Fertilizer Workgroup

The newly formed Fertilizer Workgroup met for the first time at the Policy Conference in West Palm Beach.  The group was put together to serve three main purposes related to this controversial issue - which has remained a FAC priority for several years.   First, the Workgroup will consider proactive measures designed to address the long-perceived problem of a “patchwork of regulation.”  Second, the group will remain a bench team of sorts, to respond to legislative proposals seeking to limit or preempt home rule authority.  And third, members will assist in educating legislators on the issue with real-world examples of environmental and fiscal impacts.

The Workgroup heard presentations from three distinguished speakers with extensive experience in fertilizer use, water-quality impacts and regulatory efficacy.   Dr. Leesa Souto of the Marine Resources Council spoke about her work on the Indian River Lagoon and Tampa Bay Estuary Study.  Dr. Souto reported that over 155,000 tons of Nitrogen fertilizer were sold last year in Florida.  Given the (conservative) estimate of $2000/pound to remove nitrogen once dissolved, the cost of regulatory compliance could exceed $620 billion.   The Study revealed that heavily impacted communities can be geo-located and demographically targeted (older homes, residents, larger lots, homeowner associations, etc.).   Dr. Claudia Listopad spoke about the Tampa Bay Study in particular, including the surveys conducted and the monitoring and analysis of the data collected.   Using a number of control variables such as biological and geological features, reclaimed water usage, and the presence of golf courses and drainage areas, the objective was to understand residential practices and differentiate between those in adjacent counties.  Projects underway seek to provide a greater understanding of storm system and nutrient dynamics with monitoring designed to inform predictive models. 

Kelli Levy, with the Pinellas County Department of Environment and Infrastructure then spoke about source control and cost effect water quality measures.  Ms. Levy noted that NNC and TMDL regulations, source control is the only viable option as physical structures such as stormwater ponds remove nutrients inefficiently and at great expense.    

At the Legislative Conference in November, the workgroup will continue the discussion, consider strategies moving forward, and finalize the policy statements for the upcoming legislative session. 

Growth, Environment and Agriculture Committee

The Growth Environment and Agriculture Committee was presented with a more focused agenda at this year’s Policy Conference.  Rather than review and comment on proposed revisions to the whole of the Legislative Program, the committee instead heard a presentation on the issues most likely to be the subject of legislation this coming session.  FAC’s Legislative Staff Attorney, Stephen James, presented a “Top Ten” list of issues -- compiled during meetings with legislators, staff directors, and members of the lobby corps -- including legislative history and existing and proposed policy statements intended to direct FAC’s advocacy efforts during bill deliberations.     

In no particular order, the “Top Ten” issues are:

1.            Fertilizer Application

This issue has been a FAC priority for several years.  Several bills have been filed in the recent past that would have fully or partially preempted local government authority to regulate fertilizer use, including exemptions for “commercial applicators” and moratoria during which a regulatory and scientific review by a ‘Council” of stakeholder representatives would take place. 

FAC’s policy statements provide for support of county government authority to regulate the use and application of fertilizer as well as the flexibility to require more stringent protections than the basic Model Ordinance to protect water bodies in need. 

2.            Water Funding

Funds allocated for water resources have been reduced significantly since the beginning of the economic downturn.  The Water Protection and Sustainability Trust Fund, for example, has seen allocations reduced to a fraction of former levels – while the need for water projects and infrastructure continue to rise at alarming rates.   Scientific estimates would suggest that Florida needs to address the issue sooner rather than later to avoid the exponential escalation of funds needed to address   programs such as alternative water supply, TMDLs, surface water and wastewater improvements, and the ever-increasing need to address aging infrastructure.   

FAC’s policy statements provide support for the commitment of greater state resources for regional systems and for local projects to address water supply development and water quality improvements.    

3.            Conservation Lands

Last session, bills were introduced in both chambers restricting the ability of local governments to purchase conservation lands, and mandating onerous conditions precedent.      FAC’s policy statements reflect support of home rule authority to buy and sell these lands in accordance with local needs and financial capacity.

4.            Ordinary High Water Mark

There is a school of thought in the Florida legislature that the way in which the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) is delineated needs to be revised.   For the past couple of sessions, changes have been proposed that would have excluded consideration of elevations reached during high water seasons, and shortened the duration of the “period of record” for permitting review.   These changes would have effectively transferred large amounts of public land into private ownership.   FAC policy statements provide support for the current case law definition and regulatory delineation methods. 

5.            Regulatory Reform / Permit Streamlining

For the past three sessions, comprehensive permit streamlining bills have been filed with the intent of expediting the permitting process, eliminating duplicative regulation, and facilitating economic development.     Among other things, these bills have addressed issues such as: conditional permitting; solid waste permit durations; renewable energy; stormwater management systems; requests for additional information; TIIF leases, docks and mooring fields; recycled waste; air source permitting; well permitting and a myriad of other regulatory issues.  We expect a similar bill to be filed this session.

FAC’s current policy supports the thorough vetting of these issues with all stakeholder groups, as well as a targeted approach rather than broad preemptions.   FAC would oppose any legislation that would prevent counties from having local programs that are more stringent in nature than state or federal regulations.   

6.            Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin

This year, President Gaetz has formed a Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin to explore short and long term solutions to reduce the impacts from the freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee.   The Select Committee is chaired by Senator Joe Negron (Indian River, Martin, Palm Beach, St. Lucie), who articulated four specific action items for the committee:

 

1.            A review of the 2008 risk assessment used by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine release schedules;  

2.            An analysis of water storage opportunities and costs;   

3.            An evaluation of the impact of a state of emergency declaration on Florida’s ability of work with the federal government to address ongoing releases; and   

4.            An investigation of the impact of septic tanks in a manner responsible to the environment and consistent with private property rights.

FAC has proposed a position of support for dedicated state funding for the construction of additional water storage and water quality treatment facilities, and for domestic wastewater infrastructure within the Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee, St. Lucie and Indian River Lagoon watersheds. 

7.            Underused Property Maximization

In 2013, legislation was proposed that created within the Department of Management Services an Underused Property Maximization Program.   This program was intended to create opportunities for public entities to use existing and unused public space rather that procuring additional facilities at taxpayer expense.  The language, however, created onerous and unfunded mandates on local government to comply with the law, including: inventories of all facilities owned, leased, rented, or occupied; data input of numerous property conditions and details; quarterly updates; business case evaluations and public hearings.    FAC will oppose this program should it be proposed again in the future. 

8.            Utility Liens

Florida law currently provides that unpaid utility bills constitute a lien against the land or property served by water or sewer systems operated by special districts and municipalities, which are of equal dignity as tax liens.   These provisions, however, do not apply to county operated systems.  FAC has proposed a policy statement of support for an equivalent lien in favor of counties. 

 

9.            Stormwater Fees

Last session, legislation was filed to address a similar issue regarding unpaid stormwater fees, authorizing fees to be charged to all “beneficiaries” of a stormwater utility, and creating a cause of action in the event of delinquent fees.   FAC has proposed a policy statement in support of this revision. 

10.          Springs Protection

A significant issue getting a lot of attention this summer is springs protection.  The issue has been discussed by legislative leadership, potential bill sponsors, agency heads, and staff.  We expect to see draft legislation in the coming weeks, which may include concepts such as:  

?             a State-wide approach with focus on the local level;

?             matching funds from all levels of government;   

?             a “worst - first” approach in which priority springsheds are addressed before others;

?             consideration of cost effective nutrient reduction; and

?             consideration of all nutrient sources including fertilizer, septic tanks, wastewater, and stormwater  

FAC has proposed policy statements in support of funding allocations for nutrient load reductions and water quantity improvements within Florida’s springsheds.

We hope you can attend the FAC Legislative Conference to be held November 13-15, 2013 at the Hilton Daytona Beach, where these and other issues and policies will be discussed, debated, and finalized by our Executive Board.   As always, we look forward to your participation in the legislative policy process.    

Rural Caucus

The focus of the Rural Caucus during Policy Conference was economic development.  The Caucus meeting began with a presentation from Alex Glenn, State President of Duke Energy.  Mr. Glenn discussed the company’s capital investment program, and the process by which they approve development sites and job creation.  In short, sites must be available and developable with utilities in place. 

The Caucus then heard a presentation from Sharon Spratt, the Manager of Legislative Affairs and Communications with Enterprise Florida.  Ms. Spratt discussed the recently completed Rural Economic Study and some of the recommendations presented by the agency.  Among those recommendations included renaming Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern (RACECs) to a more “positive” brand, using terms such as “opportunity” and “empowerment.”  Other recommendations include a more competitive award and qualification regime, targeted industry waivers, and an increase in rural jobs tax credits. 

The Caucus then heard legislative updates on major issues including Medicaid and the Florida Retirement System.   After a brief discussion on citrus greening, Chris Doolin presented information from the perspective of the Small County Coalition.   All in all, this well-attended meeting was very informative and engaging and, were it not for time restraints, it may have continued well into the evening.