Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard provides agenda summary of May 23 BCC meeting

Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard (Source:

May 23, 2017  BCC agenda summary from Commissioner Sarah Heard:

6C  Public hearing  to consider transmittal of CPA 17-10, Sanitary Sewer Services

On February 14, 2017, the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) majority adopted a resolution to initiate a Comprehensive Plan Amendment (CPA) to Chapter 10, the Sanitary Sewer Services element.  The Local Planning Agency (LPA) considered the CPA on May 4 and May 18.  They voted  3 to 1 (Watson dissenting) to continue the item and return it as a workshop.

The BCC considered the CPA on May 9 and took final action for transmittal approval on May 23, voting 3 to 2 (Heard and Fielding dissenting).

Staff changes and commissioner-initiated changes occurred until the vote was taken.

With approval of CPA 10-17, sewer will be extended to five 5 acre lots in Canopy Creek, Seven Js Industrial Subdivision, the county landfill, the sheriff’s shooting range, Martingale Commons, and all the remaining lots on Island Way.

Staff recommended extending sewer to Canopy Creek and Island Way because sewer stub outs are available at those locations.  Homeowners will pay for the extensions at these locations.

This “it just makes sense because sewer stub outs exist” justification for extending sewer outside its legal boundaries may become a problematic precedent in the proposed Palm City extensions.  The sewer lines to Martingale Commons will lie 4.5 miles west of the current Urban Service Boundary and will hook up one private property owner.  So, will the properties along that connection make that same “Me too” demand?  The 3500 acre Kiplinger parcel that has recently opened a county roundtable discussion about some new urbanism is also in the proposed stub out corridor.  Will they invoke the  “Me too” exception?

Staff was unable to estimate the cost of the extensions west of Palm City.  Staff offered that the estimates would be prepared and each recipient would pay its pro-rata share.  Presumably, the county’s landfill share will be paid by existing ratepayers (as will all future consumption), and the sheriff’ shooting range share will be paid by taxpayers (as will all future consumption).

We don’t know the cost of these massive new utility proposals.  And, we don’t know how these proposals will compete with the current massive sewer proposals this commission majority has already made to property owners/ taxpayers inside the USB.

On January 24, 2017, these same commissioners voted to hook up 10,300 sewers and 5300 new users to water in the next 10 years at a cost of $170 million.  Industrial land owners in the built out Commerce to US 1 industrial park south of Indian Street have been paying their high taxes for decades, and many are still on septics.

The Comprehensive Plan contains clear language that dictates how and why and when utility extensions are authorized and how they are prioritized.  These new exceptions nullify existing laws.  They destroy our ability and obligation to carefully and conservatively plan for our future.

Attorneys for Seven Js and Martingale Commons asked to have both septics (Seven Js) and package plant (Martingale Commons) preserved as options.

No new package plants will be allowed in Martin County.

For non-residential or agricultural uses permitted by the future land use designation and zoning district outside any urban service district, no onsite sewage treatment and disposal system shall exceed a total site buildout flow of 5,000 gallons per day.  This amends current law that caps all users at 2,000 gpd.  There will be a process to obtain an exemption from the 2,000 gpd cap that will have to be approved by the BCC at a public hearing.  And, there will be a minimum buffer of 300’ to any environmental asset.

Examples of such permitted uses include indoor agricultural processing.  2000 gpd would serve 133 employees per day.  5000 would serve 333 employees.  A farmer’s market under 2000 gpd would serve 40 vendors.  5000 would serve 100 vendors.  Fishing/ hunting camps under 2000 gpd would serve 20 people per day.  5000 would serve 50 people per day.  A place of worship under 2000 gpd would serve 667 seats.  5000 would serve 1667 seats.

In 2014, after many hearings and workshops and after a vast amount of expert data and analysis had been gathered, Martin County adopted amendments to reinstate and strengthen our septic rules and lower the allowable septic flow to 2000 gpd.  The amendment was challenged.  The County won on all counts.  Despite being asked repeatedly to include the expert data and analysis from 2013 which proved that larger systems had bigger failure rates, staff refused to include this important data in CPA 10 -17.

The Comprehensive Plan requires compelling evidence documenting that the current requirements are faulty and that there are alternative requirements that will work better.  There was no such compelling evidence in the agenda item.

However, there was excellent comprehensive and compelling evidence in the Board’s May 23 agenda.  Item 8C2 was the Revised Water Quality Needs Assessment for Martin County.  In 2013, staff developed a Stormwater Needs Assessment towards the goal of meeting the mandated St. Lucie Basin Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).  We must meet water quality targets, and this May 2017 study was an expert assessment of the sources of water pollution and how to meet the targets.  And yet, this valuable study was omitted as data and analysis for the sewer amendment, probably because it would largely have contradicted much of the proposed amendment.

Staff opined that the already permitted 2000 gpd septics at 7 Js are an environmental hazard but the 5000 gpd septics anywhere outside the USD are OK.

Language stricken from Chapter 10 include the following:  Approvals for new development will be limited to low density residential as permitted by the underlying future land use designation and small scale service establishments necessary to support rural and agricultural uses.  This is critical language, both to protect bonafide agriculture from urban encroachment and to protect taxpayers inside the USB from providing expensive urban services on agricultural lands far from the USB.

There are many internal inconsistencies among Chapter 1,2,4,and 10.


8C2  Revised Water Quality Needs Assessment

Martin County will be required to make phosphorus and nitrogen reduction in our St. Lucie River BMAP by 2028.   These BMAPS are state and federal unfunded mandates. They include $22 million in stormwater treatment projects, $155 million in sewer conversion projects, and $16 million in flood control projects.  We will also need to meet Lake Okeechobee BMAPs and Loxahatchee River Reasonable Assurance Plan requirements.  These requirements are currently being evaluated.

The impacts of discharges from Lake Okeechobee into Martin County cannot be overstated.  The catastrophic algal blooms of 2016 were international news.  The Lake Okeechobee discharges certainly increase the duration and frequency of algal bloom in the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.  A recent study at Ohio State University focused on the linkage of blue green algae (cyanobacteria) and non-alcoholic liver disease.  There is only one geographic cluster in the state of Florida where there are high blue green algae content and high non-alcoholic liver disease.  The counties of Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee, and Indian River form that cluster.

The largest source of nutrient loading in the St. Lucie River and Estuary Watershed is agricultural stormwater runoff, which makes up almost 75% of the total nitrogen and total phosphorus loading to the river and estuary.  Agricultural stormwater runoff occurs on agricultural lands and carries nutrients from fertilzers as well as livestock waste, pesticides, and herbicides.

Urban stormwater runoff is generated by rainfall on impervious areas associated with urban development.  Urban runoff picks up and transports nutrient loading from fertilizers and pet waste, as well as other pollutants including sediments, pesticides, oil and grease.  Urban stormwater is approximately 25% of the nutrient loading to the river and estuary.

These sources of nutrient loading are also the main source of loading in the Loxahatchee River Watershed.

This study carefully detailed and measured total nitrogen loading from all the urban projects, including septic to sewer conversions.  No such modeling was done for the CPA 10-17 sewer projects.

One of the inescapable conclusions we must make as a result of ongoing examination of pollution elimination is that agricultural solutions, responsible for 75% of our pollution, must be implemented.


7A  Presentation by Edie Widder, CEO and scientist for ORCA

Dr. Widder gave an excellent summary of her findings about pollution in our watershed.

In 2004, the agricultural lands bordering the C-23 can were actively productive citrus groves.  Now, because of citrus greening, they are fallow.  If this land is turned into row crops, they are very fertilizer intensive.  Microcystin (cyanobacteria) can be up-taken by row crops.

There is no prohibition against drawing water for irrigation from canals containing microcystin.

The muck in our natural waterways and especially in our canals is off the charts nutrient overloaded.  Muck removal will be necessary to improve water quality.

In order to conserve land, we need to buy the land.

In order to conserve and clean water, we need to manage it better.

Dr. Widder believes that we need to incentivize homeowners to get rid of their hardened shorelines and reward them for creating living shorelines.

Just as urban development is required to manage stormwater for pollutant protection, so should agricultural developments manage their stormwater.

ORCA deploys the excellent real time Kilroy sensors to monitor Indian River Lagoon health.  The state is substantially reducing its funding of the Kilroys.  Two would have been removed from the lagoon in Martin County in July.  The BCC unanimously approved a $60,000 appropriation to fund them for another year.

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