For years now, coastal Palm Beach County residents has been able to watch the environmental disasters caused by toxic blue-green algae and red tide from afar.
We’ve watched our neighbors to the north in the Treasure Coast have their lives buffeted; our fellow county residents to the west in the Glades have their way of life threatened; and our fellow coastal residents in Southwest Florida shutter businesses.
But that was before this weekend. Before the red tide we’ve all been reading about elsewhere in the state was suspected of making the air so bad here that local health officials in Martin and Palm Beach counties were forced to shut down 27 miles of beaches.
Health officials, on Monday, were still trying to confirm that it is indeed red tide that forced beachgoers — especially those with respiratory issues — to stay away, and had many complaining about burning eyes.
Apropos that at the center of it all is Gov. Rick Scott and his dismal environmental record of budget cutting and lax regulation. But will county residents blame Scott for if the red tide disaster has indeed made it to our shores?
If it is red tide, this may be a game-changer for Scott — who prides himself among other things on shamelessly promoting our state’s all-important tourism industry. The embattled governor, who has already been taking hits for weeks in every coastal community he deigns to visit, usually sees Palm Beach County as a sanctuary for the Scott train. In fact, he was just here a couple weeks ago raising money in Palm Beach with former President George W. Bush.
That was then. Today, drivers can see signs for “Red Tide Rick” hanging from Florida’s Turnpike overpasses in the county. And again, if health officials confirm that red tide is the cause of the current “airborne irritant” at our beaches, Scott may have to scratch another coastal haunt off of his U.S. Senate campaign tour for a while.
Take our poll here, and let us know what you think: Is Scott’s handling of the environment to blame for the worse-than-normal red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms?
The state’s environment could use a little more respect from political candidates this election season.
For the past several weeks, candidates have been trying to figure what issues are most important to voters. With some individual races as tight as they are, every hopeful running — be it for county commission or state senate — knows hitting on that one topic that resonates with voters can move the needle just enough to eke out a win. (Well, that and spending a lot of money on the campaign in the last couple weeks.)
Is it education? We do have a flashpoint issue in school security. There’s is also the much bigger issue of our K-12 public schools being in the bottom fifth in the nation. And Florida’s horrendous teacher pay has actually resulted in a shortage of about 4,000 teachers statewide to begin the 2018-19 school year.
Is it the economy? We do have this issue that, despite all the jobs created the last several years, too many residents complain they need two or three of them to make ends meet. That’s what happens when most of the jobs created are minimum wage. Meanwhile, the cost of housing is going through the roof in many places like, well, Palm Beach County.
Is it the environment? Or as I call it, “the Rodney Dangerfield of primary ballot issues.” Voters are witnessing a red tide causing massive fish kills, and manatee and turtle deaths up and down the Southwest Florida coast. They are watching the ongoing green goo affectionately known as “toxic blue-green algae” find its way into the backyard waterways of Treasure Coast residents. And of course, there’s that long-term, existential threat to our very way of life that everyone fears but few want to talk about: sea level rise. (That’s right, I said it.)
In a survey released by the USA Today Network and Florida Atlantic University in June, voters said the environment was their No. 3 concern after economy and school safety, respectively. But unlike these first two, environmental issues cannot seem to get and/or maintain traction on the campaign trail.
Venting on social media by irate residents about red tide and blue-green algae has gotten so bad that law enforcement is on edge.
And on August 13, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the ongoing toxic red tide bloom.
“The red tide, which grows offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, has drifted toward the coast and is being blamed for killing scores of animals, including manatees, turtles, and thousands of fish,” reported Palm Beach Post staff writer Kimberly Miller.
But around that same time, when he had the opportunity to confront Treasure Coast residents about the blue-green goo that’s ruining their fishing and boating, Scott elected to do the equivalent of a boating flyover — leaving residents and their questions hanging.
The governor-turned-U.S. Senate candidate isn’t much different from his political brethren on this front; though most can seem to muster a bit more face-to-face compassion. Still, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phillip Levine tried to ride his sea-level-rise street cred to the top of the ticket, it didn’t work that well. Sure, voters like that stuff. But who can focus on an environmental threat when another candidate is accusing you of being a supporter of President Donald Trump, and guns are blazing at high school football games?
As a result, the environment gets pushed to the back-burner in a state that built its image off of sunshine and beautiful beaches. The state’s three-legged economy — tourism, agriculture and real estate — is so dependent on the environment that every storm season holds the potential to lay waste to all three. Witness: Hurricane Irma.
But so short is our attention span in this era of breaking news that environmental issues, even when they are staring us in the face daily — again, I mention toxic red tide and green algae — can’t keep a politician’s attention. Today, for example, in the wake of a mass shooting at a gaming tournament on Sunday in Jacksonville, gun control is the topic du jour.
Sigh… maybe it will be different in the general election campaign.
Sign up for The Palm Beach Post FREE weekly Opinion newsletter: Text Opinion to 444999
What do you think?… Should the environment be a higher priority for Florida politicians?
The debate over single-use plastic straws is building up fast. But what really sucks is that there is any debate at all — especially in coastal counties like Palm Beach.
Do we really need to use plastic straws?
On Sunday, my wife and I ate lunch at one of our favorite spots, the Old Key Lime House in Lantana (two reasons: UF Gators, and shrimp and grits). Our waiter brought us glasses of water, but did not give us straws until we asked.
He explained that the iconic restaurant, which sits on the Intracoastal Waterway, is moving away from using plastic straws because of the environment and potential dangers to marine life — like our beloved sea turtles. Apparently, even if folks don’t intentionally throw straws into the water, many end up there through carelessness or error.
For, example, the waiter said straws drop on the floor and are then blown out into the Intracoastal. According to conservationists, sunlight and wave action then break the plastics down into rice-sized bits that are consumed by marine life and become part of the food chain.
Sign up for The Palm Beach Post FREE weekly Opinion newsletter: Text Opinion to 444999
So the Old Key Lime House is phasing the plastic straws out over the next couple of years and going with biodegradable paper straws.
Turns out, they’re not the only local restaurant or resort that environmentally-conscious. Tired of waiting for local government officials to get their act together, outfits like the Breakers and Surfside Diner are taking the matter of purging plastic straws into their own hands.
“We are committed to the environment and sustainability and have been working along these lines for many years now,” said Nick Velardo, the Breakers’ vice president of food and beverage operations, told the Palm Beach Daily News’ William Kelly.
Even corporate behemoth Starbucks has said it will get rid of plastic straws in its 28,000 outlets by 2020.
But local government officials are indeed listening. Palm Beach Town Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay plans to propose at the council’s Wednesday meeting that it refer the issue of banning single-use plastic straws to its Ordinances, Rules and Standards Committee for study.
“There’s no reason why we have to have these things,” Lindsay told the Daily News.
In Jupiter, the town’s beach committee unanimously recommended on July 23 a resolution to ban plastic straws to the City Council. The committee did not support an ordinance, as some people wanted, which would have fined businesses for using plastic straws. So the council instead unanimously approved a resolution to start a town-wide education campaign — which they hope will allow for a friendlier approach and emphasize education.
The Delray Beach City Commission is considering phasing in a ban on plastic straws as part of a proposed ordinance requiring restaurants, bars and other beverage purveyors to supply plastic straws only upon customers’ request.
Miami Beach.Fort Myers Beach.Sanibel Island. An ever-growing number of Florida municipalities are seeing their role as protectors of the waters and environment that many of their businesses thrive on as something that needs to be taken a bit more seriously.
In St. Petersburg, business owners and elected officials in April unveiled a “No Straws St. Pete” campaign that asks restaurants and residents to voluntarily curb their use of plastic straws and utensils. As of early June, more than 100 businesses were participating.
And it’s not just Florida. The cities of Seattle as well as Oakland and Berkeley in California have all banned the straws, and similar legislation is pending in Hawaii.
So why can’t this be done everywhere; or should it be?… Take our poll and leave a comment here.
We’ve been beating the drum on the issue for weeks now: The message that there is no graver threat to the future of South Florida than the accelerating pace of sea-level rise. By 2060, the sea is predicted to rise another 2 feet, with no sign of slowing down.
The editorial boards of The Palm Beach Post, South Florida Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald — with reporting help from WLRN Public Media — have joined hands in an unprecedented collaboration this election year to raise awareness about the threat facing South Florida from sea-level rise. Our goal is to inform, engage, provoke and build momentum to address the slow-motion tidal wave coming our way.
To that end, we (Post Editorial writer Howard Goodman and me) went on WPTV-Channel 5‘s “To the Point” to discuss the threat of sea level rise with host Michael Williams.
As we’ve said previously, most South Floridians get it. The Yale Climate Opinion Maps show 75 percent of us believe global warming is happening, even if we don’t all agree on the cause. We understand that when water gets hotter, it expands. And warmer waters are melting the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt — and make no mistake, it’s melting at an increasing clip — scientists say ocean waters could rise 20 feet.
The problem is, too few of us are convinced sea-level rise will personally harm us in our lifetimes. We’ve got to change that mind-set because it already is. Lila Young, who has lived on the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach for 30 years, said she’s seen the king tides progressively getting higher and flooding her neighborhood more often.
Sign up for The Palm Beach Post weekly Opinion newsletter: Text Opinion to 444999
Palm Beach County is fortunate to have a slightly higher elevation, which means the risks aren’t quite so acute here as for our neighbors to the south. Still, the high-priced real estate on the barrier islands is equally vulnerable, along with the low-lying mainland along much of West Palm Beach’s Flagler Drive. As the sea level rises, the agricultural area south of Lake Okeechobee will drain more and more slowly after a major rainfall. And when significant hurricanes and floods hit farther south, we may see a sudden flood of people from Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Are we ready? Are we taking the threat of sea-level rise seriously enough?
Rick Scott as defender of Florida’s lands, air and waters? Seriously?
The Florida governor whose mantra is jobs, jobs, jobs? Who rode to office on a wave of tea party support and has pushed for limiting government and gutting regulations, including those that protect the environment, in the name of giving business a freer rein?
Yet here he was this week, proposing to boost spending on Florida’s natural resources and environmental programs by $220 million.
The $1.7 billion environmental package for lawmakers to consider in 2018 includes funding for the state’s springs, beaches and parks, along with $355 million for Everglades restoration, $50 million to help the federal government speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and $50 million for Florida Forever, the state’s most prominent land-preservation fund. (News Service of Florida)
And on Thursday, he touted news that his good friend President Donald Trump has ordered expedited federal spending on the Herbert Hoover Dike. Although, this might not fall under the category of “environment” so much as “disaster avoidance,” given the life-threatening dangers of a shaky levee in a major hurricane; we’re only a few weeks removed from when it looked like Irma was going to rake the center of the state and roar over Lake Okeechobee.
It’s almost enough to make you forget that Scott launched a thousand late-night TV jokes when his administration scrubbed the words “climate change” and “global warning” from official communications, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
Because, you know, Florida doesn’t have much coastline to worry about.
It’s an easy guess why the governor is now making sure that we all know that he cares a great, great deal about our natural resources. The 2018 race for U.S. Senate is warming up. And Scott, his second term coming to an end, is expected to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who has won the statewide office three times already. Current polling shows they’re virtually tied.
Florida voters are as divided as the rest of the country on most issues, but we’re in general accord when it comes to protecting the environment. Just look at 2014’s Amendment 1, which established a huge fund for land and water conservation by setting aside a portion of an existing real-estate tax. It passed with 75 percent of the vote.
In Scott’s two victorious races for governor, by contrast, he couldn’t win 49 percent of the vote.
So painting yourself as an environmentalist is good politics in this state. The trouble is, Scott has a record that looks like this:
With the Legislature’s help, he ordered water management districts to slash their property tax collections soon after taking office. The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees Everglades restoration, had its budget cut by almost half. It operates with less money today than it did in 2008. Experienced scientists and engineers who did solid work for the water district are gone.
In 2011, Scott abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which oversaw development and tried to promote rational growth. To Scott, the department created too much red tape for developers.
That $50 million request he’s now making for Florida Forever land conservation purchases? Big deal. Until the Great Recession, the program got $300 million a year. Since Scott’s reelection in 2014, his requests for the program peaked at $25.1 million. Even after voters passed Amendment 1 in that 2014 landslide, budget allocations haven’t surpassed $15.2 million, and this year Florida Forever was zeroed out. All of these sums look pretty paltry when you consider how much money Amendment 1 generates from the documentary-stamp tax. For next fiscal year, it’s an estimated $862.2 million.
There was another time when Scott talked a lot about the environment. That was 2014, when he was running for re-election.
He campaigned “on a $1 billion, 10-year environmental blueprint that in many aspects mirrored the environmental spending amendment that was also before voters at the time. The platform item included plans to request $150 million a year for Florida Forever.” (News Service of Florida)
Once Scott was returned to office, that $150 million a year never materialized.
There’s a reason that Democratic foes are calling Scott an “election year environmentalist.”
Florida needs leaders who are every-year environmentalists.
Moreover, several of them decided to write letters to the editor about the eyebrow-raising pic and ask questions.
Like this short-and-sweet one from Lisa Stewart of Lake Worth:
“Did anyone notice a panther walking past the man who was posing with a dead python?”
Well, yes we did.
And others wondered why the curious-looking panther that appears to be casually strolling behind Crum wasn’t even mentioned in either the photo caption or the story.
What happened to the panther, they wanted to know.
The simple answer is that it’s not a real panther.
That’s right. According to the South Florida Water Management District, the photo of Crum — who participated in the SFWMD’s experimental python hunt — was taken in front of a display at an airboat vendor’s establishment on Tamiami Trail.
By the way, the program, which pays hunters minimum wage plus bonuses, is expected to get a green light to continue at this week’s SFWMD board meeting.
“It’s been a great success,” said Pete Antonacci, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. “You don’t want to lose momentum when something good is happening.”
Agreed. But seriously, where can we find that cool mural?
Today, President Donald Trump is expected to announce his decision on whether to exit from the historic 195-nation Paris agreement meant to address the issues presented by climate change.
Trump, though he repeatedly promised to do so during the presidential campaign, is reportedly under pressure from the major corporations and senior members of his own staff to remain in the pact.
As I’ve said previously, climate change as especially important to Florida due to the threat from rising sea levels up-and-down the east coast. Trump’s own South Florida properties, including Mar-a-Lago and Doral are said to be at risk.
We’d like to know what you think, so take our poll here:
The Post Editorial Board last addressed Florida’s issue with sea level rise in April, saying state and federal leaders must reverse themselves and see sea-level for the threat it is — today. Because it will only get worse for Florida:
A simple change in the phase of the moon.
That’s all it takes now to flood parts of Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach. That’s all it takes to flood homeowners’ yards in Delray Beach and Boca Raton. That’s all it takes to flood tourist-laden stretches of Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
You would think this would be enough to convince our state and federal officials that it’s time to take action to mitigate the threat of rising sea levels along Florida’s 1,200-mile coastline.
It should be enough. But thus far, the response has been … meh.
An employee of a large fishing-boat business in Jupiter told me that they sometimes only have 6 inches of clearance when they pass over it. There doesn’t seem to be any effort to address this dangerous situation. Will it take an accident to get someone’s attention?