We were hopeful, but in the end we were disappointed. The Brevard County Commission blew it. They had a chance to help the Indian River Lagoon and they struck out.
The science is out there to explain what is going on and how to fix it. The recent fish kill in the Banana River was of epic proportions. The ongoing brown tide is beyond compare. And people who know – from anglers to commercial fishermen to scientists to long-time residents – are calling for action. Nonetheless, the Brevard County Commission just punted. They mailed it in. They completely abdicated their responsibility as elected officials.
We’ll have more in this in a later post, but the story in Florida Today…
provides some shocking accounts of the Brevard County Commission’s meeting on Tuesday.
But before we get to the Commissioners….According to the Florida Today story, Brevard County Tourist Development Council Chairman Tom Williamson was the sole speaker against declaring a state of emergency for Brevard County during the public comment period. The Florida Today story stated “While he said cleanup of the lagoon is vital, Williamson, a hotel operator, fears such a declaration would result in fewer tourists coming to the Space Coast. If people hear that we are under a state of emergency, people are not going to come,” Williamson said. “If people stop coming, we’ve got a huge, huge issue.”
Wow. Where to start? So he wants to sweep the death of the IRL under the rug, pretend it’s not happening so we can keep the tourists coming. Given that the brown tide and fish kills aren’t going to stop until the IRL is fixed, what’s his long term plan? The sweep-under-the-rug strategy may work in the short term, but is certainly a failed strategy in the long term. How is he going to explain why there are no fish to people who book fishing charters? How is he going to explain to tourists who rent kayaks and paddleboards why the IRL water is brown and in some places smells?
Here’s another way to think of his strategy. Do you remember the movie Jaws? The town where the shark attacks were occurring did everything they could to suppress the bad press. It worked at first, but when tourists were chomped by great white sharks on an almost daily basis, the town lost out in the long run. Same book, different cover.
The strategy has never worked before and won’t here. Instead of worrying about short term bad press, Mr. Williamson and the Tourism Development Council should support the efforts of those who want the IRL fixed. They should consider it an investment in the future of their businesses.
Now to the Commissioners:
Florida Today “County Commissioner Robin Fisher suggested pushing for a change in state law to allow Brevard County and other counties in the lagoon region to raise the Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms for use in lagoon cleanup.”
Was this comment in response to a statement about the restoration of the IRL, or was it about cleaning up the dead fish from the fish kill? If it was the latter, that’s like putting a bandaid on cancer. Ignore the disease, just make it look better.
Florida Today “Vice Chairman Curt Smith said he is opposed to seeking a state of emergency declaration from Gov. Rick Scott.
“We can’t be the kid who cries ‘wolf,’ ” Smith said.”
Does Commissioner Smith understand the story about crying wolf? “Crying wolf” is equivalent to yelling fire in a theater. It’s about calling for help when help isn’t really needed, just to get attention. It’s pretty clear that there is a fire in the theater – the emergency is real, the IRL is really near its last breath. In fact, not calling in all available resources to fix the IRL is criminal because the death of the IRL is causing and will continue to cause economic problems for Brevard County. Three plankton blooms in recent years, the current one the worst of the three. The majority of the seagrass in the lagoon died after the first couple of blooms. The seagrass that remained is likely dead now after the ongoing bloom. So are the oysters and clams and other organisms critical to the health of the lagoon – dead. The fish kill in the Banana River is among the worst experienced by the FWC Fish Kill hotline. The fisheries are becoming unsustainable because the fish and their prey have no habitats left. How is this not a real crisis? And since it’s a real crisis, how is this crying wolf?
In the end, the Brevard County Commission proved themselves incapable of being stewards to the core of the Space Coast’s Golden Goose. What is the Space Coast without the IRL? We are hopeful that more of the voters of Brevard County show up and express their positions at the next Commission meeting. This certainly doesn’t seem like a representative democracy.
Here is the contact info for Brevard County Commissioners:
Robin Fisher (321) 264-6750
Jim Barfield (321) 454-6601
Trudie Infantini (321) 952-6300
Curt Smith (321) 633-2044
Andy Anderson (321) 253-6611