Potential $25M for Apalachicola Bay heads to full Senate
A rare breed: Oyster harvesters are slowly disappearing from Apalachicola Bay. Image via Florida Memory.

The bay once provided around 90% of Florida’s oysters.

Around $25 million could be coming the way of Apalachicola Bay through legislation that passed its last Senate committee.

The Apalachicola Bay area has held the critical state concern label for nearly 40 years, an indication of the enormity of the task, the work already completed and work still to be done. SB 702 would provide for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to spend up to $5 million a year for five years.

“Apalachicola Bay is one of the most productive estuaries in the Northern Hemisphere, and has a major economic and ecological importance in the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” Tallahassee Republican Sen. Corey Simon said to the Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy.

“The economic value associated with sustaining the environmental health of the Apalachicola Bay system is significant — not just locally, but to the state, with commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, and boating, with each generating millions of dollars and thousands of jobs per year.”

The bay once provided around 90% of Florida’s oysters and 10% nationwide, but those numbers began declining in 2013. By 2020, the oyster population collapsed. A five-year suspension on wild oyster harvesting went into effect the same year.

If signed, the bill allows DEP to enter into “financial assistance agreements with the City of Apalachicola to implement projects that improve surface water and groundwater quality within the Apalachicola Bay Area of Critical State Concern.”

The bill specifies qualifying projects include “the construction of stormwater management facilities and central sewage collection facilities, installation of onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems, direct and indirect potable reuse, and other water quality and water supply projects.”

Governments and agencies in the Apalachicola Bay Area are presently required to coordinate plans and pursue programs and regulations abiding by a thorough set of principles.

Those include, “Water quality to be protected, maintained, and improved for public water supply, propagation of aquatic life, and recreational and other uses,” along with, “No wastes to be discharged into any waters of the Apalachicola Bay Area without first being given the degree of treatment necessary to protect water uses.”

There was no debate or public testimony on the bill before committee members voted for passage.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe


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