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Indian River aid, Home Rule urged to Volusia lawmakers

Help with Indian River Lagoon restoration projects and otherwise let cities and the county run their own affairs, area leaders told Volusia County’s Legislative delegation Monday.

Time and again, representatives of Volusia County, Daytona Beach and other cities and towns in the county urged support for septic-to-sewer and other environmental protection projects aimed at improving the struggling Indian River Lagoon.

And time and again, they defended the “Home Rule” provisions that have been picked at and almost picked apart by the last couple of Florida Legislatures.

“It’s heartening to hear themes that are so central to so many cities,” New Smyrna Beach Mayor Russell Owen told the delegation meeting Monday afternoon at the Daytona Beach City Hall.

With state Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs taking the chair and state Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff of DeLand taking the vice chair, the seven-member delegation – all Republicans – heard a troubling update on the health of the Indian River Lagoon, presentations a couple of proposed local bills and of a handful of pleas for local projects, many of which were oriented toward improving the health of Indian River.

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Considering the attention paid to Florida’s water problems during the election campaign season, Indian River Lagoon Council Executive Director Duane De Freese predicted the lawmakers are heading “into what I think would be a very active water session.”

Among his asks:  support for continued funding through the Department of Environmental Protection to address the study and address Indian River restoration; expanded funding to address cyno-bacterial algae blooms; and funding for infrastructure improvements, including large, regional storm water projects, and urban storm water projects, muck removal projects, and septic-to-sewer projects.

“The Indian River Lagoon is on life support right now,” De Freese said. “This system has 11-years of failing water quality. And as a 40-year scientist, and as executive director of the NEP and the IRL Council, we have a historic moment in this session coming up, to move a legacy program for water quality.”

That lead state Rep. Paul Renner of Palm Coast, the House Speaker-designate, to ask if there was a comprehensive research showing what are the priority steps and programs, or for particular strategies: septic-to-sewer first, or something else..

The short answer from De Freese was yes, with the caveat that the priorities differ from point to point along the lagoon. What’s more, too many local projects are immature in their planning processes among the 38 cities and five counties involved in addressing the Indian River Lagoon, he said.

“Don’t look for a silver bullet or that linear list of projects. I’ve seen it before. We’ve done it before in Florida with land acquisition back in the day. Make it competitive. Make the local communities, the partners, both local and federal, come to the table with cash,” he advised. “Vet those projects…. these projects just don’t come on line in a clean fashion.”

On the other hand, De Freese said the septic-to-sewer projects should be strongly considered.

“If you look at the history of success, Narragansett Bay, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, septic-to-sewer is an important issue that you can’t deny,” he said.

The two local bills both received unanimous support from the delegation:

– State Rep. David Santiago of Deltona is sponsoring a bill that would expand the taxing district of Halifax Health into Deltona, where the health care company already is building a new hospital to join the Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach. The hospital company was praised for bringing down taxing levels over the past few years.

– Fetterhoff sponsored a bill that will complete a transfer of land rights from the state of Florida to Daytona Beach for 34 acres of riverfront and river property. The state has held the rights since the 1920s and the city has been trying to acquire Travis Hutson of St. Augustine is pushing a companion bill.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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