Despite pandemic, progress continues on IRL restoration


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Work on the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan continues without delay despite fears about the long-term impact of COVID-19. 

The Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition has shared some concerns, but it has faith in the community’s commitment to cleaning up the IRL.

This work, funded by the half-cent sales tax that was approved by 62 percent of Brevard County voters in 2016, has remained on track.

The staff at the Brevard County Natural Resources has worked without interruption to implement, supervise and monitor this work and provide supervision. The Citizen Oversight Committee has continued to meet monthly, except March 2020, to provide leadership. 

When the sales tax referendum passed in November 2016, the forecasted revenues were approximately $340 million for the 10-year period. With a strong economy entering 2020, sales tax revenues for the duration were revised upward to $484 million. During the first three years, $139 million was collected.

 While sales tax collections in Brevard County can’t be predicted for the remainder of this term, most experts believe that the amount will equal or exceed the original expectation of $340 million. This amount would allow all of the current projects to be completed.

Projects in the planning and permitting stages also should be viable. Other approved projects not yet begun likely can wait until the sales tax forecasts can be accurately updated. 

Completed projects have been completed that remove 17,000 pounds of nitrogen annually, the most harmful nutrient pollutant in IRL waters. Many people have observed that the water clarity is exceptionally good, especially for a warm month like May.

The reduction of residential fertilizer applications have led to the clear water. Nutrient pollutants that have been reduced or removed by Save Our Indian River Lagoon Plan also have helped.

The Restore Our Shores project by the Brevard Zoo has five projects currently underway to provide oyster restoration and living shorelines for more than 56,000 square feet of IRL bottom. That should reduce the nitrogen by approximately 2,200 pounds per year.

This work has continued uninterrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers have been required to practice social distancing and wear protective face masks when working closely together. The Brevard Zoo is conducting community fundraising to ensure that the organization remains financially healthy during this unusual pandemic. 

According to Terry Casto, the chairman of the Marine Resources Council (MRC), “The current financial crisis is creating hardships for many organizations until we figure out how to do business in the new normal. I’m encouraged by the way Dr. Souto and staff have continued to execute the mission of the Marine Resources Council. MRC’s vital water quality program is continuing, the informative Brown Bag lunches are now delivered via Zoom, and our robust mangrove program is continuing replenishment of the IRL shoreline.” 

Despite these positive assessments, the COVID-19 pandemic will have adverse impacts on the Indian River Lagoon Restoration as well as many elements of our community.

The local economy might require years to fully recover. In Florida, tourism provides approximately 20 percent of sales tax revenues. Tourism might be slow to fully recover, but the natural Space Coast beaches, conservation lands and waterways, as well as launches sending mankind back to space, offer great opportunities to travelers who want to enjoy clean outdoor spaces with plenty of room for social distancing. 

Good jobs, clean water and quality of life remain essential to keeping our community strong. As we move forward, we need to remind our elected officials that we must continue to fund water quality projects.

As individuals, we must consider and adopt our voluntary efforts to help the lagoon. Let’s work together to ensure we remain committed to our efforts to have a healthy Indian River Lagoon — and a healthy economy.