates to in the real world: Letting a rich company off the hook for deliberate cheating so that it can make a few extra bucks while polluting the air we all breathe.” Joel Mintz writes for CPR Blog.


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Upcoming Environmental Events:

October 23, 5:15pm - 8:30pm - Big Bend Environmental Forum (Tallahassee) - The Big Bend Environmental Forum, is hosting a candidates' forum for local candidates, including the US Congress, Leon County Commission, Tallahassee City Commission, and Soil and Water Commission. Candidates for Governor and Agriculture Commission have been invited to the reception. The Candidate Forum will begin a 6:00 pm. Citizens will be able to suggest questions covering environmental, energy, sustainability, and growth management issues. At 5:15 the building will be opened up as an open house which will include displays by candidates and BBEF member organizations, and will provide an opportunity for voters to meet the candidates in person. The Big Bend Environmental Forum is coalition of 15 conservation, community, smart growth and sustainable organizations working to to protect and improve the communities in the Big Bend Region. More information here.

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.

Do you know of an upcoming environmental event or meeting you would like to include in the FCC News Brief? Send us a quick e-mail and we will include it for you.

Petitions

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

We hope you enjoy this service and find it valuable. Our goal is to provide you with the latest and most relevant environmental news for Floridians. Our hope is that you will use this information to more effectively and frequently contact your elected representatives, and add your voice to the growing chorus of Floridians concerned about the condition of our environment and the recent direction of environmental policies.

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