Lagoon activist urging attendance at Apri 12 meeting on Spoonbill Marsh issue

Stand up for your lagoon! We need a crowd like this Thursday at 1:00 at the County Administrative Complex Building B. The health of the Lagoon depends on public activism. Come help us get the answers we need to know what is really happening at Spoonbill Marsh. You can make a difference.
COMMENTARY

“It’s OUR LAGOON and we have a right to a hearing and to know the truth!”

BARRY SHAPIRO

We need your help and your voice.

As some of you are aware, I have been working with Mr. Carter Taylor for almost 2 years to get action by Indian River County to fix or, better still, shut down Spoonbill Marsh. Spoonbill is the water waste treatment facility the County built alongside the Lagoon and abutting the property to the north owned by the Indian River Land Trust. Without going into too much detail at this time I will sum it up in a nutshell: the County has been lying to the public about Spoonbill for years.

First, The the Environmental Protection Agency mandated the County to stop dumping water contaminated with brine directly into the lagoon. The County chose to build this facility over the objections at the time of leading environmentalists and engineers. Why? you figure that out…

The way it works, or is supposed to work, is that the harmful byproduct from the treatment of well water to drinking water from the County’s reverse osmosis (RO) system runs down a pipe to Spoonbill and is mixed with lagoon water in a 1 to 3 ratio. The blend is dumped into large holding ponds and then makes it’s way to the lagoon through a cluster of mangroves and oyster beds both of which are supposed to naturally absorb most of the brine before the water is channeled through 2 runnels back into the lagoon. At this point, supposedly, it is cleaner than the water originally took from the lagoon. I stress the word “supposedly.”

The fact is that the marsh was never built properly according to it’s permit and it has been not only dumping nitrogen into the lagoon but has already permanently destroyed the adjacent salt marsh that the Land trust bought to preserve.

There is much, much more to this story but here’s the main point. From the beginning, the County and its officials have been lying to everyone, including the DEP, about what exactly is going at Spoonbill Marsh. They have been falsely reporting low nitrogen levels for years. What is worse is that they haven’t really tried to do it properly. Instead of digging for the truth and doing something to remedy the issues with Spoonbill Marsh, our politicians are looking for any edge with voters and are claiming to be champions of the environment. And because so many people feed off the money tit of the County, many groups and individuals have been reluctant to challenge them.

We have a fact sheet that goes into the specific details of just what has been done and not done at Spoonbill Marsh. Recently, after all our complaints to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the County used Hurricane Irma as an excuse to spend as much as $200,000 to repair the berm that allowed millions of gallons of brine to flow over to the Land Trust property. They made these long-needed improvements under the guise of hurricane damage repairs. But the damage to the Land Trust property is done, so this is now just a fruitless attempt to show compliance.

Cater Taylor and I made a conscious decision to try to encourage the County to fix the problems quietly. At first he went directly to the County officials in his capacity as president if the Indian River Neighborhood Association and tried to get them to admit fault and correct the problems which now throated the health of the Lagoon.

When that approach with the County didn’t work we began to go public and petitioned the DEP. Carter did this at some personal risk and we have been personally attacked in the media and even from the dais at County Commission meetings by Commissioner Solari. Since the permit to operate Spoonbill was up for renewal we thought we could get the DEP to do it’s job and force the county to make the necessary fixes or deny the permit and force the County to use another (available) method of getting rid of the brine.

The problem is that after months of back and forth we have now realized that the diminished bureaucracy at the DEP doesn’t really have any enforcement clout at all, and they are just a bit more than rubber-stampers. They want to allow the permit without means of enforcement.

Our next option was to request a public hearing so that all the facts could be debated in front of an audience right here in Indian River County. At first we thought our request for a hearing was granted, but we have recently learned that the DEP is not conducting a formal hearing. Rather, it is to be what they term a public meeting!

The difference between a hearing and a meeting is major. At a hearing all sides get to present their arguments before a DEP moderator and panel. It is an opportunity for us to present our very solid case against the County. At a meeting the DEP sets up tables and puts some bureaucrats behind them and the public can walk up and ask questions. No one gets to debate the issues, no one really knows what is happening. This is simply unacceptable. It’s OUR LAGOON and we have a right to a hearing and to know the truth! We have sent a formal request to the DEP to reschedule a proper hearing, but I’m not hopeful.

So this is the short story. You can learn more about this by reading a series of articles in Vero Beach 32963 by Katherine Sloan, or by requesting information from the County, or if you have a mind for computer data you can go into the DEP’s public records on-line in what they call the Occulus.

That’s the short story. There is really much more than I can go into now, but there is something that you can do. This “meeting” is now scheduled for April 12 at 1pm at the County offices. Please put this on your calendar and show up. We will supply you with all the information and questions you need to push the DEP and the County to answer the tough questions. I am collecting a database of concerned people who will show up so we can get them a fact sheet in advance. (If you want this information, please make a request to editor.insivevero@gmail.com, and that request will be forwarded to me. I will reply as promptly as possible.) It is important to not let them – the politicians and bureaucrats – get away with further harming the Lagoon.

The other thing you can do is send an email to Diane Pupa, Program Administrator and to Jennifer Smith, Regional Director at the DEP in West Palm and tell them that you want an actual PUBLIC HEARING as defined in their own regulations as opposed to a useless “Public Meeting.” Who knows, maybe they can be persuaded to do the right thing after all. You can also call your State representatives and let them know that you consider the DEP meeting process unacceptable. Demand they intervene and press for a PUBLIC HEARING.

Carter Taylor is a very brilliant statistician who has worked diligently to get into the weeds, so to speak, and learn the TRUTH. His work is impeccable and even the DEP has had to admit that we have been right on almost all the data we have brought to their attention. They even made a few tweaks to the permit based on our presentation. And, as I wrote here, the County has had to spend money to make repairs to the berm. But this repair is only a finger in the dyke. We need your support. We are only two guys against the clout of a State agency and a County bureaucracy with some very influential politicians.

The other thing you can do is forward this to anyone you think cares about the Lagoon and wants to make a difference. Let’s not let this opportunity go by without a real fight. I make no bones about it when I admit that my personal goal is to SHUT SPOONBILL DOWN. Why should tax payers keep throwing good money after bad just to validate the careers of a couple of politicians (well, one in particular)?
Take action. If you think the mess at Bethel Creek is a disaster and that the politicians aren’t doing enough you should be just as inflamed by what has been happening at Spoonbill for YEARS!

Thanks for reading this to the end and I hope to see you on the 12th.

Diane Pupa: diane.pupa@dep.state.fl.us
Jennifer Smith: jennifer.k.smith@dep.state.fl.us

Related story: New questions raised about effectiveness of Spoonbill Marsh

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