Where do Jacksonville's mayoral candidates stand on the environment?

Dredging, sea-level rise are among the hot button issues in this race

By Jonathan Stacey - Meteorologist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Many critical issues have been raised in Jacksonville's mayoral race as Election Day nears, but there's one matter we haven't heard much about: the environment.

News4Jax asked the candidates a series of questions about the city's environment and how they plan to protect it to help you decide who you'll be casting your ballot on March 19.

Councilwoman Anna Brosche

  • What is the greatest environmental threat facing Jacksonville today? The single, greatest environmental threat facing Jacksonville today is our failing septic tanks system.  In turn, aging and failing tanks damage the health of the St. Johns River, arguably our greatest natural asset.  
  • Do you have a detailed plan to combat the issue(s)? Yes. If so, what's your plan? And where can I find additional information on your strategy? I plan to establish a program of systematic elimination of failing septic tanks, backed up by ratable funding to ensure we are on a path to meaningfully address this issue. Funding sources will include government funding, as well as the pursuit of grants and other investments, which will be more successful when the city develops a comprehensive plan and commits funding to addressing this problem.
  • What is your position on dredging? I support dredging the St. Johns River to ensure the Port’s competitiveness and am determined to protect the local taxpayer. While estimates exist on what the city’s future share may be, city council has not been asked about nor consulted on projected costs. In addition, how much jurisdiction Jacksonville’s city government has over dredging decisions seems debatable, although city council certainly has authority should city funding be requested. I absolutely support mitigation efforts to protect our low-lying areas and tax-bases that lie within flood zones.
  • What is your position on St. Johns River restoration and protection? Wetlands protection, stormwater management, reduction of nutrients entering our natural water system, creating natural buffer zones between development and our river and creeks, encouraging low impact development, and stringent mitigation requirements are all aspects of protecting the St. Johns River. Some counties, such as Alachua County, have adopted enhanced wetland protections. Others are encouraging “low impact development” and “green infrastructure projects” to treat, manage and reduce stormwater. Admittedly, I need to learn more and will engage area academics and advocates in understating the complexity of river protection. I look forward to understanding more about what can be done within city government to better protect the St. Johns River.
  • How you plan to combat the threat flooding and sea level rise? I intend to right the wrong that Mayor Curry performed when he took office and returned the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities grant. I will appoint a Chief Resiliency Officer to specifically address the damaging effects of rising floodwaters due to climate change. I want to learn from those 100 Resilient Cities who have already performed work in this space and understand how we can become a leader in combating these effects. I also intend to learn from and work with the city of St. Augustine as the threats to us are regional and not specific to Jacksonville.
  • Do you believe your voting record and approval/disapproval for local environmental protections reflects your position accurately reflects your stance? I have supported amendments to our comprehensive plan regarding restrictions of development unsafe floodplains or coastal high-hazard areas. I have also supported legislation regarding the City of Jacksonville's contribution to, and partnership efforts with, JEA to begin addressing septic tanks in certain neighborhoods (City contributed $15 million and JEA contributed $15 million). At the beginning of my term, at the request of Mayor Curry, I did support returning grant money to the Rockefeller Foundation to be one of the 100 Resilient Cities; I regret this action and I will appoint a Chief Resiliency Officer to specifically address the damaging effects of rising floodwaters due to climate change. I want to learn from those 100 Resilient Cities who have already performed work in this space and understand how we can become a leader in combatting these effects.

Mayor Lenny Curry

Mayor Lenny Curry was unable to answer our questions by deadline, but his office issued us this statement concerning his environmental positions.

  • “Whether it’s our beaches, our diverse and large inventory of parks, or the majestic St. Johns River, Mayor Curry is committed to protecting our environment. Our natural treasures ensure a high quality of life for Jacksonville families, as well as economic development, by inspiring tourists to come share our beauty. Looking ahead to the implications of climate change, Mayor Curry continues to work with experts and stakeholders for infrastructure and planning that will continue to harden the city to future threats. As we saw when our city faced once-in-a-century storms, Lenny Curry will always push to protect our people and our way of life.”

Jimmy Hill

  • What is the greatest environmental threat facing Jacksonville today? Nitrates in the St Johns River.
  • Do you have a detailed plan to combat the issue(s)? If so, what's your plan? And where can I find additional information on your strategy? Yes. Collaboration with organizations such as River Keepers. Education for those the impacted this problem such as yard services and other stakeholders. Within the next couple of days, we will place an environmental plan on our website.
  • What is your position on dredging? It is a necessary component in keeping the port open and to remain competitive. 
  • What is your position on St. Johns River restoration and protection? Restoration simply means going forward with best practices and removing source pollution. In addition, protection means monitoring and identifying protections problems. 
  • What is your position on flood and sea level rise recovery and protection? This complex issue needs to be discussed in an open and public conversation to identify some basic realities and scientific understanding. 
  • Do you believe your voting record and approval/disapproval for local environmental protections reflects your position accurately reflects your stance? Yes. Canopy protection in Atlantic Beach, shoreline protection and whistleblower on raw sewage spill demonstrates my commitment. See (my) extensive voting record from Atlantic Beach.

Omega Allen

  • What is the greatest environmental threat facing Jacksonville today? Failing septic tanks are the greatest threat to the health of the citizens in our communities and a threat to property values in the affected areas.
  • ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Do you have a detailed plan to combat the issue(s)? If so, what's your plan? And where can I find additional information on your strategy? Yes. My combat plan is to do a “Quick-turnaround Study” to identify, inspect, and label (by priority) the septic systems in our communities. Then, allocate funds as they are now and will become available to remedy the situation based on the system’s age, visibility, proximity to water supply and mostly likely to fail. Although we may not be able to fix them all at one time, addressing them according to the urgency of the threat they present is paramount. Ultimately, establishing the necessary infrastructure that will allow us to eliminate them altogether is the key focus; thereby, eliminating the threat of having the cubic tonnage contained in failing systems leach into our water supply.
  • What is your position on dredging? I don’t believe there has been enough of the right questions asked and answered to determine if dredging is expedient for our community. If our purpose for dredging is to attempt to garner more Maritime trade than our competitors, i.e. Charlotte and Savannah, we must realize that they may be in position to do likewise, leaving us unable to be more competitive, with the same percentage of the East Coast Maritime trade as before dredging, and having spent money for which we will see no additional revenues. I believe our focus should be on the effect dredging will have on the stability of our coastal environment and fishing industry. The results of that study should be among the determining factors as to whether or not we pursue dredging as an option.
  • What is your position on St. Johns River restoration and protection, and flood and sea level rise recovery and protection? Forging a relationship with the EPA, our biggest advocate within the government, is the first order of business. Our focus must be on areas that we can shore up and the areas that are most likely to experience flooding first. We will be proactive with: 1) an evacuation plan; 2) a system in place to mitigate the effects of storm waters and; 3) establishing a drainage system that functions at peak performance. Above all else, I will work closely with the EMS to avoid loss of life.
  • Do you believe your voting record and approval/disapproval for local environmental protections reflects your position accurately reflects your stance? I have no voting record. 

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