Bill would raise penalties for pollution and ‘shame’ offending municipalities

algae bloom
A 2018 algae outbreak in Stuart, FL. Photo by John Moran.

Florida lawmakers hoping to reduce the pollution choking bays, lagoons, and other waterways are proposing stiffer fines against cities around the state for spilling untreated sewage and other illegal discharges.

Gov. Ron DeSantis called for such measures last fall to help reduce water pollution plaguing many waterways in south Florida.

One bill (CS/HB 1091) sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican from Brevard County, would increase by half the financial penalties imposed for illegal environmental activities ranging from sewage spills to air emissions to mangrove-trimming. It also would impose those fines for each day the illegal activity occurs.

Fine said his main target is municipalities that fail to prevent sewage spills that pollute waterways and fuel toxic algal blooms.

“This is an existential crisis in the state of Florida. We have to use the bully pulpit to somewhat shame the local governments,” he said Tuesday before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

“Over the last 10 years, 3 billion gallons of raw sewage have been illegally dumped in our waterways by local governments who fail to use their home-rule powers to adequately maintain their sewer systems,” he said in testimony earlier before a different committee.

Fine recited a long list of counties where municipal sewage spills have occurred, including Brevard, Orange, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Palm Beach, Lake, Osceola, and Escambia, to name a few.

The fines bill would generate revenue for the state, which spends millions on water-quality projects.

The Senate companion (SB 1450) is sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, a Republican representing Sarasota County and part of Charlotte.

Meanwhile, broader and more detailed legislation targeting wastewater discharges, septic tanks, remediation, penalties, and basin management plans are advancing in both chambers. They are HB 1343 by Rep. Bobby Payne, a north-central Florida Republican, and SB 712 by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Republican representing parts of Brevard and Indian River counties.