Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott talks with state officials about Brevard County brown tide, fish kill

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 6:05 AM

click to enlarge A dead pufferfish found on the edge of Merritt Island near the Banana River lagoon on March 26, 2016. - PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
  • A dead pufferfish found on the edge of Merritt Island near the Banana River lagoon on March 26, 2016.
Gov. Rick Scott held a conference call Monday with state officials to discuss "brown tide" problems in the northern Indian River Lagoon that have resulted in thousands of fish dying.

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the call was intended to give the governor an update from officials working on the situation.

"Right now the governor is just staying in contact with the agency heads, and the agency heads have been down there working on the issue, talking to the different stakeholders in the community," Schutz said.

The conference call followed a news release Friday in which Scott highlighted state and local efforts to reduce brown tide and concerns about the impact of algae blooms.

"While this brown tide event is not a health threat to our families or visitors, we are assessing and responding to areas that are seeing a loss of fish," Scott said in Friday's news release.

Scott also said the state "will continue to do all we can to protect water quality in the Indian River Lagoon.”

On the phone Monday with Scott were Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jon Steverson and acting state Surgeon General Celeste Philip, according to Scott's daily schedule and a confirmation by Schutz.

An $82 billion budget that Scott signed earlier this month includes $21.5 million to dredge nutrient-laden muck from the central and northern Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River in Brevard County.

The funding requires Brevard County to provide $1.5 million to the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute at Florida Institute of Technology to determine environmental benefits from the project.

The Legislature has allocated more than $72 million over the past three years to Brevard County for efforts to remove nitrogen and phosphorus in the muck that has allowed the growth of harmful algae blooms — called Aureoumbra lagunensis — that have in part kept seagrass from growing.

While Schutz said Scott is making the issue a priority, the situation in Brevard County hasn't received as much attention as unrelated ecological and economic impacts from polluted freshwater releases out of Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

In February, Scott signed an executive order that declared a state of emergency for counties — Martin, St. Lucie and Lee — impacted by the discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Also, a bill (HB 989) called "Legacy Florida," approved by the Legislature this month, sets aside at least $200 million a year for the Everglades, $50 million annually to the state's natural springs and $5 million a year to Lake Apopka.

The bill has not been forwarded to Scott for his approval.

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