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