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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
Legislators came to the Capitol this week for a special session. Audubon staff were there to report back to you on hurricane legislation, as well as renewable energy and Department of Environmental Protection rulemaking on an important water initiative.
Ring-billed Gull on a beach with a stormy sea in the background.
Special Session Addresses Hurricane Idalia Relief
Background

Hurricane Idalia made landfall on August 30, 2023, along Florida’s Big Bend area as a Category 3 hurricane. Idalia was the third major hurricane on record to make landfall in the Big Bend region and the strongest to make landfall since the Cedar Key hurricane in 1896. Preliminary insured losses in Florida were estimated to be at least $9.6 billion. Hurricane Idalia had a significant impact on the agricultural production in Northwest Florida, affecting more than 3.3 million acres of Florida’s agricultural lands.

The Takeaways


A special session that concluded this week prioritized Hurricane Idalia recovery relief for communities affected by the hurricane, including Florida’s agriculture industry.

On Wednesday, November 8, the House and Senate both unanimously passed the HB 1C Disaster Relief legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jason Shoaf (R-Port St. Joe) to provide the funds to the My Safe Florida Home Program, created during the 2022 legislative session. The Senate version was sponsored by Sen. Corey Simon (R-Tallahassee).

The Legislature appropriated a total of $417 million for disaster relief, which includes $50 million for the Hurricane Recovery Grant Program; $25 million to fund the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program; and $5 million for the Rural Infrastructure Fund, which is money set aside for counties affected by Hurricane Idalia.

Taking a Deeper Dive


The funding includes free home inspections—giving owners a report detailing recommended improvements—and provides matches funding (up to $10,000) for home projects “to harden homes against storms” to lower insurance premiums. The program is administered by the Florida Department of Financial Services.

Another provision in the bill provides additional aid to agricultural communities affected by Hurricane Idalia. $75 million was appropriated to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for the Agriculture and Aquaculture Producers Natural Disaster Recovery Loan Program as well as $37.5 million for the Timber Landowner Assistance Cost-Share Grant Program.

The bill revises a controversial provision enacted last year, after Hurricane Ian, which prohibits local governments from enacting building moratoria, or stricter provisions in their comprehensive plans or land development ordinances which are deemed “restrictive or burdensome.”

The revisions in this bill are helpful on one hand because they reduce the area covered by this controversial prohibition to a list of counties that were actually affected by Hurricane Ian, replacing earlier language which tied the hands of all local governments located “…entirely or partially within 100 miles of where either Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole made landfall…” (which covered much of the whole state).

On the other hand, the bill extends the length of the prohibitions on local government actions until October 2026, an additional two years. The prohibition only impacts ordinances, plan amendments, and similar changes initiated by local governments; landowners and developers are free to seek whatever plan amendments or ordinance changes they may desire.

Unfortunately, building in Florida’s vulnerable coastal areas will continue without taking into account sea level rise and hurricane risks, and local governments won’t be able to respond to concerns about sea level rise and future hurricane damage with more effective regulations for two more years.

 
Ring-billed Gull.
Black and white cow.
Cow Manure to Renewable Energy
The Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Sen. Jay Collins (R-Tampa), heard a presentation on a Renewable Natural Gas project built at the Larson Dairy in Okeechobee County. The technology that converts manure into gas is pioneered by Brightmark Energy.

Renewable natural gas from dairy manure and organic waste has a negative carbon intensity compared to other forms of energy. At the Larson Dairy, manure is “digested” using a biological process to create fuel that can be used to power up to 1,100 homes per year. This project will eliminate 57,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, which is equivalent to planting over 75,000 acres of forest.


Brightmark has partnered with four other dairies across the state to build these digesters to energy. This former waste product creates energy while providing an additional income stream to the producer.
Pied-billed Grebe swimming on calm water.
DEP Rulemaking on Water Quality Enhancement areas Begins
In 2022, the Florida Legislature passed HB 965, now Chapter 2022-215, Laws of Florida. The bill authorizes the creation of water quality enhancement areas (WQEAs), or regional stormwater treatment mitigation banks, to be operated, managed, and maintained to allow governmental entities to buy pollutant reduction credits for nitrogen and phosphorus instead of treating these pollutants at the source.

On Wednesday, November 8, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a public workshop to initiate rulemaking as directed by Section 1 of chapter 2022-215, Laws of Florida.

Regional projects may be appropriate for restoring harm to watersheds, but this rule will allow governmental entities to offset harm in one location with treatment in another location. This is neither as effective as onsite treatment nor is it fair to neighboring properties that may now become pollution “hotspots.”

Offsetting impacts and improving water quality throughout a watersheds’ lakes and streams ensures all communities share in the benefits.


Audubon gave comments on the draft rule and will continue to work with DEP to ensure development of a protective rule.
Pied-billed Grebe. Photo: Bryan Keil/Audubon Photography Awards
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