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Friday, 15 August 2014 09:54

Melbourne passes weakened stormwater fee

Written by  Spence Guerin, Team SCPA and others

Posted Friday, August 15 at 12 noon.

ISSUE: INDIAN RIVER LAGOON, continued.

Melbourne City Council passes weakened stormwater fee increase
by Spence Guerin, Space Coast Progressive Alliance
August 14, 2014

On Tuesday evening, August 12, 2014, Melbourne City Council held a public hearing on a proposed increase for annual stormwater fee from $36 per residential unit to $52 per residential unit, to be followed in 2016 by increase to $64 per year.

The prevailing average stormwater fee rate in Brevard is $52 -- $16 more than Melbourne's current rate of $36. Titusville's rate in 2013: $77.50. In 2014: $79.44 -- twice that of Melbourne's current rate.

The city council opted for a fee of $44 for one year only. If the economy continues to improve, further increase in the fee can be adopted without undue hardship. That was the proposal made by councilwoman Molly Tasker, and it was passed by a vote of 6-1. Yes votes: Tasker, Meehan, Moore, Minus, Jones. Nowlin voted no. John Thomas was absent.

Thus, the existing and now adopted stormwater fee in Melbourne continue to be considerably less than that of other cities.

MANDATE TO CURTAIL POLLUTION OF THE LAGOON

Prompting this fee increase is the State of Florida's requirement that cities remove nitrogen and phosphorous in the Indian River Lagoon. The state action is driven by federal standards, dating to Clean Water Act of 1972. Nitrogen and phosphorous feed algae blooms in Florida waters including the Indian River Lagoon. Primary sources of nitrogen and phosphorous here include stormwater runoff, and septic tanks.

Melbourne is required to remove 90,000 lbs. of nitrogen per year, plus phosphorous in smaller quantity.

CITIZEN REMARKS

As usual, councilwoman Molly Tasker led the conversation, asking a stream of questions to fully understand the proposal, standards and consequences before determining best course of action.

Most citizen remarks during the hearing began with something like 'I want to help save the lagoon, but...,' followed by 'we cannot afford this.' One gentleman said that the proposed increased fee of $52 per year, which amounts to an increase of about $16 per year or $1.35 per month -- would prompt him to have to sell his house -- a move that surely defies logic. A real estate developer said he had invested in Melbourne and owned multiple properties. He suggested it was unfair that he would have to pay increased fees for all of his properties -- though he did support improving the lagoon, of course. A number of citizens did speak in support of the proposed increase.

'UNFUNDED MANDATE'

Some city council members, including the mayor, said the state's requirement was an 'unfunded mandate' -- a requirement for which the state offered no funding, as if that was an excuse not to remove nitrogen from the Indian River Lagoon unless somebody else paid for it.

Mayor Meehan suggested that when Rep. Crisafulli is the Speaker of the House in the upcoming Florida legislature, perhaps he would be able to help solve this problem of 'unfunded mandates.'

The lagoon, meanwhile, is currently experiencing yet another toxic algae outbreak, fed by nitrogen and other pollutants.

The pollution in the lagoon is an unwanted contribution from the City of Melbourne and other municipalities along the lagoon.  All must contribute to the clean-up. Surely, that is reasonable. If there is one certainty, it is that we have long ignored the impact of population growth in Florida. City governments, including Melbourne, are reluctant to be held accountable for environmental costs. To behave otherwise requires leadership.

REDUCED FEE = REDUCED NITROGEN REMOVAL

The adopted $44 stormwater fee -- an increase of $8 per year --will enable Melbourne to stop some nitrogen per year from flowing into the lagoon, but presumably less than could have been done under the original proposal, which still is far less than the investments required to restore the Indian River Lagoon.

Will Melbourne ever plan to meet its mandated goal? Or will the city continue to avoid or try to finagle out of 'unfunded mandates' and live 'on the cheap' along the picturesque but dying Indian River Lagoon?

What is purpose of the fee, anyway? The proposed increase would result in collection of close to $20 million to fund stormwater drainage improvements, which would then stop flow of about 10,000 lbs of nitrogen into the Indian River Lagoon every year. With another 10,000 lbs (rough figures) of nitrogen being removed thanks to other actions, that would leave about 70,000 lbs per year yet to be removed by means not identified.

The City of Melbourne is tasked by the State of Florida with removing about 90,000 lbs of nitrogen per year from the Indian River Lagoon.

Other sources say it costs more than $10,000 to remove one pound of nitrogen, once it's already in the lagoon waters. It's cheaper to prevent the nitrogen from getting into the lagoon.

$1.39 BILLION IN COSTS + FOR $3.7 BILLION IN VALUE = A BARGAIN

According to Jim Waymer in Florida Today on August 7, it will cost $1.39 billion over 15 years for cities along the lagoon to put in place the prevention system required to meet current state limits on nitrogen.

Remembering that the lagoon contributes almost $4 billion EVERY YEAR to the economy along the lagoon, one would have to conclude there's only one logical action: we'd best get on with investing the $1.39 billion over 15 years without delay.

The Indian River Lagoon is a great and UNearned gift to us. Failure to maintain this national resource located in our neighborhood is inexcusable. The developer who owns multiple developments and then testifies that he should not have to contribute to stormwater treatment for multiple properties is simply an example of more short-sighted business as usual -- the kind of thinking that got us into this sad predicament.

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LINKS + SOURCES

Cleaning Indian River Lagoon will cost $1.4 billion
By Jim Waymer, Florida Today, Aug. 7, 2014

Cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon won't be cheap.

It could cost local governments from Fort Pierce to Volusia County about $1.4 billion over 15 years to meet new state limits on the nitrogen and phosphorus that enters the lagoon from soil erosion, fertilizers, septic tanks and other sources.

Florida wants the nutrients entering the lagoon cut by about half by 2028, to prevent the algae blooms that kill fish, seagrass and other marine life. …

http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/2014/08/06/cities-ponder-new-ponds-higher-fees-to-meet-lagoon-pollution-limits/13670487/

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Melbourne Stormwater Program:
http://www.melbourneflorida.org/stormwater/swprogram.htm

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Melbourne Notice of Stormwater Fee Increase:
http://www.melbourneflorida.org/stormwater/WebNotice.pdf

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Titusville Stormwater Fee:
http://www.titusville.com/Page.asp?NavID=1728

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Estimated economic value of the lagoon is $3.7 BILLION...
… supporting 15,000 full and part-time jobs and providing recreational opportunities for 11 million people per year.
http://floridaswater.com/itsyourlagoon/

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FERTILIZER ORDINANCE + MELBOURNE + CRISAFULLI

Melbourne has yet to enact a stronger fertilizer ordinance. Now that almost every city in the county has enacted a stronger fertilzer ordinance, the City of Melbourne expects to reconsider the issue. In the past, only Molly Tasker spoke on behalf of a stronger fertilizer ordinance.

REP. CRISAFULLI + FERTILIZER ORDINANCE

Rep. Crisafulli, Republican, Merritt Island, last year led an effort to block cities from enacting stronger fertilizer ordinances to curtail nitrogen and phosphorous flows into the lagoon. His proposal would have even blocked ordinances already in place, retroactively! The reason cities are enacting stronger ordinances, of course, is because the corrupt Florida legislature has done so little to correct the growing water problems across Florida. Fertilizer ordinances are clearly working to improve water quality in other parts of the state, such as Tampa Bay and Sarasota. Those areas have been leaders in restoring water quality. It is said the seagrasses now cover more area in Tampa Bay than they did in the 1950s. 

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Rockledge protesters defend fertilizer ordinance, oppose preemption
Sierra Club Florida News, May 2, 2013

… Rockledge became ground zero for the statewide fight to protect water resources from urban fertilizer pollution when their own Representative Steve Crisafulli started the preemption attempt a week after the Rockledge ordinance was adopted in March and at about the same time the Indian River Lagoon became national news for the historic number of algae-related manatee deaths. ...

http://www.sierraclubfloridanews.org/2013/05/rockledge-protesters-defend-fertilizer.html

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Cris Costello: A threat to local fertilizer ordinances
Gainesville Sun, April 24, 2013

For seven legislative sessions in a row, the pest control and fertilizer industries have tried to eliminate Florida’s more than 50 local ordinances that put strict controls on lawn fertilizer pollution. …

You’d think that everyone affected by the loss of fisheries, the dead manatees and shorebirds, and the stain on the Indian River Lagoon’s reputation as a fishing and vacation destination would praise local efforts to control pollution; especially when those efforts are aimed at cost-free prevention rather than expensive taxpayer-funded clean-up projects.

You’d think, but you’d be wrong. It is from around the Indian River Lagoon that we have seen a renewed effort by the pest and fertilizer industries to kill any sort of regulation statewide. And it is the Indian River Lagoon’s own Rep. Steve Crisafulli who started this year’s attempt at preemption of local ordinances. In March, Crisafulli called “stakeholders” together to comment on a piece of draft legislation written by industry lobbyists. This stakeholder group, heavy with industry representatives and lacking even one independent water quality expert, has come up with an amendment that is sure to be added to some bill on the House or Senate floor this week. ...

http://www.gainesville.com/article/20130424/OPINION/130429777

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Compiled by Team SCPA

 

Last modified on Saturday, 30 August 2014 07:07

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