| Embattled Seagrass Mitigation Bill Passes House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee|
|The House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee on Wednesday heard two bills filed by Rep. Sirois (R-Merritt Island):|
1) HB 323 - From the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, further strengthens rules for the management of derelict vessels.
2) HB 349 - Water Resources Management.
HB 349 and its Senate companion SB 198 (Sen. Bradley, R-Orange Park) provide authorization for the first time for mitigation banks by private entities to be established on State Sovereign Submerged Lands.
This legislation would enable the destruction of healthy seagrass resources in exchange for planting seagrass in places where its likelihood of survival is low without larger interventions such as water quality improvements or pole and troll mandates.
Mitigation is already an accepted practice with uplands and freshwater wetlands, where development in one location on private lands is used to support the protection of other private lands from development. Further restoring those lands is a supplemental benefit.
This bill’s seagrass mitigation proposal, however, would allow publicly-owned seagrass resources to be harmed without adding additional seagrass areas to public ownership elsewhere.
Further, the bill’s proposal to restore seagrass on these public lands is admirable, but implementation would be problematic and unlikely to replace the ecological value of what applicants would be permitted to destroy. However, the bills are not limited to that kind of mitigation.
Seagrass restoration efforts in Florida have a history of being both expensive and complex, with few success stories. A mitigation program like one described in HB 349 would make the destruction of seagrass permit-able in Florida to an extent that has not been allowable previously – all with little guarantee of lasting replacement through mitigation banks. It is an exercise in futility to plant seagrass without fixing the underlying problems that are affecting seagrass meadows across the state, which include impaired water quality, reduced freshwater flows, turbidity, and prop scarring.
An additional danger in this legislation? It might – for the first time – open up a mechanism for healthy, undisturbed seagrass areas to be impacted by new channels and boat basins that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the water management districts have routinely denied permits for over the last 30 years.
HB 349 was approved by the House Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee; by a vote of 13 Yeas, 4 Nays on December 1st. There was much discussion and several members expressed concerns about the bill: Rep. Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) asked whether this was the right time for the state to open up mitigation on state owned lands when there’s been large scale loss of seagrass across the state. Rep. Hardy (D-West Palm Beach) reiterated that the idea behind mitigation is “no net loss” so mitigation should not be allowed on lands already placed into conservation. Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard) – whose district also is located on the Indian River estuary – said “this bill provides the certainty of destruction and only the possibility of [restoration] success.” He further argued that the legislation was fraught with problems, and its future is uncertain at best.
Audubon testified raising numerous concerns about the bill. Stay tuned – we may need you to contact your elected officials in 2022!