Legislation intended to reduce impacts to corals and other marine life in deepwater dredging cleared its second Senate committee after members added an exemption for shipping channel maintenance.
SB 1072, which unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Community Affairs this week without debate, requires an independent contractor to determine any adverse impacts from dredging on the natural habitat.
The House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee voted to add in the deepwater channel maintenance exception to the House bill (HB 979) at the end of March. The bill passed that committee and awaits action in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Committee.
Florida port officials had issues with the legislation as originally drawn up, but the channel exception, supported by the Florida Ports Council, tamped down those concerns.
“In 2022, 10 of (Florida’s) deepwater ports handled cargo, and eight handled passenger movements by cruise ship, ferry, and/or daycruise vessel,” according to the Senate staff analysis. “In total, the ports handled a record 112.5 million tons of cargo.
“According to the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council, the ports contribute approximately $117.6 billion to the state’s economy, or 13.3 percent of Florida’ gross domestic product, and directly or indirectly support approximately 900,000 jobs in the state.”
The Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association (FSBPA) continues to oppose the bill.
“We appreciate the staff time and Sen. (Ana Maria) Rodriguez’s office, but we do oppose this bill as currently drafted,” FSBPA President Pepper Uchino said. “We’re concerned that the bill will actually be less protective, drive up costs and potentially drive out Florida-based businesses from the market because of the length of time they cannot be associated with any other projects.”
The contractor developing the natural habitat impact report would need to not be associated with any project of the dredging company for five years before the beginning of the analysis, and for a period of five years following the analysis’ completion.
“There are about 80 projects that are going on around this state, and about a dozen firms that do this type of work,” Uchino said. “So this prohibition on the number of years — up to 15 — I know it says 10 in the bill, but there could be five years of post-construction monitoring.
“So, if you add that on, it could be up to 15 years that these firms cannot be associated. We don’t have enough Florida-based firms to do the same type of work.”
SB 1072 also contains written notice obligations toward nearby local governments that could be impacted.
The bill moves on to the Senate Committee on Rules.