Jupiter Island, Martin County unite to urge federal officials to protect waterways and coast

This circa 1916 political cartoon depicts The Swamp Land Act of 1850 that transferred wetlands from the federal government to the states. Florida gave most of its submerged land to railroad companies and other developers in exchange for drainage projects and railroad construction. (Source: historymiamiarchives.org)

The Town Commission of Jupiter Island united with the Martin County Board of County Commissioners in two resolutions urging federal officials to prioritize local projects experts deem essential to Everglades Restoration and protecting the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon.

The inter-governmental collaboration extended to local beaches as well.

Jupiter Island Mayor Harry Charlston and Martin County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Heard represented their respective commissions in a joint letter to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps is currently conducting a scoping effort to access sand deposits in federal waters off Martin and St. Lucie shores. The sand would be used to replenish eroded beaches in Miami-Dade County, which has exhausted its offshore sand sources.

Calling for inclusion as equal partners on the team that “reviews input,” “analyzes the options” and “generates the draft decision document,” Jupiter Island and Martin County Commissioners outlined several concerns regarding the scoping effort. They called for a need to:

· Conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement to explore the “irreversible and irretrievable” effects on resources, rather than the less-exhaustive Environmental Assessment currently preferred by the Corps.

· Discover sustainable solutions to erosion needs that go beyond the “limited” 50-year planning horizon.

· Carefully weigh the likelihood of accelerating the depletion of offshore sand resources, thereby inflating future beach-nourishment costs.

· Allow the use of foreign sand for beach nourishment projects in South Florida, a provision currently prohibited.

· Reserve offshore sand “borrow areas” for existing or planning nourishment projects within a 10-mile radius.

· Recognize how sand off Martin County coasts is generally coarser than Miami-Dade County beach sand, and is uniquely shaped and refined by local environmental conditions and is best suited for beaches in closest proximity.

· Avoid the unprecedented situation of using regional sand sources to bolster the finite resources of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which risks establishing an unsustainable pattern.

· Reduce the need for offshore sand sources in Miami-Dade County through more effective inlet bypassing.

· Renew the Corps’ commitment to fully funding inlet maintenance projects, which when taking place on a loosely scheduled basis result in the loss of vital beach nourishment sand.

· Allow Miami-Dade County to recycle—or backpass—nourishment material at Government Cut, reducing the cost of sand projects and extending the life of Miami-Dade County’s regional sediment system.

“Beach protection and sand management are two of Jupiter Islanders’ biggest environmental concerns,” said Charlston. “Town residents are well versed on how inlet management impacts our shores. They know what offshore sand sites mean to our future beach-nourishment operations. Like the rest of Martin County these days, our residents have cause to call into question the decision-making of the Army Corps of Engineers.”

The timeliness of the joint resolutions is ideal, said Gene Rauth, town manager of Jupiter Island, as regional environmental challenges command regional responses.

“We’ve all witnessed how the poor conditions of Martin County’s waterways impact everyone’s quality of life,” said Rauth. “There’s simply no escaping the consequences of a problem this widespread. Certainly the same holds true for our beaches. Without the sand to nourish and protect our shorelines from erosion and concerns over rising sea levels, beach access, public safety, property values and the county’s overall tax base could suffer tremendously.

“These are vital natural resources facing significant challenges—and significant challenges are always best addressed from a unified, collaborative approach,” Rauth continued. “We welcome the opportunity to partner with Martin County and achieve outcomes that benefit everyone.”

The two joint resolutions stated support for the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area and the Water Resources Development Act of 2013.

Gov. Rick Scott recently committed $40 million to the C-44 project. This large, above-ground reservoir under construction in western Martin County will capture and naturally cleanse runoff and discharge water. Right now, massive Lake O discharges and basin runoff traveling untreated through the C-44 upset the salinity balance in St. Lucie River Estuary and southern portions of the Indian River Lagoon—and threaten the more than 3,000 plant and animal species that make the Lagoon the most biologically diverse estuary in the continental United States.

Regarding the resolutions, Deborah Drum, Martin County’s environmental quality manager, advised that even with the Governor’s funding—augmented by $20 million Sen. Joe Negron helped procure from the Legislature for phase 3 of the C-44 Reservoir—the second phase of the project is estimated to cost as much as $270 million.

“The first phase of the C-44 project is underway. We are working very hard to get funding for Phase 2,” said Heard. “We are asking for the help of our state and federal elected officials to fund and complete this worthy project, which is an important short term solution to the survival of our waterways.”

The Water Resources Development Act, introduced Sept. 11 in the U.S. House of Representatives as the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA), is a biannual bill that authorizes Corps projects for water resources and flood protection. Even though 10 percent of the Corps’ budget addresses Everglades Restoration, Drum said, every additional expression of support demonstrates to Washington our community’s collective commitment to see the problems impacting our waterways permanently resolved.

Heard added, “We are pleased to have the support of the Town of Jupiter Island as we work together with other affected municipalities to save our Lagoon and Estuary from demise. We need these critical projects to be funded and implemented to show the world how ecosystem restoration is accomplished. “

For more information, call Ike Crumpler at 772-201-9996.

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