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Randy Fine seeks Indian River Lagoon protection, safer crosswalks

Fine bills create new carrot [matching grants] and stick [fines] to stop sewage overflows

State Rep. Randy Fine is determined to get major projects going to address the chronically ill Indian River Lagoon running along much of Florida’s East Coast.

And if he could do anything, Fine wants to get the state to look at making midblock crosswalks, like the one where a 12-year-old girl was killed last month on Merritt Island, safer.

Fine, a Republican from south Brevard County, has been one of the more active and vocal members of the Florida House of Representatives in the past couple of years on a variety of issues. This year he filed bills on issues ranging from prescription drug benefits to security funding at Jewish day schools, home insulation swindles to a requirement that history of the Holocaust be taught in schools.

If he has his way in 2020, carrot and stick bills to help the Indian River Lagoon and a new approach to midblock pedestrian crosswalks will be his top successes in the 2020 Legislative Session.

“It’s water and public safety,” Fine said. “I have two environmental policy bills. One (HB 153) would create an Indian River Lagoon matching grant program that would help the state get involved in cleaning up the Indian River Lagoon as it has been in other areas of the state, by providing a dollar-for-dollar match for certain projects.

“The second (HB 1091) is a policy change which we announced last week … to increase fines on local politicians who refuse to appropriately invest in their sewage infrastructure, thus leading to billions of gallons of raw sewage dumped into our waterways. For those who refuse to use their home rule powers appropriately, the state needs to take appropriate action,” Fine continued.

The carrot, HB 153 would provide state incentives for local communities to improve existing sewage treatment plants to higher nutrient removal standards, expand capacity to avoid overflows, extend sewer lines into existing developments that are on septic systems, and provide funding to connect homes that are on septic but have a sewer line available. He also filed an appropriations request (HB 2053) for $50 million. That money would be used to fund the program’s first year.

Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell filed the companion SB 640.

The stick, HB 1091 and Sen. Joe Gruters‘ companion SB 1450 would raise all fines for sewage overflow discharges by 50%. Fine said he was provoked into joining the effort two years ago when Brevard utilities were dumping untreated sewage for weeks, blaming Hurricane Irma, which had rolled through in September 2017.

“The local politicians tried to convince me that Hurricane Irma lasted 35 days, because in the aftermath of Irma they allowed 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week raw sewage to dump into the Indian River Lagoon, and dumped 22 million gallons over that time,” Fine said. “At the same time they were dumping 22 million gallons, they didn’t have money to repair the sewage system but they had money for $5 million for AstroTurf, $7 million for a basketball arena, a million bucks for an RV park. … So, when home rule gets out of control, the Legislature’s gotta step in.”

His third priority goes in a bit of a different direction for Fine, who has been pushing for Indian River Lagoon improvements and battling over the intentions and abilities of local officials for years. On Dec. 22, 12-year-old Sophia Nelson of Merritt Island was in a lit midblock crosswalk on U.S. Highway A1A when she was run down and killed by a hit-and-run driver. In addition to Fine, other officials including Republican state Rep. Debbie Mayfield of Indialantic and Republican state Rep. Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island have called for changes specific to that crosswalk.

Fine’s HB 1371, filed Monday, contends that the flashing yellow lights on either side of the road at the crosswalk did little to assure Sophia’s or anyone else’s safety there or anywhere else in the state. State Sen. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican, filed the companion, SB 1000.

HB 1371 would require such midblock crosswalks to have full traffic control signals — red lights — for drivers. It gives jurisdictions until 2024 to swap out or entirely remove flashing yellow light signals at crosswalks.

“We had a real tragedy in Brevard County,” Fine said. “I think it’s happening across the state, where crosswalks are being put up in places where there aren’t full traffic signals. Which is great. The problem is they’re making these flashing yellow crosswalks. So when someone pushes the button, the crosswalks are flashing yellow. Drivers, red means stop. Yellow means caution, and frankly, for some people, it means speed up before the light turns red.”

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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