Crist in Favor of Bill Aimed at Protecting Springs

Gov. Charlie Crist is backing legislation intended to protect Florida’s springs, saying they’re an important part of the state’s tourism economy.

Here is a LINK to the January 31 article by Bruce Ritchie of The News Service of Florida:
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Crist in Favor of Bill Aimed at Protecting Springs

by Bruce Ritchie
The News Service of Florida

Gov. Charlie Crist is backing legislation intended to protect Florida’s springs, saying they’re an important part of the state’s tourism economy.

The measure (SB 274), sponsored by Sen. Lee Constantine, would establish “protection zones” around four springs in north Florida.

State agencies, water-management districts and local governments are required under Constantine’s bill to cooperatively set pollution limits within the springs’ protection boundaries.  Nitrogen limits would be placed on septic tanks in use near the springs, virtually ensuring that advanced septic systems will be required, which raises cost concerns among some. The springs covered under the bill are Silver Spring and Rainbow Spring near Ocala, the Ichetucknee Springs in Columbia County and Wakulla Springs in Wakulla County.

{sidebar id=1}Similar efforts have died in past legislative sessions. Crist said last month that he would support a stronger push for the legislation in the coming year.

“I love our springs and our rivers and our estuaries,” Crist said. “I think it’s important to do everything we can, not only from an environmental point of view to keep Florida beautiful – it helps our economy too. Tourism is important.”

Scientists say increasing nitrogen levels in many of Florida’s springs are feeding the growth of algae and dense aquatic weeds. Sources of nitrogen-rich water include septic tanks, sewage treatment plants, dirty stormwater runoff, livestock farms and fertilizer.

Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon of Florida, said opposition from home builders and the farm lobby blocked springs legislation in the past. He said Constantine’s bill may face that again, plus a challenge with legislative leadership that doesn’t typically like new regulations — but he says such rules are needed to protect springs.

“We need to do what other states do and that is protect what is extraordinary and special,” he said. “Our existing regulatory framework doesn’t allow that to happen.”

The same interest groups that opposed additional protections for springs in the past say they want to work with backers to craft compromise legislation.

Butch Calhoun, a spokesman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said he had not seen the new bill but said Constantine promised to work with agriculture on it. He said farmers already are protecting springs by implementing practices involving animal waste and fertilizer use that are recommended by state agencies..

“We know the springs need protecting,” Calhoun said. “We are not opposed to that. We’ve just got to be able to continue to farm (under any regulations).”

{sisdebar id=1}The Florida Home Builders Association is concerned about the costs associated with complying with additional rules, particularly if it were to require expensive, advanced septic systems in new construction.

“I will tell you in this economy and looking at what this legislation requires, which is a host of new regulations, it leaves a lot of questions about who is going to pay for it,” said Edie Ousley, a spokeswoman for the home builders.

Another concern is the cost to the state. Similar legislation that died before a final vote last year would have cost the state $4 million to inspect and pump out septic systems, though it would have been partially offset by new fees. But this year, anything that costs money has an uphill battle as lawmakers face the possibility of a $4 billion-plus shortfall.

The bill filed by Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, has been referred to the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, of which Constantine is the chairman, as well as the Senate Community Affairs, Health Regulation and General Government Appropriations Committees. None of the committees have analyzed the measure, and it’s not clear what fiscal impact it would have.

Crist said in December that Florida’s tourist attractions, including its springs, may be more appealing as the rest of the country shivers through a cold winter.

“I think a lot of people are going to be coming to Florida, and I certainly hope they do,” Crist said.

 

 

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