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Protecting Florida’s environment back on the agenda

A bloom of the naturally occurring Florida red tide algae, *Karenia brevis*, is visible off the coast of Sarasota, Florida. Photos taken on Wednesday, August 8, 2018.
A bloom of the naturally occurring Florida red tide algae, *Karenia brevis*, is visible off the coast of Sarasota, Florida. Photos taken on Wednesday, August 8, 2018. (Photo by Vince Lovko/Mote Marine Laborat)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force met Wednesday for the first time since October.

The Blue-Green Algae Task Force’s recommendations last fall included transferring regulation of septic tanks from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection, providing grants to improve wastewater treatment and dramatically increasing fines for administrative violations. 

All of it and more were signed into law. 

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein calls it unprecedented.

“You never see government actually get a group of scientists together, ask them some difficult questions and thoughtfully sit down and listen to them, then actually do something about it,” said Valenstein.

Now the Task Force is back in business after a nine-month hiatus. 

Congressman Brian Mast wants the state to stop the Army Corps from releasing any toxic water. 

“The state owns the State of Florida. They are not going to allow the Federal government to poison communities,” said Mast.

Becky Harris of Stuart called for better public notice after her dog became ill from biting a dead catfish following highly toxic water being released.

“And you did not call the Department of Health and tell them to warn all the people all along the St. Lucie,” said Harris.

The meeting was in essence an effort to return to some normalcy as well as a recognition that Florida’s other problems haven’t gone away.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done and I think the task force feels that sense of urgency, rightfully so,” said Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director of Audubon Florida.

In the end, the task force can only make recommendations.

It’s then up to the Department of Environmental Protection and lawmakers to act, but Wednesday’s meeting puts that ball in motion.