Monday, April 22, 2019

Dear FL Senator: STOP THE TOLL ROAD DISASTER


April 22, 2019
The Honorable Senate
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399

RE: Oppose proposed toll roads –SB 7068/HB 7113

To the Florida Senate:

The fifty-six (56) below-signed organizations ask that you oppose legislation that seeks to construct three toll roads through rural Florida. These highways will not reduce traffic or provide safety during hurricane events.

1000 Friends of Florida found in its Florida 2070 report that Florida is on track to increase developed land to a full third of the State in the next half century. Sprawl is not progress. These toll roads will cost Florida hundreds of thousands of acres of farms and rural lands and fragment landscape and wildlife habitat. The intended “benefits” of these toll roads include water and sewer infrastructure which, with on and off ramps, will accelerate urban sprawl. 

This legislation would carve three corridors through Florida’s undeveloped areas:
  • "Southwest-Central Florida Connector" extending from Collier County to Polk County; a previous highway planned for the route was called the Heartland Parkway
  • "Suncoast Connector" extending from Citrus County to Jefferson County
  • "Northern Turnpike Connector" extending from the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike northwest to the Suncoast Parkway 

Building these roads will be very expensive. The funding would grow from $45 million next fiscal year to $90 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, about $135 million the next year, and a recurring amount of $140 million starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. And that’s just for planning. Billions will be bonded to actually build hundreds of miles of limited access highways. Florida will be paying off the debt for more than a generation instead of funding education, healthcare, or needed infrastructure for wastewater, drinking water, and the roads and bridges we already have.

These hugely expensive road projects and accompanying urban sprawl will devastate habitat for the Florida Panther and dozens of other endangered and threatened Florida species.  They will destroy important wetlands, forests, springs, and aquifer recharge areas from Florida Bay to the Georgia border even though they would not serve an identified transportation purpose. In fact, the FDOT Interstate 75 Relief Task Force recommended in 2016 that rather than new roads, a better approach was expanding the vehicle capacity of the interstate and connecting highways.

Transit and planning relieve congestion, not building roads. Relieving congestion in urban areas requires a focus on transit. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2016 Report Card notes that only 2% of Floridians’ commutes to work were made by public transit and that Florida needs to develop and connect its transit networks with an additional $1.3 billion investment.

Road building is not a sustainable economic development strategy for rural communities.  In fact, these roads will route traffic away from communities established on existing roads, harming their economies.

New tollways through west-central Florida are not the answer to hurricane preparedness.
Floridians need more safe spaces in their communities to shelter during storms; only 42% of schools are designated hurricane shelters, indicating many schools do not meet the structural requirements.  Providing safe shelters for evacuees is a more practical and affordable response to extreme weather events than new toll expressways.

We urge you to spend Florida tax payer dollars wisely and reject the toll roads.

Sincerely,

1000 Friends of Florida
Thomas Hawkins, Policy & Planning Director

Aquatics for Life
Susan Steinhauser, President

Audubon Everglades
Scott Zucker, Vice President & Conservation Co-Chair

ASBRO LLC.
E. Allen Stewart III, P.E. Managing Partner

Bullsugar Alliance
Alex Gillen, Policy Director

Center for Biological Diversity
Jaclyn Lopez, Florida Director

Catalyst Miami
Gretchen Beesing, CEO

Chart 411
Lucinda Johnston, Executive Director

City of Seminole Community Garden
Mary Ann Kirk, Garden Coordinator

Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County
Judy Orcutt, Vice President
Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Nicole Johnson, Director of Environmental Policy

Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast
Christine P. Johnson, President

Defenders of Wildlife
Kent L. Wimmer, AICP, Senior Representative

Englewood Indivisible
Jane Hunter, Leader

Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida (ECOSWF)
Becky Ayech, President

Environment Florida
Jennifer Rubiello, State Director

Florida Bay Forever - Save Our Waters
Elizabeth Jolin, Director

Florida Conservation Voters
Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director

Florida Native Plant Society
Susan Carr, President

Florida Native Plant Society, Conradina Chapter
Carol Hebert, President

Florida PIRG
Matt Casale, Transportation Campaign Director

Florida Voices for Health
Scott Darius, Executive Director

Florida Water Conservation Trust
Terry Brant, Legislative Chairman

Forging Alliances, Inc.
Alexander Easdale, Owner/Principal

Friends of the Everglades
Philip Kushlan, President

Hands Along The Water
Samantha Gentrup, President

Ichetucknee Alliance, Inc.
John D. Jopling, President

Indivisible Clay County
Sandy Goldman, Chair

Indivisible Mandarin
Karen Droege, Chair

International Dark Sky Association, FL Chapter
Diana Umpierre, Chair

Izaak Walton League of America, Florida Keys Chapter
Michael F. Chenoweth, President

League of Women Voters of Florida
Patricia Brigham, President

Lobby For Animals
Thomas Ponce, Founder/President

Martin County Conservation Alliance
Donna Melzer, Chair

Miakka Community Club
Cathy Lewis

NW St. Johns County United for Progress
Richard Chapman, President

Our Santa Fe River, Inc.
Michael Roth, President

Peace Justice Sustainability Florida
Alice Wujciak,  Member Activist

Peacehome Campaigns
David Gibson, Organizing Director

Pelican Island Audubon
Richard Baker, Ph.D., President

Progress Florida
Mark Ferrulo, Executive Director

Rainbow River Conservation, Inc.
Burton Eno, PhD, President

Rebah Farm
Carol Ahearn, Owner

Responsible Growth Management Coalition
Connie Langmann, President

Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation
Rae Ann Wessel, Natural Resource Policy Director

Santa Fe Lake Dwellers Association Inc. (SFLDA)
Jill McGuire, President

Save the Manatee Club
Katie Tripp, Ph.D., Director of Science and Conservation

Seminole United Methodist Church Community Garden
Bob Huttick, Garden Coordinator

Sierra Club Florida
Frank Jackalone, Chapter Director

South Florida Wildlands Association
Matthew Schwartz, Executive Director

Space Coast Progressive Alliance
Philip E. Stasik, President

Speak Up Wekiva, Inc.
Chuck O’Neal, President

Springs Eternal Project
John Moran, Co-director

St. Johns Riverkeeper
Lisa Rinaman, Riverkeeper

Stone Crab Alliance
Karen Dwyer, Ph.D., Co-founder

Sunshine Citizens, Inc.
Christopher Vela, President


Good, Bad, Ugly, and Ugliest List for Florida's Environment: Earth Day 2019

THE UGLY
  • Climate change is hitting Florida harder every year with higher temperatures, stronger hurricanes, and rising seas.Toxic algae blooms have become an annual ever-worsening statewide crisis.
  • Legislature refuses to follow the will of voters on Amendment One, grossly underfunding land acquisition through the Florida Forever and Rural Family Lands Protection programs. 
  • Anti-Voter bills threaten democracy in Florida.
  • THE UGLIEST:  Toll Roads bill is the worst environmental bill in 20 years. It would fuel massive sprawl which would destroy much of natural and rural Florida.  It would also increase water pollution, flooding, and deplete our natural resources.
THE BAD
  • Bills that ban all forms of fracking are hung up in the Legislature.
  • Bills that preempt local regulation on issues of environmental concern result in no regulation.
  • Governor talks climate change mitigation, but has no plan to address the root cause. 
  • Legislature only talks red tide mitigation; it has no plan to stop the pollution, which makes red tide worse, at its source.
  • Everglades Reservoir is badly designed – a boondoggle if not fixed.
  • Springs restoration continues to get short shrift.
  • Donald Trump wants to conduct seismic blasting off Florida’s Atlantic coast and oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico closer to Florida’s west coast.  He just appointed an oil industry lobbyist to head the Department of Interior. 
THE GOOD
  • Florida cities making strong commitments to convert to 100% renewable energy and clean transportation.
  • Homeowners and businesses are adding rooftop solar at record rates.
  • Florida Agriculture Commissioner’s opposition to drilling in the Everglades.
  • Governor DeSantis is talking the environmental talk, but will he walk the walk? Will he veto bad environmental bills?


Sunday, April 14, 2019

URGENT! Ask your legislators to STOP catastrophic and costly tollways from destroying rural Florida

A catastrophic plan for hundreds of miles of new toll roads into rural Florida is advancing quickly in the Florida Legislature. Senate Bill 7068 and House Bill 7113 would commit the state to spend billions of dollars to build three new tollways through some of the last remaining rural and environmentally sensitive areas in our state. See a map of what’s at risk.


Credit:  FDOT

The tollway plan would divert an escalating amount of dollars from the state’s General Revenue, which funds parks, schools, healthcare, transit, affordable housing, hurricane recovery, and the maintenance of roads we already have. 

Even then, the state would still have to borrow billions more for construction and to buy land for right-of-ways. Our Florida tax money would be spent to the tune of $10 - $40 million per mile for hundreds of miles of new toll roads! This extravagant spending plan is unnecessary and will hurt the real and more pressing needs of Florida’s families. 

Moreover, these tollways will fragment natural landscapes, accelerate urban sprawl, destroy wetlands, and doom plans to preserve and restore critical wildlife corridors for animals like the Florida black bear and the endangered Florida panther. 

YOU can help STOP this. Here’s how:

1st and foremost:  Call your state legislators NOW

  • Calls are the most effective way to direct your legislators to vote NO on the destructive bills. Go here to find out who your FL state senator and state representative are.
  • Then, call (614) 610-1203.
  • A brief message will explain why your legislators must VOTE NO on SB 7068 and HB 7113.
  • It will immediately proceed to connect you with your state senator’s office. Demand they VOTE NO on SB 7068. If they do not answer, leave a message demanding the same.
  • After you complete that call, you will receive a text with a prompt with a separate phone number to call your state representative. Demand they VOTE NO on HB 7113.

2nd most important action: send your legislators an email (with a personal message if possible!)

While phone calls are the more effective way to make your demands known, if you’re not comfortable with calling (or have already called them), make sure to click here to send them an email asking them to vote NO on SB 7068 and its companion bill, HB 7113.

Add a personal message with your own reasons for why these toll roads must be stopped. You can also customize the subject line of the email. Personalizing emails makes a HUGE difference!

Thank you for contacting your legislators and asking them to protect the last of rural, wild Florida from unwanted expensive toll roads, to NOT PAVE PARADISE with more highways, to say NO to #TollRoadkill.


Roadkill, a dead gopher tortoise (a FL-designated threatened species)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Save the Voter's Voice!


During the Florida legislative session, we typically post about bills directly impacting the environment. But there are a number of anti-voter bills advancing in the legislature, and they are of concern as they have the potential to impact future voting for environmental issues.
Right now, leaders in the Florida House and Senate are fast tracking anti-voter bills through the legislature that would make it even harder for voters to have a say when it comes to amending the Constitution on Election Day.
House Bill 7111 / Senate Bill 7096 seek to make it unnecessarily difficult for citizen-led groups to get the signatures required for a proposed amendment to get on the ballot and adds unnecessary and confusing language to Floridians' ballots which is designed to defeat citizen proposed amendments. Additionally, special interest aligned legislators want to raise the already high bar for passage from 60% to 66% via House Joint Resolution 57 / Senate Joint Resolution 32.
Certain legislators also are seeking to restrict Voting Restoration Amendment 4 via House Bill 7089 / Senate Bill 7086. Approved by 65% of Florida voters, Amendment 4 allows most people who have completed their sentences to register to vote, though those convicted of felony sexual offenses or murder are still barred. Powerful Florida legislators, however, are now trying to have a say in how the amendment is implemented — introducing bills that would likely make it harder for thousands to be re-enfranchised.
These bills place restrictions on the eligibility to vote for individuals who should have their voting rights back. Among other deficiencies, the bills would effectively disenfranchise two categories of returning citizens for life: those with very small financial obligations that they will never be able to pay due to poverty and those with financial obligations for non-violent property crimes. To finance its criminal justice system, Florida imposes both fines and “user fees” on defendants upon conviction. Individuals may be fined up to $500,000 for their crime, and then are saddled with an array of administrative fees. Defendants must pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to fund court costs, “crime prevention” programs, and local jails. They must pay a fee to apply for a public defender, to receive medical treatment in prison, to reinstate a suspended driver’s license, and to participate in drug abuse treatment. Those who receive probation must pay “surcharges” to fund their supervision or room-and-board at a halfway house, as well as electronic monitoring and urinalysis. This is clearly an attempt to thwart the intent of Amendment 4 and to continue Florida's history of voter disenfranchisement. 
So how do these bills impact our protection of the environment? We need only look back to 2014 when 75% of voters approved the Water and Land Conservation constitutional amendment. After years of being ignored by legislators, citizens made their priority clear regarding land protection.  Amendment 1 sets aside one-third of documentary stamp tax revenue to buy, manage and improve conservation lands and water resources for 20 years. Now legislators are trying to make it harder to not only get an amendment on the ballot, but they are raising the threshold that must be met for passage!
Restoring voting rights also is important to our work. In 2014, the Sierra Club adopted the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing to facilitate it becoming a more equitable, just, and inclusionary organization. A component of the Principles is that “we hope to achieve just societies that include all people in decision-making….” Amendment 4 is in alignment with these Principles and attempts by lawmakers to thwart voter intent is unacceptable.  
Please call your Florida Senator and Representative and demand that they oppose all anti-voter legislation!


Friday, April 5, 2019

Counterattack on STOP THE BURN: Big Sugar loses its cool

In February, Sierra Club partnered with local Stop the Burn activists to send a mailer out to residents in Belle Glade, Pahokee, and South Bay.


The message was a short summary of our campaign goals:

  • Impacted residents want the industry to be better neighbors by keeping the smoke, soot, and ash off of residents’ property and out of their lungs. 
  • The leaves (trash) that now go up in smoke should instead be utilized to create jobs close to the sugar fields like they do in Louisiana (biochar), Australia (mulch), and Brazil (bio-fuels, and electricity).   
  • Using the trash, instead of wasting it, can also provide new sources of revenue for sugar growers.  

Well, the sugar industry responded by sending a variety of postcards, and even a TV commercial, to residents in Western Palm Beach, Hendry, and Glades counties under the banner of “S.A.F.E. Communities.”  They really went off!  Their line is that pre-harvest burning is “safe, regulated, and necessary” but we beg to differ (click here for lots of reasons why).

The industry has resorted to making false claims that our grassroots environmental justice campaign is instead a conspiracy to put the industry out of business. Their fear mongering defies both common sense and established science and proves that something is wrong.

Click here to see all of the postcards we’ve gathered so far -- pasted below are a couple of examples.



They really got it wrong.  Actually, where green harvesting is practiced the trash is managed on the field as mulch (definitely not left in mounds) or carted away from the field to be used to produce a variety of sustainable products.

The thing is, the “S.A.F.E. Communities” postcards seem to have backfired -- here is just one of the many comments posted on their Facebook page by outraged residents:


And even better, the Stop the Burn Campaign is growing stronger than ever.

Do you think it’s time to stop the burn too?  Want to join the campaign? Click here to get started.

We think the riches extracted from the soil should be used to improve the local economy.  Don't you?

Want more information?  Contact: patrick.ferguson@sierraclub.org


Friday, March 29, 2019

Roads To Ruin Advance In Legislature; Opposition Needed

Plans to push a new set of roads into rural areas of Florida at the expense of wildlife habitat protection and preventing urban sprawl are advancing in the Florida Legislature with support in the House, which until recently had taken no position.


One of these roads, which would run from Polk to Collier County, revives an idea proposed 15 years ago at a time when the road-building and development lobbies were also pushing a cross state toll road from Manatee County to Indian River County that would have crossed the Lake Wales Ridge, the Kissimmee and Upper St. Johns rivers, bisecting key wildlife habitat.


The southwest corridor under consideration would affect key corridors important to the Florida panther and Florida black bear and doom plans to preserve a natural statewide wildlife corridor system.


Interestingly, plans for a second toll road extension between the Tampa Bay area and the Big Bend area  drew support from a group called the Environmental Caucus of Florida, which maintains that the road is needed to reduce traffic  congestion in the Tampa Bay area so greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced.
This is misguided. The new roads will not cut vehicle emissions, only displace them to other parts of the state. In the meantime, the construction of the roads and the development they will generate will lead to the destruction of native habitat, reducing carbon capture and other ecosystem services.
In addition, these unnecessary  projects will  divert limited state revenue away from real public needs.
Although some legislators are supporting the push for the roads because the studies that must precede their further planning, engineering and construction have not occurred, experience shows us that once powerful political forces push projects, the studies are only a formality. 

Everyone should contact their legislators to oppose this idea before it goes any further.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


#TelltheTruthTECO Campaign Surges in Tampa

Over 100 turn out to People's Forum to oppose Big Bend expansion of fracked gas, continued burning of coal 


The Sierra Club organized a rally preceding the public comment portion of the site certification hearing for Tampa Electric Co.'s Big Bend Power Station modernization project. Pictured is the crowd at the rally. | [Malena Carollo | Times, 2019] 
On Monday, March 11th, the Tampa Bay community mobilized in an incredibly powerful way to oppose Tampa Electric Company's (TECO) plans for the largest fracked gas expansion and continued burning of coal at its Big Bend plant.  Video of the event is HERE  

As part of our #TelltheTruthTECO campaign over 150 members, activists, allies, and elected officials came together to hold a People's Forum just before the official public hearing to say NO to Fracked Gas and Coal in Tampa Bay.  


The forum kicked off with Hillsborough County Commissioners Pat Kemp and Mariella Smith demanding that TECO withdraw its proposal for more fossil fuel and invest in clean, renewable energy instead.  St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice drove an hour to speak about how St. Pete will be impacted by sea level rise, flooding, and storm surge.  

The public hearing that took place after the people's forum couldn't fit the huge number of people and resulted in standing room only with overflow out into the hallway.  An enormous turn out especially given the fact that the hearing took place during rush hour, 45 minutes south of Tampa, and on a weeknight. 

Sierra Club's animated video describing the impact of the plant on climate change and the resulting sea level rise has now reached over 400,000 views and it's still going!  WATCH the video here!

Our online and social media campaign that has exceeded 7,500 online petitions in opposition to TECO's proposal and the number just keeps growing. 

Finally, the drumbeat of opposition to TECO's proposal and the call for clean energy has become so loud that every candidate in the Tampa Mayor's race, including the front runner, has signed a 100% Clean Energy pledge and has made additional commitments such as the hiring of a sustainability director -- noteworthy because the previous Tampa Mayor had remained silent on these issues. 

Tampa is abuzz with opposition to TECO's proposal and there are renewed discussions of clean energy replacing fossil fuels.  With the national leadership of our hometown Congresswoman Kathy Castor as Chair of the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, it is the dawning of a new day that promises to fully embrace the sunshine in the Sunshine State!

Sign the petition HERE or get in touch with the Tampa Bay local group to find out how you can help the #TelltheTruthTECO campaign!