Thursday, December 19, 2019

Tampa Bay Sierra Celebrates River's Restoration with Mayor and Friends

Friends of the River's 20th Annual Holiday Boat Parade on the Hillsborough River in Tampa
Photo by Gary Gibbons, Outings Leader for Holiday Boat Parade
Riverfront resident Mayor Jane Castor applauds boaters 
community spirit, with Tampa Bay Sierra Chair Kent Bailey.
Photo by Marcia Biggs
An especially Floridian way to celebrate the holidays is the illuminated holiday boat parade. Unlike most waterfront events limited to huge yachts, the Tampa Bay Sierra Club holds its holiday boat parade as an Outing, featuring dozens of paddlers and more modest powerboats. It’s a celebration of the restoration of the Lower Hillsborough River’s tidal estuary, a community tradition begun and carried on for 20 years by grassroots ally Friends of the River. Fox13 once again carried an excellent story

Friends of the River organized in December 1999 when a handful of river activists did what no one else could or would – they challenged Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (SWFWMD) minimum flow rule that would have forever guaranteed the demise of Tampa Bay’s main estuary. Since the early 1970s, growth in withdrawals for lawn irrigation had eliminated Tampa’s ability to provide any freshwater flow most of the year over the City’s dam 10 miles upriver from downtown. The result was a disastrous decline in the number and variety of fish in the river and bay.

Hillsborough County
Commissioner Kimberly
Overman speaks before riding
in Friends' electric Safety
Boat with her grandson.
Photo by John Ovink
Friends, supported by Tampa Bay Sierra Club, won its challenge against SWFWMD, the City and Nestle, which sells Zephyrhills bottled water from an upriver spring. This was the 1st successful challenge of a Florida water management district minimum flow rule. A daily minimum flow begun in 2007 has substantially restored fish and wildlife populations. Today, Friends and Sierra are reviewing SWFWMD’s 5 year reassessment of the flow strategy, preparing for public engagement on the question of how well the daily flow is now being met, and whether the river needs a bit more fresh water in dry months to fully function as Tampa Bay’s nursery, the place where life begins for one of America’s largest estuaries.

Sunday, December 15, hundreds of residents held parties along the Hillsborough to cheer on dozens of paddlers and boaters as they made their way from Lowry Park to Sulphur Springs, where a community holiday party greeted boaters. Mayor Jane Castor joined Tampa Bay Chair Kent Bailey in sending boaters off upriver to the procession at the Springs park, where residents of a diverse, low income neighborhood welcomed neighbors from across and down the river that flows through Tampa.
Volunteers Liz Taylor & Marcia Biggs collect Sierra Outings 
forms before the big parade. Photo by Gary Gibbons

The Mayor was clearly impressed by the enthusiastic turnout for this celebration of environmental restoration and the River that unites the City’s neighbors. The 20th Annual Holiday Boat Parade was a holiday event with a purpose, and a promise of dedication to this urban river’s continued recovery from decades of abuse and neglect. Once written off as dead, the River is now embraced by Tampa as its thriving heart and soul. As those who love Florida’s other springs and rivers fight to preserve their natural resources, take heart in knowing that, if you organize and persevere, you too can prevail. It’s never too late to bring back the life and vitality of your own waterway.
Photo by Kathy Badloe Hostetler

Photo by Gary Gibbons
Photo by April Sparkles

Photo by Kathy Badloe Hostetler
Photo by April Sparkles

Mayor Jane Castor address Holiday Boat Parade paddlers. Photo by John Ovink
Photo by Gary Gibbons
Phil Compton, for Tampa Bay Sierra Club and
Friends of the River

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

$470.12 million or bust: Fully Fund Florida Forever

What does “fully fund” Florida Forever 
in 2020 mean to Sierra Club?

In the coming 2020-21 fiscal year, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) is projected to receive $943.52 million from the documentary stamp tax. 

Subtract the $158.03 million that will go to debt service ($134.92 million for Florida Forever bonds and $23.11 million for Everglades Restoration bonds) and you get $785.49 million for the remaining purposes of the LATF.[1] 

That $785.49 million should by rights be distributed equitably to North and South Florida but current statute devotes much more to South Florida than to the rest of the state. 

Of that $785.49 million, 33.15% is already devoted to the Everglades ($196.37 million for Everglades projects and $64 million for Everglades Trust Fund) while only 6.37% is devoted to springs ($50 million) and 0.64% ($5 million) is devoted to Lake Apopka.

What remains after those existing statutory obligations is $470.12 million.  It is referred to as “uncommitted cash based on statutory provisions” and is 59.85% of the LATF (after debt service).

In order to “fully fund” Florida Forever in 2020-2021, that $470.12 million must be:

(1)   Allocated to Florida Forever pursuant to the purposes and requirements of the 2014 Land Acquisition Trust Fund constitutional amendment; and
(2)   Allocated to Florida Forever in such a way as to eliminate the current inequitable distribution of LATF funds and bring statutory balance between environmental investment in the North and South of the state.

The needs of the valuable ecosystems of North Florida, our springs, rivers, lakes, wetlands, prairies, and forests habitat have all been severely shortchanged and must be addressed. The Land Acquisition Trust Fund constitutional amendment was adopted in 2014 by 75% of Florida’s voters from all around the state[2] and the legislature owes all Floridians recognition and equity. 

That which is currently being funded by the “uncommitted cash based on statutory provisions” should be funded henceforth from the revenue streams used prior to the implementation of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund constitutional amendment in 2015. To the extent that those prior revenue streams were redirected to other purposes, and in order to prevent the unjust termination of state employees or abrogation of contracts, the state can make up for any shortfalls by foregoing tax cuts and, when necessary, enhancing revenues in order to preserve the state’s natural resources for posterity.  In the current fiscal year, there were nearly $400 million in tax cuts of which roughly $272.3 million were made in school district property taxes and $121.1 million were made to state revenue.[3]  Going forward, the state must include revenue in its budgeting exercises; it is irresponsible to focus solely on cuts. 

NOTE:  $300 million per year for Florida Forever was an artifact of the statute adopted in 1999 (reenacted in 2008) and is no longer adequate:
1.      The cost of land has increased and the value of the dollar has decreased.

2.      Land acquisition has been essentially halted since 2010 and the state needs to catch up before it is too late.

3.      Fully funding the state’s conservation land needs requires at least $9 billion estimated to acquire the properties on the Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) list.

“Fully Fund Florida Forever” means $470.12 million  

When the environmental community has called for “full funding of Florida Forever” in past years, we have either differed in the amounts asked for or not specified a dollar amount at all. 

We think it is time to:

  • Identify a dollar amount that is based on the full use of the doc stamp funding received by the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF);
  • Use that dollar amount to replace the paltry and unacceptable $100 million promised (but rarely delivered) by elected officials; and
  • Use that dollar amount to replace the $300 million target with one appropriate to the present situation. 
$470.12 million is that number.  When we say “Florida Forever,” we are not referring to
259.105 F.S. (the Florida Forever formula used in 1999 but not used since).  Rather, we use “Florida Forever” as a catch-all term for real environmental spending (i.e. not IT support, insurance, salaries, office equipment, etc.). And we use the $470.12 million to catch all of the LATF funding voters demanded the environment receive.

Therefore, the umbrella of “Florida Forever” includes money for springs and rivers protection, ranchland preservation, etc. that could be drawn from the $470.12 million and allocated within 375.041 F.S. (LATF), even if the uses were not traditionally part of the Florida Forever program formula.

We are using "Florida Forever" as the label for the main (only) real environmental funding program in the state. 

We think using Florida Forever as a label makes sense because of how the public perceives it and why the public voted for Amendment 1 in 2014.  Few Floridians know what 259.105 F.S. is, but many probably know (sort of) what Florida Forever is supposed to be and do.

375.041 F.S. (LATF) is now effectively Florida Forever whether we like it or not, because it is the only funding source for large environmental purposes, whatever the court determines those to be.  Our approach  to “full funding of Florida Forever” comes from that reality.

Regarding allocations out of that $470.12 million, we don’t believe anyone in the environmental protection community will argue against requiring LATF funds to be spent “consistent with the language in the Constitution.”  But we understand that different organizations within that community have different ideas of what “consistent” means.  That is OK.  Eventually the court will decide and until then we can agree to disagree on allocations.  When the decision is final, we can work together to make sure the protection of Florida’s environment is a top priority in the legislature.

What we want is a better chance to get more money, not less, spent on the environment, and the best way to make ourselves heard is to agree on and rally around what “fully fund Florida Forever” means within the context of the LATF world we live in now.

NOTE:  The funds in the LATF fluctuate in response to the level of real estate activity in the state.  There is a logical nexus; the more development, the greater the funds, and the greater need to buy and protect conservation lands.  For 2020-2021, the “uncommitted cash” is $470.12 million.  In subsequent years that dollar amount will change.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

12/10/19 Harmful Algal Bloom/Red Tide Task Force Meeting

Sierra Club remarks at Harmful Algal Bloom/Red Tide Task Force meeting 
on December 10, 2019 in St. Petersburg

The Sierra Club urges you to publicly and officially, as part of the formal recommendations this body makes to the Governor, eschew, reject, renounce the use of the phrase “naturally occurring” to describe Red Tide, Red Tides, or karenia brevis.

The phrase “naturally occurring” to describe Red Tide, Red Tides, or karenia brevis is not scientific or science-based, is utter nonsense, and the use of it is disingenuous.  We call it the red herring that it most certainly is.  A red herring may have some kernel of truth, but is used as a distraction to keep our eyes on less important matters and off the actual bottom line.

Red Tide is constantly referred to as “naturally occurring” supposedly because it has been reported since Spanish explorer days.  Is it customary to use this term for rats or mosquitoes?
I think you will agree that rats and mosquitoes have been around since Spanish explorer days too. 

Rats are “naturally occurring” but no one would use that term to describe them.  Human civilizations have known for hundreds of years that if you dump garbage in the street, you will get rats.  Keep dumping garbage and you will get more rats, and those rats will have more baby rats.  So we don’t leave garbage in the street!  If you make garbage (like all of us do at home), you pay for its management through a system organized by the government.  Does that eliminate rats altogether?  No. They are still around and once in a while you will get an infestation somewhere.  But, keeping garbage out of our streets reduces the frequency, intensity, and duration of rat infestations.

Mosquitoes are “naturally occurring” but no one would use that term to describe them either.  What is our first line of defense against mosquitoes?  It is not control measures but rather we get rid of the circumstances that promote their reproduction; we eliminate their prime living conditions by keeping standing water out of our yards and ditches.  Control measures (the spraying of insecticide, the placement of mosquito-devouring fish, etc.) are secondary, not only because control measures may bring negative unintended consequences, but because they are more expensive.

There are many similar examples:  “Don’t bother washing your hands after you use the toilet or handle raw meat – we can pump everyone full of antibiotics after people get sick” is not what the signs in the restroom say.  Of course not, that would be hazardous to public health and much more expensive than managing the culprit before it turns into an outbreak.

Using ”naturally occurring” to describe Red Tide creates a false narrative that takes attention away from the need to manage/address the factors that fuel karenia brevis blooms: the fertilizer/ sewage/manure pollution and the climate change that increases the frequency, intensity, and duration of most if not all harmful and nuisance algal blooms. 

There must be method to the madness.  “Naturally occurring” is seen by the public as a PR move by polluters and those who protect them because pollution source control is (and should be) paid for by the polluter.  Just like homeowners pay for garbage pickup, large and small polluters should pay to manage their pollution so that it does not end up in our State and Federal waters.

Every time Mote or FWC uses “naturally occurring” it is repeated by any number of politicians and just as many reporters and the false narrative is perpetuated.  It is a false narrative that you, the Harmful Algal Bloom/Red Tide Task Force, can stop with a strong recommendation to reject its use.  There is no need to point fingers at why the phrase has been used or by whom in the past. 

The Sierra Club trusts and expects you to take action to renounce the use of this phrase in your official recommendations that are made available to the public.  In so doing, you will abide by your charge to bring a science-based approach to your subject matter.

Cris Costello

Organizing Manager
Sierra Club
2127 S. Tamiami Trail
Osprey, FL 34229



Monday, November 25, 2019

MUCK CITY AFLAME: Stop the Burn protest highlights failure of FDACS to protect community

For Immediate Release
November 23, 2019
Contacts: Steve Messam,, 989-400-4225
Cris Costello,, 941-914-0421
 Stop the Burn protest highlights failure of FDACS to protect community

Belle Glade, FL – Sugar growers around Belle Glade provided a toxic but illustrative backdrop to a protest today in front of the Florida Forestry Division Work Center at 2842 FL-15, Belle Glade, with smoke and ash plumes along the horizon in every direction.  The scene underscored (1) the plague of air pollution, health threats, and economic depression that pre-harvest sugarcane field burning imposes on the Glades and (2) the failure of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to protect the health and safety of the residents in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Shanique Scott and Steve Messam, both local residents born and raised in the Glades and leaders in the Stop the Burn – Go Green Campaign to end pre-harvest sugarcane field burning, spoke to a crowd of over 30 activists in front of a large figure of Smokey the Bear sign ( wearing a Stop the Burn t-shirt.  View the protest here. 

Two large posters of screen shots from the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool from November 1, 2019 ( and November 14, 2018 v showed huge swaths of the EAA shrouded in ash.  A screen shot taken the morning of the protest ( makes it clear that this is not a rare phenomenon.

Per the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool (, ash plumes often travel over 20 miles.  Messam said “We have found ash plumes as long as 26.21 miles long on the Forest Service website. You want to put our health and safety first?  Then give us at least a 27-30 mile buffer around our homes, schools, streets, and churches right now and make that the first phase of an eventual a complete ban in the near future.”

Messam added:  “In a press conference on October 1, Commissioner Fried said ‘keeping Florida’s residents, communities, and environment safe is my number one priority.’  She also announced a new 80-acre buffer zone to protect wildlands from pre-harvest burns, but our homes and schools are left unprotected.  In fact, the new announced measures do nothing to keep us safe and healthy. We are still choked by black snow while residents in Eastern Palm Beach County are protected by burn wind restrictions.  I refuse to accept that my people are less worthy of protection. The industry needs to stop pre-harvest sugar field burning and switch to green harvesting now.”

Scott remarked:  “Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the harvest with family, and the Glades is a true horn of plenty. The sugar industry reaps a profitable harvest from our rich soils but our communities have not shared in the profits.  In the Glades, harvest season means smoke and ash, exacerbated asthma symptoms, the high cost of cleaning off our cars and homes, keeping kids inside and fear.  This Thanksgiving needs to be the last one celebrated under this dark cloud!” 
Scott brought it all home with stories about how generations of her family and neighbors have been impacted by the burns. “The only smoke I want for Thanksgiving is a smoked turkey!  Until burning is completely phased out and is replaced by green harvesting, we are not safe, we are not healthy, and our lives are not respected.” 

Messam went on to say: “We are thankful for a number of things this year. The number of Stop the Burn Campaign activists is growing every month.  FDACS has started to talk about green harvesting.  Next year we want to be thankful for a FDACS-sponsored green harvesting economic opportunity workshop in Belle Glade; this is something Commissioner Nikki Fried can start to plan for right now.  And we will be thankful when Commissioner Fried comes to Belle Glade to meet with us and hear our stories; we have been asking her for months to come here and experience the burns first-hand.”

The crowd got their two cents in too by chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, toxic smoke has got to go!”

Photos taken on November 23, 2019 (morning before protest of the smoke/ash over Belle Glade:

Photo of Steve Messam:

Photo of Shanique Scott:

Photo of Smokey the Bear:

Link to protest video:


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Florida Conservation Icon Whitey Markle Has Died

By Kathryn Taubert 
Whitey Markle/Photo by Jim Tatum
(Gainesville, FL)  Sierra Club Florida officials have announced the passing, after a brief illness, on November 4 of Richard “Whitey” Markle, one of Florida’s staunchest and most successful environmental advocates.

Best known for his successful efforts to restore, protect and preserve Florida’s natural resources as a principle of the Florida Sierra Club at both state and local levels, Markle’s tenure as Chair of the Suwannee-St. John’s Group representing 16 counties in North Central Florida brought his substantial energies to the Sierra Club’s efforts to protect, preserve and enjoy Florida’s world-class environmental treasures.

Also serving on the Sierra Club’s state Executive Committee, Markle’s sometimes “in your face” style earned both the respect and dedication of a cadre of conservation advocates who saw him as both role model and bold spokesperson unafraid to confront the issues of overdevelopment and those who would encourage it.

Markle was also an accomplished writer and musician with Whitey Markle and the Swamprooters, performing at festivals all over North Central Florida and featuring a dozen of his original recorded songs written in the “Florida Cracker” genre. His book, Whitey Markle’s Recipes with Tales and Tunes, is an example of folksy intelligence and downhome humor equivalent to the Foxfire series of life in Appalachia.

What many didn’t know is that with his Masters Degree in Urban Planning from the University of Florida, Markle also taught Building Trades, Structures and Soils Labs and Woodshop for the McPherson School in Ocala; a State of Florida Correctional Institution; and the Dept. of Architecture at UF. Markle’s work on his Masters thesis ultimately resulted in the establishment, by ballot initiative, of a noise curfew on airboat noise in Alachua County in 2010. Markle’s efforts to restore the Oklawaha River to its natural state was among his most ardent efforts, even inspiring an original recorded song written by Markle himself.

The recipient of a host of awards by a various conservation organizations, Markle was recently honored in San Francisco by the National Sierra Club for Special Service for his conservation work.

Florida Sierra Club Chapter Director Frank Jackalone said, when learning of Markle’s death:

“Nobody loved Florida's wildlife, rivers, springs, forests and coastal islands more than Whitey Markle, and no Floridian was a stronger environmental advocate than he. His fellow hikers, paddlers and conservation activists in Florida are in deep mourning with his passing, but we are also dedicated to carry on his work.  I can think of no better way for all of us who were inspired by Whitey to complete his mission than to secure removal of the Rodman Dam and restore the natural flow of the Ocklawaha River.”

Markle is survived his daughter Carrie Markle Thomas, three grandchildren, brother Conrad Markle of Jacksonville, and long-time, devoted companion Harriett Jones of Williston and many, many friends. Plans are underway for a Celebration of Life for Whitey Markle on the Oklawaha River in the near future. Details will be posted on the Sierra Club, Suwannee-St. John’s Group website and Facebook pages in the near future.

In lieu of flowers, send contributions in Whitey Markle’s name to The Sierra Club Suwannee-St. John’s Group at SSJ Sierra Club, PO Box 13951, Gainesville FL  32604 or the Florida Springs Council, PO Box 268, High Springs, FL 32655.

Friday, October 18, 2019

BE THERE: Resources for Roads to Ruin (M-CORES) task force meetings on 10/22, 23, and 30

Once again, we are mobilizing for the M-CORES (roads to ruin) Task Force meetings.  This time there are three separate meetings on three separate days:

October 22, 2019
College of Central Florida Citrus Learning and Conference Center
3800 S Lecanto Hwy, Lecanto, FL 34461 (Citrus County)
Begins at 10 a.m. 
Public comment starts at 4:30 pm
College of Central Florida Citrus Learning and Conference Center
3800 S Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461
Begins at 10 a.m. 
Public comment starts at 4:30 pm
Polk State College - Lakeland Campus
3425 Winter Lake Road, Lakeland, FL 33803
Begins at 10 a.m. 
Public comment starts at 4:30 pm
1.    New talking points:  M-CORES = Big Sham, Big Bucks, Big Questions
2.    Fact sheet from August 27
3.    To make a visual statement, we will have red “sham” and green “no roads to ruin” cards for you to hold up during the meeting.  When a speaker opposes the plan we will raise the green cards and when a speaker promotes the plan we will raise the red cards.  In this way we can be “heard” throughout the day.
4.    No roads to ruin stickers.
Please find a coalition partner at the meeting to get your cards, talking points, stickers and fact sheets.

Earlier this year, the state passed legislation to fast-track three major new toll roads that will destroy large swaths of Florida’s last remaining rural lands, pollute waterways, and threaten endangered wildlife, including the iconic Florida panther.

Now we fight back.  Because once we pave over these wild places, there are no do overs.


Finally, you may have noticed we didn’t mention the open houses that are also scheduled after each task force meeting.  We didn’t mention them because they don’t serve our purposes.  Our opposition needs to be seen and heard by the task force members and we need to see and hear them.  The open houses may give FDOT the ability to claim more "stakeholder involvement" but open house attendees will be all but invisible to the task force members.  If you are going to come out to one M-CORES event this month, please make it a task force meeting and not an open house.

Many regards on behalf of the whole NRTR Steering Committee,

Cris Costello
Organizing Manager
Sierra Club
2127 S. Tamiami Trail
Osprey, FL 34229

Lindsay Cross
Government Relations Director
Florida Conservation Voters (FCV)

Mark Ferrulo
Executive Director
Progress Florida
727-289-2612 office

Sarah Gledhill
Senior Florida Field Campaigner
Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)

Anne Michelle Harvey
Staff Attorney
Save the Manatee Club
500 N. Maitland Ave.
Maitland, FL 32751
Office: 407-539-0990

Ryan Smart
Florida Springs Council
P.O. Box 268
High Springs, FL 32655

Julianne Thomas
Conservancy of Southwest Florida
1495 Smith Preserve Way
Naples, FL  34102