Audubon Florida
The Advocate
We are already in the fourth Legislative Interim Committee Week! From projects in the Florida Forever pipeline to stormwater recommendations, urban sprawl in the Everglades to food web issues, we have gathered all the critical policy updates for you from around the state in this most recent edition of the Advocate.
American Coots. Photo: Rick Derevan/Audubon Photography Awards.
Projects Worth $437 Million in the Pipeline for Acquisition under Florida Forever, Wastewater Grant Program Begins
On Wednesday November 3, 2021, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Tomkow (R-Polk City) heard presentations from DEP. Mara Gambineri, the new Deputy Secretary for Land and Recreation, presented on the State’s Florida Forever Program and its nexus with the newly recognized Florida Wildlife Corridor.

Of the 125 total parcels within the Corridor, 95 already fall within existing Florida Forever projects.  The Division of State Lands within DEP has been working hard on completing contracts and putting areas into conservation.  At the current time, projects worth about $437 million are in the pipeline for acquisition.

DEP Deputy Secretary Adam Blalock also presented information on DEP’s wastewater grant program.  In 2019, the Blue-Green Algae Task Force stated that in addition to other sources, excess nutrients from wastewater was causing water quality problems. The wastewater grants programs provide matching grants to local governments for septic-to-sewer conversions and wastewater treatment facility upgrades, while subsidizing the installation of advanced, nutrient reducing septic tanks. 

A new statute defines criteria for selection of projects, which is based on the project’s readiness to proceed, cost-effectiveness of nutrient reduction, whether the project is in an area where the state has ongoing restoration projects, and more. Rep. Stevenson reminded us that areas without any current water pollution problems should also be considered for grant funds because prevention is much better and more economical than a cure. 
 
American Coots. Photo: Rick Derevan/Audubon Photography Awards.
Cigarette butts in the sand.
Bill Allowing Local Governments to Ban Smoking Moves to Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee
The Community Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Jennifer Bradley (R-Orange Park), also heard new bills proposed for the 2021-2022 session, including SB 224, Regulation of Smoking in Public Places, introduced by Sen. Gruters (R-Sarasota). This bill was filed by Sen. Gruters during the last legislative session but did not make it to final passage.  A House companion – HB 105 – has been filed by Rep. Fine (R-South Brevard). 

Under SB 224, the power to regulate smoking in public places reverts to the local government.  Local governments have a choice to either ban smoking in all public places or to designate special smoking areas within their jurisdictions.

Florida is known for its beautiful beaches, and cigarette stubs littering the sand is bad for people – especially children – and for our sea and shorebirds.  Dr. Beach, who does an annual ranking of the country’s top ten beaches, adds bonus points for smoke-free beaches.

This bill passed the committee with a unanimous vote and is referred to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
 
Eastern Meadowlark in flight. Photo: John Wolaver.
Homeowners' Quality Improvements Could Now Include Energy Efficiency Upgrades
Sen. Anna Maria Rodriguez’s (R- Doral) bill – SB 228 Resiliency Energy Environment Florida Programs – was also introduced to the Community Affairs Committee. SB 228 substantially amends the Property Assessed Clean Energy program to allow qualifying improvements to property and to finance the cost through annual non-ad valorem tax assessments. Qualifying improvements include those that enhance energy efficiency, renewable energy, and wind resistance.

Audubon supports this bill because incentivizing energy efficiency and renewable energy options will go a long way in helping the state become climate resilient.

SB 228 is a pared-down version of the one we saw last session, which included hardening, sea-walls, and septic-to-sewer conversions as qualifying improvements.

The House companion, HB 101, has been filed by Rep. Fine (R-South Brevard).  SB 228 passed the committee with a unanimous vote.
Eastern Meadowlark. Photo: John Wolaver.
Wood Stork in flight, with a branch in its bill. Photo: Cheryl Black.
Stormwater Rulemaking Technical Advisory Committee Submits Final Recommendations to DEP
The Clean Waterways Act, created by the Florida Legislature in 2020 through Senate Bill 712, directs the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the water management districts to update stormwater design and operation regulations. The Clean Waterways Act Stormwater Rulemaking Technical Advisory Committee (Clean Waterways TAC) was established to recommend improvements in stormwater design and operation regulations, with a goal of reducing nutrient pollution in Florida’s waterways.

As stormwater is one of the largest contributors of nutrients to waterways throughout the state, this goal is in perfect alignment with Audubon’s mission. The TAC is comprised of 10 members who represent different stakeholder groups, including Audubon’s Senior Director of Policy Beth Alvi, who represents environmental interests. 

After a grueling schedule of monthly meetings across 13 months, DEP is finalizing recommendations by the TAC, which will form the basis of an updated and more protective Stormwater Rule. Stay tuned for a rulemaking announcement by DEP! We will alert you when we need your voice.
Wood Stork. Photo: Cheryl Black.
A photo of Picayune Strand: a partly open wetland with a mixed flock of wading birds in flight.
Collier County Proposal to Expand Mosquito Spraying Threatens Western Everglades and its Food Web
This summer, the Collier County Mosquito Control District moved forward with a proposal to expand the boundary of their operations into new areas. This expansion would include vast areas of conservation lands, including aspects of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Collier Seminole State Park, and all of Picayune Strand State Forest – a high profile Everglades Restoration project.

Mosquito control methods rely heavily on pesticides, which can have cascading ecological impacts. Mosquito larvae are ecologically important on conservation lands, acting as a food source for fish, amphibians, and reptiles. Unfortunately, spraying would not only impact mosquitos, but would likely also impact other insects which serve as the base of the food web for wading birds, bats, fish, reptiles, and other important species. In fact, research from Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has shown that moths in the area are the primary pollinators of the endangered ghost orchid.

Audubon Florida is collaborating with the Florida Wildlife Federation, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the South Florida Water Management District to reach a solution that would address protecting public health from mosquito borne illness while also protecting public conservation lands and the species that rely on these wild places.  
Picayune Strand.
Roseate Spoonbill in flight against a sky and tree canopy background. Photo: George Cathcart/Audubon Photography Awards.
City of Key West Unanimously Passed a Resolution Calling for a Denial of Urban Expansion
In September 2021, the Miami-Dade County Commission voted to move forward with a proposed development that would convert nearly 800 acres of South Dade farmland to an industrial park. This proposed “South Dade Logistics and Technology District” would require an expansion of the Urban Development Boundary – a legal line that limits the extent of westward development toward the Everglades.

The project would also be built in the footprint of a future Everglades restoration project. In response to this, Florida Keys decisionmakers have passed resolutions to oppose the project.

This week, the City of Key West unanimously passed a resolution calling for a denial of the application in order to safeguard drinking water for the Florida Keys, limit urban sprawl, and prioritize Everglades restoration in the area.

“Sending clean, fresh water south is essential for Everglades restoration and the health of Florida Bay,” said Audubon Florida Director of Everglades Policy, Kelly Cox. “We applaud Florida Keys leaders for ensuring that future restoration projects remain viable in the South Dade region.”

Click here to learn more.
Roseate Spoonbill. Photo: George Cathcart/Audubon Photography Awards.
Birdwatchers at Audubon Florida's Assembly event counting species at a stormwater treatment area in Lake City.
Climate and Energy News Roundup
This week we share news about solar power for one million Florida homes, progress on emissions reductions, how managed retreat could help rural communities, and more!

Click here to read the full roundup.
Birdwatchers at Audubon Florida's Assembly event counting species at a stormwater treatment area in Lake City.
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