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Nancy Smith

Fine's Anti-Sewage-Spill Bill a Powerful Blow to Local Government Lethargy

March 13, 2019 - 9:00am
Randy Fine
Randy Fine

If Randy Fine and Eric Eikenberg were trading cards, I'd give you 10 Eikenbergs for one Fine.

That's how much hope Fine offers to Florida's ailing waterways, particularly to the Indian River Lagoon.

While the Everglades Foundation CEO pitches deception and misinformation that blind Floridians to real water-quality improvement, the Republican state representative from Palm Bay is using his position and bully pulpit to hold local government accountable to stop the dumping of raw sewage and restore the Indian River Lagoon -- and, frankly, a host of other state waterways. On Tuesday he did it by introducing House Bill 141 -- smart, tough legislation to bring the whole state to heel after years of municipal carelessness.

I Beg to Differ"I want to share some statistics," Fine told the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. "The first number is 2,701,769,627. That's 2.7 billion. What is that? It's the number of gallons of raw sewage that municipal plants have dumped in Florida waterways in the last 10 years." And during those 10 years, "that's happened over 23,000 times ... enough sewage to fill 10,000 swimming pools. ...

"We can't fix our waterways until we stop putting sewage into them," he said. Fine is the first person besides Harbor Branch marine biologist Brian Lapointe I've heard say that loudly and publicly.

Watch Fine here. Tuesday's presentation begins at minute 34:00.

“There is no issue more important to the future of Brevard County than restoring the Indian River Lagoon," he said.

“The state has an important role in both financially supporting (lagoon) recovery and guiding local governments to get the job done. My legislation will do both -- providing the incentive of $50 million a year in matching funds to support Indian River Lagoon restoration and dramatically increased penalties for illegal spills caused by lack of system maintenance."

HB 141 would require a written notice to be sent to residents by mail every time there's a spill, and the note would provide the names and phone numbers of the authorities responsible for the plant's oversight. He said, "Our constituents would be astounded ... they don't know how common this problem is."

It would also require a $2 fee for every gallon of raw sewage released, Fine said.

"Municipal governments have put this off and put off and put this off. This is the incentive to finally fix the problem. 

"I read about blue-green algae and red tide, but we have a whole Crayola box of colors in the waters ... ours are brown, Fine explained.

"Ask any meteorologist how long Hurricane Irma lasted in 2017 and they'll tell you three days. But in Brevard County, it lasted for 35 days," he said. "For 30 days and nights, 24/7, raw sewage was running into the Indian River Lagoon. That's 22 million gallons."

What "got me really mad to begin with," he said, was that the Brevard County Commission chose to use the 35 days of sewage bombardment to spend 14.5 million tax dollars, not to repair system infrastructure but on these "necessities":

  • $7 million for an “indoor multiuse sports arena and hotel project” in Titusville.

  • $5 million for upgrades to the Viera Regional Park’s soccer and lacrosse fields.

  • $1.7 million to expand a campground at Palm Bay Regional Park

  • $500,000 for a “Keepers Cottage Museum” at the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, and

  • $200,000 to upgrade a pier area in Indian Harbour Beach near where the 20 million gallons of sewage were deposited.

“The last was the worst of it: Instead of repairing and modernizing the sewage system, they decided to spend taxpayer money to make it easier for kayakers to paddle through the sewage. It defies logic," he said. "It defies explanation.

Fine told reporters in October 2017, “When I got into politics, I knew the politicians thought differently than those of us who live in the real world.

“But you have to question the sanity of people who thought spending money on a pier next to a raw sewage dump was a better idea than actually fixing the raw sewage dump.” 

Fine's bill sailed through the committee unanimously.

Joe Gruters
Joe Gruters
Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, introduced companion bill SB 216 in the the upper chamber later in the day, with Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart cosponsoring. 

Environmental groups of every description and scientists in attendance waived or spoke in support of these bills. Conspicuous by its absence was the Everglades Foundation. A snub as usual. Eikenberg and the Foundation's disciples have for the last five years ignored Lapointe's studies, testing and peer-reviewed papers on the profound presence of fecal matter in state waters, calling it "just a diversion" from blaming the real pollution culprit: agriculture south of Lake Okeechobee.

Fine has taken a bold and positive step in the state's crusade to save Florida waterways. The Everglades Foundation, meanwhile? Don't hold your breath.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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