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For the Sake of Polluted Lagoon and Estuary, Martin County Must Convert Septic Tanks

May 21, 2014 - 6:00pm

The summer of 2013 was a watershed event for the Indian River Lagoon -- no pun intended. Its unique flora and fauna were decimated as the result of huge amounts of fresh water and pollutants entering the lagoon, causing lower salinity levels and massive algae blooms.

I quote former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla, champion of all things environmental in that affluent community: "The toxic blue-green algae blooms in the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon in the summer of 2013 highlighted the negative impacts of on-site sewer (septic tanks) and inadequate package plants on Martin County's natural resources.

"Full implementation and enforcement of the strategies and policies in this chapter are vitally important," she said. "The quality of life and the economy of Martin County rests on its waterways."

This chapter she is referring to is Chapter 10, The Sewer Service Element of the Martin County 2014 Comprehensive Plan.

It contains numerous highlighted comments, questions and suggestions Ms. Hurchalla is making to the Martin County Commission. I have included a copy of this document and urge everyone to read it in the attachment at the end of this story.

It goes back to 1982 and reflects a 30-year love affair with septic tanks and package sewage plants (even while, and because, Maggy Hurchalla was the senior member of the Martin commission).

In her comments Ms. Hurchalla noted that the Martin County Health Department has for years voiced a concern that septic tanks and improperly operated and maintained package plants have a negative impact on water quality and safety. She points out that these concerns included allowing subdivisions to be built on sites too close to the water and with poor soil conditions for septic tanks. Some of these were done in complete disregard of existing Martin County policies.

For years the Rivers Coalition of Martin County has managed to blame everyone else for the condition of the lagoon while refusing to accept any responsibility for its own members' contribution to this environmental nightmare.

Who are the Coalition's default enemies? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Florida Water Management District and their all-time favorite bad guy -- Big Sugar. They have even taken a swipe at the tri-cities of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay, because we are located next to Lake Okeechobee.

And, incidentally, we may be poor, but we do have sewer systems.

To their credit, the Rivers Coalition has managed to get water releases to the east from Lake Okeechobee halted. Stalled water projects have been jump-started and plans are under way to move more water south into the Everglades and Florida Bay. These are all great accomplishments.

I would urge the members of the Rivers Coalition to now hold their own elected officials accountable. They have known for years what was going on. The Coalition's actions have deflected attention away from their own county's inaction.

If Martin County officials had listened to their own experts decades ago, they would now have a modern, centralized wastewater system and the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon would be in a much healthier condition today.

J.P. Sasser is a four-term former mayor and lifelong resident of Pahokee, Fla.

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