By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis wants lawmakers to double fines for sewage spills into waterways and to lock an environmental-funding pledge into state budgets for at least the next three years.
The proposals are the first of a series the governor said he will make ahead of the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January. Lawmakers will return to Tallahassee on Monday to start holding committee meetings to prepare for the session.
Doubling fines for sewage spills would eliminate what DeSantis described as a “slap me on the wrist” approach to penalties for local governments. Civil penalties are now up to $10,000 a day, DeSantis said during an appearance Wednesday at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center in Naples.
“What we end up seeing happening is, you have some of these municipalities, it’s cheaper for them to pay a fine and spew all this sewage into the waterways, because it’s the cost of doing business,” DeSantis said. “They’d rather do that than invest in the infrastructure they need to make sure the waterways surrounding them are safe and clean.”
DeSantis noted, for example, spills that have occurred into Tampa Bay.
Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, proposed a similar measure targeting spills during the 2019 legislative session.
Fine’s proposal, aimed at Brevard County for a sewage spill into the Indian River Lagoon in 2017 that lasted 35 days, sought to impose a $2 fee for every gallon of raw sewage released. Fine’s proposal did not pass.
DeSantis also would like the Legislature to plug $625 million a year into the next three state budgets for environmental projects.
The amount would equal what he requested heading into the 2019 session and allow him to claim victory for his previously stated goal of $2.5 billion over four years in funding for the Everglades, natural springs, combating blue-green algae and red tide outbreaks and carrying out other water projects.
The total would represent a $1 billion increase over what was spent the previous four years under former Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator.
Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, said recurring funds would ensure ongoing efforts aren’t slowed by “a pause as you wait for more funding.”
Most of the money would continue to come from a 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment that requires 33 percent of revenues from a tax on real-estate documentary stamps to go to land and water conservation. That money goes into what is known as the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
Since the passage of the amendment, legislators each year have directed at least $200 million to the Everglades, $64 million to a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area, $50 million to natural springs and $5 million to Lake Apopka.
With more than $906 million available from the trust fund for the current year, lawmakers at the end of the 2019 session repeatedly pointed to exceeding DeSantis’ environmental-spending request by about $55 million.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Wednesday he’s excited to work with DeSantis on the environmental proposals.
“Our character is defined by its waters, its rivers, the Everglades, that river of grass, the beaches. Water is central to who we are and what we are as a people,” Bradley said. “If we were to neglect those precious natural resources that God has given us, then the people of the state of Florida would be angry, and they would have a right to be.”
Bradley has in the past proposed using the trust fund money to increase funding for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida, as well as the Florida Forever land-preservation program.
Well at least we do not have Andrew Gillum in the Governor’s Mansion scheming to hire Sean Pittman, Ron Book, Gwen Graham and a host of other “Usual Suspects” agreeable to suck up the lions share of this environmental funding and magically get large amounts back to Gillum.
Thank you Florida for not electing Gillum.
The State’s focus on the enviornment is 100% on keeping the enviornment clean and fresh for the Goose That Lays The Golden Eggs year after year AKA Tourism.
It’s likely that The State is not going to allocate funding or very much concern for any regions that have 15 – 20 folks coming thru yearly to take selfies in front of murals.
Not trying to be Debbie Downer from way back in the day when SNL was funny.
Just being real.
Thank you Governor DeSantis you are doing an outstanding job as our governor!
What about all the City of Tallahassee’s continual and on-going PETROLEUM leaks and discharges, Governor Desantis? All these PREVENTABLE and extremely costly impacts to our environment?
Just check out one or two of these, please – like the one at the CoT Municipal Wellhead from the generator tanks of diesel fuel on North Meridian on Spanish Moss Drive; or the one at the Hopkins Power Plant, or the Police Station, or the Fuel Dispensers for the Fleet Department or at the Purdom Power Plant or the….
All of these remaining environmental issues (and many more) have been brought to the City Citizens by the highly corrupt and unethical previous (and current) TALLAHASSEE administration. A lot of the old guard (that’s still there) is completely freaking out that this info will be brought under additional FBI review and prosecution.
FBI and Governor Desantis – the time has come – bring these issues to light.
This is VERY hopeful news!
Under the City’s current 2011 Amended Consent Order with FDEP, it has a penalty/fine chart based on the number of gallons the City spills and goes up to $10,000 for spills over 10K gallons. Nothing more should a spill go to, say, 350K as occurred last year near Summerbrook and over 100K at the McLoughlin pumping station in Killearn last September. BUT, the City’s CO allows the City to assert, it recovered a certain amount and, if left unchallenged, get out of paying a portion or all of the charted fine amount.
The latter occurred recently and instead of assessing the City the full $10,000 fine, they were fined only $5,000. Additionally, the CO allows the City to divert some or all of its fine to local environmental projects which could be already budgeted in the current fiscal year. As such, i filed an Administrative law suit last week challenging this recent penalty decision against FDEP.
Additionally, in reviewing the recently approved BluePrint budget, it’s been noted by City staff that no raw sewage distribution system related projects are in this budget. This is so wrong and discussions have started to see how funds can be allocated to fix, especially, our antiquated clay vitreous distribution piping system which is prone to considerable infiltration of storm water during heavy storm events. Of note is if infiltration exists then exfiltration could be of concern into the underlying environment, 24-7-365 to our underlying aquifers.
Thankfully, we have a new Underground Utilities Gen Mgr willing to meet soon and discuss these environmental concerns, plus, how BluePrint can, hopefully, provide some funding and get millions of dollars out of the yearly budget to address these raw sewage distribution concerns.
Finally, we need to find out how the 2009 and 2011 FDEP Consent Orders were processed at these times without City Commissioners approving or even having as an Agenda item to discuss, in addition to no transparency to our citizens! Thousands of pages of Public Records Requests have produced no indications how this occurred….so far.
Thanks, Terry, for all you do.
Here’s the numbers from last December:
“Over the last 10 years, Tallahassee’s wastewater system has spilled close to 11 million gallons of raw, untreated sewage into streets, culverts, ditches, ponds and parking lots, despite a consent order with the state outlining corrective action.”
I’ll tell you exactly how and who ‘handled’ this for the City: Enviro Policy & Energy Resources (EPER) under Cynthia Barber – Director at the time – via her Sorority sister Anita Favor Thompson via Rick Fernandez and Reese Goad; who knowingly circumvented the City Charter by not letting the Commissioners know. Get the weekly meeting notes from EPER; it’s all there; FBI.
THANKS, “Here’s How”! Timeline since 2007 looks very concerning already. Atty will take it from here. text: 321-9352
What a breath of fresh air! Great job, Governor.
So how many and what volumes of SEWAGE spills has TALLAHASSEE reported and addressed in the last 5 years? And how many have they not reported?
In the last 5 years, there have been 136 spills of 4,360,000 gallons of raw sewage. In the recent past, the City has proclaimed the number of spills is considerably down since the 2008-2009 original Consent Order, however, does not indicate that since the Amended 2011 Consent Order, they no longer count spills less than 100 gallons. There were 600 recorded spills from 2008 through 2018 representing 10.9 MILLION gallons of raw sewage. The City also excuses a good number of spills during heaving rain events because generators at pumping stations do not automatically come on! However, this has been an on-going issue for several years.
Thank you for trying to protect our state. We who have lived here all our lives want to have our beautiful state saved You are doing a wonderful job as our governor.