What is really going on at Spoonbill Marsh?

MARK SCHUMANN

County Commissioner Bob Solari, who is running for re-election, has made the effectiveness of Spoonbill Marsh an issue in his campaign, bragging in campaign mailers to be the driving force behind the wastewater treatment facility.  
County Commissioner Bob Solari, who is running for re-election, has made the effectiveness of Spoonbill Marsh an issue in his campaign, bragging in campaign mailers to be the driving force behind the facility, which filters brine water.

Earlier this week, Inside Vero submitted a public records request to the County Attorney’s Office seeking copies of written correspondence and calendar evidence of meetings between County Commissioners and County Staff and representatives of the Indian River Land Trust regarding the possible flow of brine-contaminated water from the County’s Spoonbill Marsh brine water filtration project onto adjacent Land Trust property. No one at the County Attorney’s office is available to address our public records request until after Aug. 24.

Land Trust Executive Director Ken Gruden did not return our call, and no one at the Land Trust appears willing at this point to speak on the record. One Land Trust staff member did ask us to “please” follow up with him after receiving the County’s response to our public records request. 

Yesterday, Barry Shapiro, a concerned citizen, distributed the following email raising his concerns about a possible cover up of issues at Spoonbill Marsh.

From: Barry Shapiro 

Date: Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 10:14 AM

Subject: Important information for anyone who cares about our environment.

About a week ago I was asked to attend a meeting here in Vero Beach and at that time asked not to tell anyone about the meeting or it’s attendees. Given we are in the middle of a heated political campaign here in Indian River County, I expected this to have something to do with a candidate I am supporting. At this time I cannot tell you who was in this meeting however I can tell you that as the information was presented to the group I went into a state of shock. Our most important economic and ecological asset, the Indian River Lagoon, is being destroyed by pollution, a fact that anyone who lives in our area surely is aware of. What is generally not known is that one of the prime polluters of the Lagoon is our own county government.

There is a scandal being perpetrated that no one is willing to talk about. This information is confirmed by leading scientists and environmentalists and yet the local media has not only not been made aware of the situation but in some cases where the have been tipped off they are burying the story until after the election. Most of our local media have endorsed both incumbents Bob Solari and Tim Zorc to return to the County Commission despite their false and misleading statements about just what the county is doing. I believe they are suppressing this story because they don’t want to look like schmucks just a couple of weeks after endorsing people who may possibly be committing criminal acts. 

I left that meeting angry as hell and determined to do something about it. I was invited because of my media background, as someone they felt could help get the word out. And yet even now, some of the people in this meeting have since been unwilling to go on the record – afraid of making a false move that could come back on them before the election. I have no such fear. I am not a politician or a journalist. I answer to no one but my own code of ethics. There are two issues that I care deeply about and place above all others: education and the environment. On this issue I feel I cannot sit still and wait to see what happens. At the risk of offending some people I am starting the process of letting everyone possible know about what I have learned. Frankly I don’t give a (expletive) about what anyone else thinks.

As you will read in my attachment, I believe that our elected county officials are at the very least deceiving the public. I believe that by not reporting truthfully to the DEP they are doing something illegal but that will be for the courts to decide. I have been told by people smarter than me that their actions may be prosecutable.

The author of the report, the whistle-blower, cannot come forward and so I am committed to never revealing my source. I will tell you that I have already spoken to someone in a better position to know about this and that person indicated that he/she was in agreement that this is factual and needs to be brought to the public’s attention. If this is a scandal of the proportions I believe it is, some people could lose their jobs. This is one reason that some feel we should hold back the information for now. I believe that we need to put all the cards on the table and come what may. This is bigger than an election or some people’s feelings. This is about our future and our children’s future and their children’s future.

The attachment is merely an explanation of the basic problem at Spoonbill Marsh. It only scratches the surface. I have in my possession a more in-depth report that will be delivered to all media outlets as well as appropriate government agencies in the next 2 days. Once this hits I hope to arrange TV, radio, print media interviews with experts who can back this report up.

The IRL is the lifeblood of this county’s economic health. It is also one of the most significant environmental bodies of water on the east coast affecting everything from the fishing industry to migratory patterns of important species.

We all know that the lagoon is dying. Here is something we can do about it. I ask that you read this attachment. If it resonates with you – no matter what side of the political spectrum you are on – I ask you to please get the word out – via email, social media, letter campaigns and phone calls. Talk about this with everyone! If you want to read the report I will make it available to you. It’s Greek to me but maybe you can decipher it. 

Clearly I have a political ax to grind. I admit it. I attended last nights candidate forum in Sebastian with the intention of divulging this information but the group I am with felt it was not the time or place to do so. Still, when I heard the BS being told the public I left angrier than ever and I am just not willing to hold back until “all the ducks are in a row.” I’d rather err by speaking too soon than speaking too late.

If you have any contacts at the DEP at the state or federal level I ask you to please help me get the report to them.

I thank you for your time and patience. I know this is very long winded but I have the need to be clear and specific.

I know everyone on the list this is going out to personally and I know that no matter who you are supporting in this election you will see that this is so important it supersedes politics. I am asking you to help this message go viral. We need the public to know and to act now!

I appreciate your support.

Barry Shaprio

PS: To residents of John’s Island, Windsor and the Moorings, you are the largest contributors to the Indian River Land Trust and to the political campaigns of several prominent district politicians. Be clear that in regards to the Indian River Lagoon cleanup you have been LIED TO! Now what?

Shapiro’s email included the following attachment:

SPOONBILL MARSH FACT SHEET

The following points are facts supported by scientific evidence. What is clear is that the County and its officers have invested so heavily in the marsh system and have lied to the public about its effectiveness.

We do not attempt to address potential problems with Osprey Marsh or Egret Marsh, but we do know that these have reporting issues as well.

The bottom line is that Spoonbill Marsh, which is in reality a liquid toxic waste dump, is not operating as designed or permitted.

When properly investigated by an independent agency, this should be grounds for legal action to stop illegal discharges of toxic and untreated wastewater.

County Commission chairman Bob Solari has aggressively defended the marsh system and is currently basing his re-election campaign on the benefits to the county these marshes provide. Clearly this is disinformation at best.

Salient points:

  • Spoonbill Marsh is not properly functioning and not being properly maintained by the county,

specifically as to how it collects and reports data.

  • On the record, based on the official self-reported and unaudited DMR figures from January, 2015 to June, 2016, Spoonbill takes in on average 2.99 million gallons per day of toxic brine and water from the Indian River Lagoon. The number can vary somewhat according to weather and other factors.
  • Approximately 0.5 to 1.0 million gallons run out of Spoonbill a day. IRC claims that an average of 2.28 million gallons is pumped out but their figures are contradicted by site visits by experts. The county doesn’t have a system in place to meter the outfall, as required by the permit, so they go by their own best estimate.
  • Given this disparity, approximately 2.0 to 2.5 million gallons of effluent (untreated wastewater) is unaccounted for every day. That totals almost 1 billion gallons unaccounted for each year.
  • The county audits itself and reports its findings to the DEP. By the county’s self-audit report no missing water has ever been reported giving the appearance of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy between the DEP and the County. This ‘tacit agreement’ between the county and the DEP has been going on since Spoonbill’s inception.
  • By design there should be 2 outfalls for Spoonbill water. As per independent site inspection, only one outfall is in use. The other to the north has apparently not worked for years. Therefore all effluent MUST go through the one functioning outfall. As a condition of the permit all discharges must go through these outfalls. Obviously the majority of this unaccounted for water is going somewhere else.
  • The difference in the amount of input and outfall cannot be accounted for by evaporation leaving the question “where is this water going?”
  • A 1 inch rainfall adds about 1.8 million gallons to the unaccountable wastewater volume.
  • IRC is operating Spoonbill Marsh in flagrant violation of its permit.
  • IRC is misreporting Spoonbill’s outfall by millions of gallons a day.

Spoonbille Marsh 1

These are supportable facts. There is also much anecdotal evidence to support our claims:

  • According to one expert witness, the Indian River Land Trust has been aware of overflow from Spoonbill entering abutting IRLT property but has never known the extent of the spill.
  • Site visits by experts that were recorded on video show that the measured outfall rate (area-velocity method of measurement) for a 24 hour period only comes to 646,317 gallons. This falls far short of the amount reported by the county. It is a simple measurement because the outfall is just a trench that is approximately 2’ wide and 1’ deep.
  • Observers standing atop the weir (containment berm) clearly saw that Spoonbill’s water level was over the top of the weir and flowing onto neighboring property. Photographic evidence of this is available upon request. The licensed design does not permit the facility to operate with a water elevation that overtops the containment.
  • It is possible that certain media outlets are aware of these facts but are burying this story until after the coming county elections. If true this would clearly indicate a potential conflict of interest.

Spoonbille Marsh 2

3 comments

  1. It is outrageous that public records requests – particularly of such significance – would not be readily available…unless there really IS something to hide. Come on, County leaders! If this is all true, there may be heads rolling before it’s over (not literally–but we citizens demand the truth).

  2. Bob Solari and all of the current elected County Commissioners should be brought to task on this one. They have been fooling the public for far too long and this commission needs new blood. While they seem to be in love with a sale that cannot and will not take place they are ignoring the real issues and the Spoonbill Marsh is just one example. Not supporting the Lagoon Council is another mis-step with this current Commission. During this election cycle it is time to replace Bob Solari and Tim Zorc. The Press Journal has it all wrong….but then again they are the FPL paper and that is why a dead sale is the whole reason for these two bad endorsements.

  3. Perhaps it will be necessary to contact the attorney general of the state or the DEP in Washington. This is a serious matter that needs to be exposed to the general public and corrected ASAP. If it is true that this may be a criminal matter it must be pursued to the end.

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