May 2022 Newsletter

Highlights

Over the past five years, the City illegally bypassed at least 160 million gallons of wastewater away from full treatment before discharging it into the Manatee River. Also during that time frame, the City discharged millions more gallons of reclaimed and raw sewage from its aging sewage system, which is plagued by structural deficiencies.

Wastewater systems and water infrastructure are woefully outdated in too many communities throughout Florida. The historic lack of investment in our infrastructure harms the health of our communities and waterways. This settlement guarantees that the City of Bradenton will make much-needed upgrades to its wastewater and sewage treatment system.

Specifically, the settlement sets firm deadlines for improvements to the City’s sewage treatment plant. The improvements include increasing pumping and treatment capacity and upgrading disinfection capabilities. The City will also have to address issues in the collection system, including assessing the condition of pipes, finding leaks, and ensuring the availability of backup power.

Along with all these changes will be an update to the City’s capacity, management, operation, and maintenance programs for its sewage collection system. This settlement also requires the development of a website that will provide the public with up-to-date information on water quality and incidents. Additionally, Bradenton will be required to invest at least $220,000 in projects to improve local waters and/or estuarine habitats.

The Bradenton settlement is a part of an ongoing effort by Suncoast Waterkeeper to protect waterways through legal action. These Clean Water Act suits have resulted in critical upgrades to sewage and wastewater systems throughout the Tampa and Sarasota Bay estuaries.

Citizen suits are critical for addressing pollution problems that would otherwise be ignored. In Bradenton (and many other Florida cities), government officials have been kicking the can down the road for too long. Clean water is a priority, and in coming to the table to settle, the City of Bradenton has demonstrated that it is willing to prioritize water quality.

EPA's Environmental Appeals Board issued a narrow win for us in our Velella Epsilon challenge. We are relieved that the Environmental Appeals Board issued an opinion that the permit for the factory fish farm proposed offshore from Sarasota was not in compliance with the Clean Water Act. Suncoast Waterkeeper joined other groups in challenging EPA's permit. This is a very narrow win on an error that EPA could pretty easy fix, but importantly, it is an opportunity to revisit the project before the EPA. Suncoast Waterkeeper along with its co-plaintiffs are getting ready to take additional legal action, if necessary. In the meantime, please help us spread awareness about this issue. For more information on offshore finfish aquaculture also known as industrial ocean fish farming please visit our website - https://www.suncoastwaterkeeper.org/offshore_factory_fish_farms and the Don't Cage Our Ocean Coalition - https://dontcageouroceans.org/

Caption: A Model created by the University of South Florida to show the extent of polluted wastewater into Tampa Bay and the Manatee River from Piney Point releases. Higher concentrations in warm colors. See the full evolution by clicking the link http://ocgweb.marine.usf.edu/~liu/Tracer/.

The Piney Point disaster released millions of gallons of polluted wastewater into Tampa Bay and as we learn more about conditions at the site, could potentially do even more damage to our water quality, groundwater, local economy, and quality of life. That’s why we’ve joined with the Center for Biological Diversity, Manasota-88, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation to sue the property owner, HRK Holdings, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Manatee County Port Authority to demand accountability and the safe closure of Piney Point. 

We're in the thick of this very complex litigation. Currently, we are working with the Tampa Bay Waterkeeper to bring light to the extreme inadequacies of the closure plan for protecting human and environmental health. Stay tuned for more information.

Mangroves are under threat in Manatee County. That is why the Suncoast Waterkeeper led an effort to send a drafted letter to the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) urging them to adopt the Comprehensive Plan changes recommended by staff over the demand by developers to weaken environmental protections. Staff recommendations maintained the balance currently embraced by the Comprehensive Plan, which prioritizes the protection of natural coastal habitat and environmental infrastructure over development. We reached out to you and you answered our call to action! Our efforts resulted in the Board of County Commissioners accepting the balanced changes proposed by staff and not from developers. Together we sent over 220 letters to the BOCC asking that they protect our mangrove forests.

Thanks to local fishing guides and SCWK members, we learned of a very large area of land along Long Bar where harmful mangrove trimming practices have taken place. According to Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (the Department) own database, the first complaint about the trimming was filed in early February. Despite our efforts, the complaint was not investigated until May. Collectively we sent emails, phone calls, and even offered a boat tour to regulators within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the area. After filing our complaint in early April, we came to find out that we weren’t the only ones to observe a potential violation of the law. Another complaint was filed two months before. Yet it took weeks of emails and phone calls for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to finally inspect the area. In fact, the first inspection came more than 2 months after the original complaint was filed. The inspection report released on May 16 concluded (contradictory to its cited evidence) that “Unauthorized trimming activities were not evident at the times of inspections.” Let’s dissect the matter at hand.

Permit requirements as stated in the Inspection Letter:

  1. The mangroves will be reduced in height by no more than 25% of the foliage each year, AND trimming will not result in the mortality of any mangrove.
  2. The mangroves will be measured in the field with a telescoping pole.
  3. Trimming will be performed on an annual basis
  4. Subsequent annual trimming height reductions will depend on foliage available which may lead to a greater time span between trimmings
  5. All mangrove trimming will be completed by hand & vehicles are not authorized to be within the mangrove areas
  6. All trimmings over 3 feet long or 3 inches in diameter will be carried out and properly disposed of
  7. All reasonable efforts will be made to remove as much trimmed material as possible with the remaining trimmings evenly distributed
  8. Photographs will be taken and submitted to the Department 14 days proper to each trimming and again within 14 days following the trimming activity, and a joint site visit with Department staff within 30 days following each trimming.

Points numbered 5 - 8 above represent requirements that the property owner violated. First, the trimming was done by machine and not by hand, which was why the first complaint was filed in February, the sound chainsaws within the mangrove forest. By hand means with hand saws and loppers, not chainsaws. Second, it is obvious to any observer that trimmed material greater than 3 feet was not removed. Third, no material was removed. The last violation, #8 above, was one that the Department actually cited in its report. As a result, the property owner has 30 days to provide the Department with pre- and post-photos.

About the law. Mangroves are protected plant species that are very sensitive to trimming. This well-known understanding was the reason for creating the 1996 legislative compromise known as the Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act (MTPA). MTPA provides minimal protection in the face of coastal development. The three types of mangroves we have here in the lower latitudes of Florida are so unique and beneficial that losing them would be a detriment to our environment and our economy. That is because mangroves support a vast array of marine species including the most important commercial and recreational fish. Mangroves protect us from storms and sea level rise, ultimately shielding us from expensive natural disasters. Mangroves clean the water and protect seagrass beds from harmful sediments and pollution. There are no other tree species in the world like mangroves and we just so happen to be lucky enough to live in a climate that suits these unique plants. So we must protect them.

We will continue to monitor this issue and will report our findings in the next installment. This issue has also led us to brainstorm a new program that trains boaters to spot pollution and dangerous environmental practices. Together we can protect what makes the Suncoast special. Check out some of our drone footage on this issue -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqUTCDlW1Xw&t=9s

Caption: An aerial image of some of trimmed mangroves off of Long Bar.  The view is looking landward from Long Bar toward the new Aqua development.  

A BIG THANK YOU to our supporters for your generosity during this year's Giving Challenge. Because of YOU, this year's Giving Challenge was a record success for the Suncoast Waterkeeper.

As a result of your generosity, we will bolster our efforts to protect the Suncoast. Your donations make it possible to continue to wage legal battles when necessary, enhance our water quality monitoring efforts, build our education and outreach capabilities, and rally supporters to advocate for sound environmental policies. We thank you so much for your support.

In mid-April, SCWK welcomed Dr. Abbey Tyrna. Dr. Abbey came from the University of Florida IFAS Extension in Sarasota County where she spent 6-years conducting education and outreach on waterways in the Suncoast. Abbey jumped right in and has embraced the opportunity to address the challenges we see every day. She's already had great success with grant writing, fundraising and substantive programmatic work, fighting polluters. SCWK is thrilled to have Dr. Tyrna on board and expects she will increase the positive impact SCWK has on our coastal waters.

Abbey has a Ph.D. in Geography from Penn State where she studied the impacts of human disturbance on wetland hydrology at the watershed scale. While at UF she turned her focus to the study of stormwater ponds and reclaimed water.

Abbey can be reached at [email protected]

 

Thank you for your support!

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