Brevard:Report regarding BOCC Mtg Northern Indian River Lagoon Fish Kill

Brevard: Report regarding BOCC Mtg Northern Indian River Lagoon Fish Kill (3/29/16)

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M. Shropshire –

On March 29, 2016, Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum attended the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting alongside many other concerned Indian River Lagoon advocates. The commission chambers were filled with citizens who were angry at the devastating fish kill in the Cocoa Beach/Banana River area, and they implored the BOCC to take action.

The meeting began with a report on Lagoon restoration efforts already underway, followed by a water quality report that included a list of elements that contributed to the fish kill. Since the biggest problem in the northern Lagoon is nutrient loading, a chart showing sources of nutrient inputs into the Lagoon was shown. Based on the chart, the two largest nutrient contributors are muck already in the system with its legacy load of nutrients, and ground water. Ground water in this case was stated to include polluted water coming from canals and ditches.

CHART: Nutrient Sources by percentage
Muck Flux – 45%
Ground Water – 30%
Storm Water – 14%
Point Source – 1%
Atmospheric Nitrogen – 10%
(Chart based on data collected by researchers Drs. Peene, Listopad and Trefry)

Dr. Duane DeFreese, Director of the Indian River Lagoon Council spoke about ways to move forward from the current situation. He gave attendees an overview of the Lagoon’s problems and stated that the focus should be on human inputs, specifically storm water and muck. He further stated that it does no good to remove muck if you don’t stop the input of muck into the Lagoon. All sources must be addressed, whether urban, agricultural, or residential.

He went on to say that there are 1.7 million citizens living in the 50 cities that border the Indian River Lagoon, and that everyone needs to become involved in solving Lagoon issues.

Dr. DeFreese said securing recurring funding and creating project timelines are critical for moving forward. He also mentioned that one of the goals of the Council is to revise the CCMP (Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan), and that a draft plan of this is needed now, since the current version of the plan is out of date.

Members of the Brevard BOCC had numerous questions for Dr. DeFreese. Board member Curt Smith asked: “Are we out of the woods with this bloom?” The reply from Dr. DeFreese was chilling – “Brace yourselves for what could be a very hard season ahead.”

Other BOCC questions addressed where to get funding and how to speed up permitting issues. A suggestion was made to request a change in the way the tourism bed tax works to allow smaller counties to get an extra 1% that could be dedicated to Lagoon restoration.

Many of the speakers encouraged the BOCC to adopt a State of Emergency Declaration to present to Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The need for a ban on fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides came up again and again.

Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum  said “We must come together as a community and take responsibility. Get serious about education even if we have to go door-to-door. We need a temporary moratorium on herbicides, fertilizers, and pesticides for ALL…including municipalities. We need more monitoring – more Kilroys, and a return to septic tank monitoring.” The Riverkeeper also screened a short video clip shot by Dylan Hansen. The video showed a landscape company employee spreading fertilizer right next to mounds of dead fish at a waterfront home just off the Banana River. After viewing the video, Dr. Duane DeFreese said “The video tells it all.”

Capt. Alex Gorichky, a local fishing guide and long-time Lagoon advocate said, “We need to go all in. It’s taken half a century to put us in the situation we are in now. The water has been brown for 4-5 months. We did nothing. I watched entire schools of breeder Redfish turn up dead. Our Redfish are different than others, since they spawn in these lagoons. We need water monitoring and health monitoring…we have toxic water right now. Industrialization of Port Canaveral is also a problem…they need to put millions of dollars into helping the Lagoon.”

Dr. Duane DeFreese pointed out that the present situation happened because we have been “flushing problems away.” He said everyone must do a better job at being Floridians. He advocated setting the bar high and working toward a common goal, what he called a “blue sky dream” to “make the state of Florida the first clean water state in the nation.”


After the public comment period, Commissioner Trudie Infantini called for a motion to adopt a State of Emergency declaration that would be sent to Gov. Scott, and a discussion between the Board members ensued.

Commissioner Curt Smith said he is “behind everyone” but then spoke out against the State of Emergency declaration. He agreed there should be a lawn fertilizer ban this year for the months of April and May, in addition to the mandated summer fertilizer ban. He says he supports ending FPL’s thermal discharges into the Lagoon. He states that septic tank inspections should only be required when a home is sold, and suggests that citizens should use a private home warranty company such as “Home Serve” to finance repairs to septic and sewer in the event something goes wrong with these systems, rather than having the county take responsibility for requiring repairs. Smith says “We want to present things that are palatable to our legislators.”

Commissioner Andy Anderson pointed out that the Brevard portion of the Lagoon is 72 miles long, and a State of Emergency would need to apply to the entire county. He believes the problems are restricted to the 14 mile area of the fish kill, despite the fact that the brown tide event now extends south to the Sebastian Inlet in Indian River County, and that conditions will doubtless get worse as temperatures rise.

Commissioner Robin Fisher says he became an environmentalist in 2013 and enumerates some of his activities, but then goes on to tell everyone they should be “respectful of Tallahassee.” He does not back the State of Emergency declaration.

Commissioner Jim Barfield also says he’s a “long-time environmentalist” and that he despises politics because “politics is dirty.” Regarding the State of Emergency declaration, he says that it is “not going to get us where we want to go” and that a State of Emergency is “a slap in the face to the governor.” He blames the Army Corps of Engineers for slow permitting and says the right approach is a formal letter to the governor asking for what is wanted.

After discussion, the BOCC majority denied the State of Emergency declaration request. At this point, many members of the public were so outraged they left the meeting. Although the Commissioners did agree to work toward solutions to the problem, the fact remains that there are dumpsters all over Brevard County with 65 tons of dead and rotting fish in them, and the Lagoon’s problems are far from over.

Citizens of Brevard County are without a doubt angry and disappointed. At one point Commissioner Anderson talked about how he was still catching fish elsewhere in the Lagoon. Is that really a proper response to the scores of people who showed so much distress at the devastation of this massive fish kill?

A Sampling of Public Comments
– I’m angry and upset, frustrated with the inaction. The total mass of dead fish may be 100+ tons, since what was collected in the clean up is only one small part.
– I’ve lived on the Lagoon for 68 years. The fish “were begging us to do something about this Lagoon.”
– The condition of the IRL and Banana River is despicable. Brevard County is responsible for 90% of sewage spills along the lagoon. Goals should include efforts to reduce sewage spills to zero within 2 years; accelerate upgrades to drainage and storm water systems, and filter them; get a plan and get funding to deal with the mass of septic tanks in the Lagoon’s watershed; address muck removal.
– “This commission must accept the responsibility previous commission did not.”
– People come for the beaches…a State of Emergency declaration will stop people from coming to Florida (this comment was from a Tourism Development Council representative and it was not well-received by the audience).
– The Lagoon is a “sick, orphaned child” – we’ve known about this for years but we need to take decisive action. We need a complete fertilizer ban. There has been no change in homeowner behavior or the behavior of commercial applicators. “Fertilizing lawns is not an acceptable practice for anything that drains into the Lagoon.” We are going to de-muck and the muck will come right back. A ban would communicate that we need to “stop poisoning this child.” Tell the governor what we want.
– We need to give people examples of what they can do to help. Take strong action – ask for specifics from the governor. This is a teachable moment, and actionable moment.
– The Lagoon is a $3 billion ecosystem economy driver. We have not taken care of it. “We have to be prepared to pay money” to fix this, and it may cost $500 billion to fix.
– “If the state really cared about water quality, we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in.”
– A speaker quotes Dr. Grant Gilmore – “This was a total collapse.”
– “I personally observed 36 different species dead, from sand fleas to manatees.”
– “Make no mistake – it’s dying”.
– “We pass ordinances but don’t follow through with education.” A fertilizer ban would make people realize this is serious. We must change the way we live along the Lagoon and the way we support the Lagoon. Counties and cities passed fertilizer ordinances but people are not complying; Roundup is being sprayed on hard-scapes and driveways, by homeowners and by county employees. We need a lawn chemical moratorium.
– Growing up on the Lagoon was great. Now counties are using the Lagoon as a dumping ground. We can’t push the fixes off any longer – are we going to live on a dead algae pond?
– “What was once good enough is no longer good enough.” We’re going to have to do more than we’ve ever done before just to keep the Lagoon going.

Note from the Editor: We would like to thank M. Shropshire and Indian Riverkeeper Marty Baum for submitting this report and for the endless dedication to educating us and defending the Indian River Lagoon.

Each and every person that lives on the Indian River Lagoon needs to read this and make your voices heard with the commissioners from Brevard County.

We have a link to the Brevard BOCC on our Brevard County Page.

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