Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

Industry groups don't want new rules to protect Florida's springs

Some of Florida's most powerful state senators have put their heads together to draft legislation designed to help Florida's ailing springs.

The draft bill would earmark about $378 million per year for sewage hookups and septic tank improvements in springs areas, and would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to create "protection and management zones" for 38 of the state's most prominent springs. Most homes in those zones would be required to hook up to a central sewer line.

Given the position of the senators — all four chair key committees — the bill might be expected to have smooth sailing once the Legislature convenes March 4. But now a cadre of business groups — including the Association of Florida Community Developers, the Florida Home Builders Association, the Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce — have said: Not so fast.

"There is another way," the groups wrote in a Jan. 28 letter to the senators, then advocated sticking with the laws and rules that are now on the books.

"Florida has the regulatory tools it needs to meet the kinds of water supply and quality challenges this legislation seeks to address," says the letter, signed by Associated Industries, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation and 22 other groups. "These programs simply need to be fully funded and conscientiously implemented."

"That would be fine, except for some reason those laws don't seem to be working," said Estus Whitfield of the Florida Conservation Coalition, a consortium of 50 environmental organizations backing the bill. He paraphrased the industries' letter as, "Don't mess up this good thing we've got going here."

One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who chairs the Committee on Community Affairs, said he appreciated the comments of the developers and other business groups and looked forward to negotiating with them. "When I ask someone to come up with a better idea," Simmons said Tuesday, "they usually end up coming up with something that's substantially similar to what's already been drafted."

Florida's springs are in deep trouble. Although the state has more than 1,000 freshwater springs — generally hailed as the greatest concentration of springs in the world — many are suffering from nitrate pollution that fuels the growth of toxic algae blooms. Compounding the problem is a decline in their flow that in some cases resulted in them sputtering out completely or reversing flow. And geologists have found a disturbing increase in saltiness in a few freshwater springs, which could signal future problems with the state's drinking supply.

Because many of the springs are major tourist draws, their environmental woes have an economic impact.

One of the industry group's big objections to changing the current laws is the potential cost of what the senators are proposing to clean up pollution now flowing into the springs.

Although the bill says the state will pay for hooking people on septic tanks up to sewer lines, the industry letter suggests the state will run out of money and the residents will be stuck with the bill for cleaning up their own pollution.

"Based on historical experience," the letter says, "it is likely overly optimistic to suggest the Legislature and governor will provide over $300 million annually for springs protection with the many other water challenges facing the state of Florida."

Former Gov. Jeb Bush launched an initiative to save the state's springs back in 2000, but it was dismantled under Gov. Rick Scott in 2011. All of the Bush springs initiative's recommendations for new laws were ignored by the Legislature — except for one involving septic tank inspections, which was passed in 2010 but then repealed before it took effect because of cost concerns.

Last year thousands of people petitioned Scott for more protection and restoration for the springs, and local government officials in North Florida formed an activist group to push for legislation. No springs bill passed, however. The Legislature agreed to spend $10 million for springs protection, far from the $122 million in projects that the state's five water management districts had listed as essential to springs restoration.

This year — an election year — may be different. Last month Scott proposed spending $55 million for springs restoration and protection in the next budget year. Meanwhile, the senators are pushing their $358 million idea, which has drawn support from such groups as Audubon Florida. So far there is no similar push for springs protection in the House.

Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.

Comments
Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

HOUSTON — The Rays were engaged in a third straight tight, go-either-way battle with the defending champ Astros on Wednesday.Until they were not.A brutal seven-pitch sequence by starter Nathan Eovaldi changed everything, as he gave up three con...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

HOUSTON — The Rays saw a lot on the weeklong trip that ended with Wednesday's game against that Astros, beyond the street hustlers prowling in Times Square and the urban cowboys and girls parading through H-town.There was an impressive debuting...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox Sr. was watching the NFL draft 24 years ago when the phone rang. Buffalo coach Marv Levy was on the other line."Marv said they were taking me," said Knox Sr., a standout receiver at FSU.Soon after, Knox Sr. saw his name scroll across ESPN'...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

RHP Nathan Eovaldi said before his rough start Wednesday against the Astros that he was pitching better than his numbers showed. Well … In four starts since his six no-hit innings debut, he's 0-3 with a 6.17 ERA, allowing eight homers, four Wed...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Report: Bucs QB Jameis Winston bracing for suspension from NFL

Report: Bucs QB Jameis Winston bracing for suspension from NFL

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston could be suspended for up to three games  next season following the league's investigation into allegations he groped a female Uber driver in Arizona in 2016, a Tallahassee radio station reported.Jeff Cameron, a&#...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Passengers on fatal Southwest flight sue airline and manufacturers of plane and engine

Passengers on fatal Southwest flight sue airline and manufacturers of plane and engine

Eight passengers who were aboard a Southwest Airlines flight that was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia after one of its engines blew apart filed suit Wednesday against the airline, Boeing and the companies that manufactured the eng...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Former employee sued by Tesla says he was a whistleblower

Former employee sued by Tesla says he was a whistleblower

Tesla sued a former employee Wednesday, accusing the man of hacking the automaker’s computer systems and stealing company secrets, shedding light on what chief Elon Musk had suggested was the work of a secretive internal saboteur.But the employee, Ma...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Police: Couple leased someone else’s home to 15 families at same time

Police: Couple leased someone else’s home to 15 families at same time

LARGO — Vanessa Rodriguez thought she found the right house for her three kids, in the right neighborhood, for the right rent. She signed the lease for April 30, sent a $2,300 money order and planned to move in June 1.Then the delays started. She sai...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Clearwater wants $40 million from the county for a stadium. But there’s not $40 million to give.

Clearwater wants $40 million from the county for a stadium. But there’s not $40 million to give.

CLEARWATER —The city’s proposed $79.7 million overhaul of the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training facilities depends on getting $40 million in bed taxes from Pinellas County.But records show even if county officials wanted to bankroll the Phillies...
Updated: 4 hours ago