Linda Weinberg: Money Grab Misses the Mark, Lagoon Needs Action and Accountability

By  //  August 24, 2019

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SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Republican state Rep. Tyler Sirois held a press conference August 1 at Kelly Park on Merritt Island to announce his office notified the Canaveral Port Authority of his intent to file legislation that will add to the port’s charter a section on environmental impact.

Like a street hawker with the newest miracle cure, Florida Rep. Tyler Sirois scheduled a press conference to announce he was filing legislation for what he called a “bold initiative” to “save” the Indian River Lagoon.

Those who recall swimming in the lagoon’s crystalline waters and Brevard voters who solidly supported a lagoon sales tax are desperately looking for innovative ideas.

Unfortunately, Rep Sirois’ initiative is neither bold nor innovative. It is simply a plan to take money from Port Canaveral. His idea to take 2 percent of the Port’s gross revenue is based on the premise that money will solve everything.

This is neither new nor novel. There is money; the sales tax has already raised over $106 million, of which less than $7 million has been spent, for lagoon clean-up, and more money will be needed.

But cleaning up the lagoon is of little consequence when nutrients continue to be dumped, leaked and infused into the lagoon at an alarming rate through failing infrastructure that is either owned or regulated by local government, not Port Canaveral.

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Local media has done an excellent job of bringing attention to the degree our local governments have neglected their basic responsibilities, leading to hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage and other nutrients that have been, and continue to be, released directly into the lagoon and its tributaries.

But the incidents are so frequent that we are no longer shocked when they occur. How can the lagoon be restored when Brevard County continues to use the lagoon as a dumping ground for raw sewage?

Pipe failures, pump failures, lift station failures, sewer plant overflows – all excuses by local governments – are due to neglect and failing to properly maintain, resize and rebuild infrastructure.

Heavy rains cannot be an excuse, they have always been a part of life in our area and not an “unusual circumstance.”

“Insufficient capacity” is not an excuse, responsible governments proactively make sure capacity is available before approving additional construction.

At some point, the excuses must end. State Representative Randy Fine is a refreshing voice who has called for accountability and has sponsored legislation to impose harsher fines on governments who dump sewage in their waterbodies.

Unlike Brevard County and some of its cities, Port Canaveral has not dumped raw sewage into the lagoon. Port Canaveral has not neglected its infrastructure. Port Canaveral has not allowed failing septic tanks to remain in place along the waterways.

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Instead, Port Canaveral has implemented a hazardous materials and spill prevention plan which exceeds federal, state and local requirements and includes detailed preventive measures and consistent staff training.

Port Canaveral has invested millions of dollars in building and maintaining infrastructure proactively – to ensure it does not fail – so that only clean water is discharged from Port property. I would challenge any governmental entity to put their record for lagoon protection against that of the Port.

While Rep Sirois has a light resume with little experience, I hope his passion for the lagoon is genuine and that going forward he will support substantive legislation that can result in both accountability and long-term improvements. This time, he missed the mark.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A resident of Cape Canaveral, Linda Weinberg is an attorney with 30 years of local government experience. She served as assistant county attorney, director of government relations and deputy county administrator in Orange County Government.

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