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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Sebastian: Instead of hiring lawyer for annexation, add environmental consultant | Opinion

BusinessSebastian: Instead of hiring lawyer for annexation, add environmental consultant | Opinion

With people pouring into our county, housing prices skyrocketing, developments covering our natural habitats, our water being polluted and wasted, and rising sea levels, I’m afraid for our future.

If Sebastian City Council hired environmental experts to provide an innovative, forward-thinking model with imaginative environmentally sound homes and retain and restore surrounding natural habitats, we may have a chance for our future and cleaner waters. 

Florida’s natural habitats attract tourists, snowbirds, and their millions of dollars to Florida even as those habitats are rapidly being depleted. Only remnants that were carefully preserved remain. 

Annexations must RESTORE what has been destroyed to prevent our fishes, manatees, and other wildlife from further decline. We need innovative visions for a sustainable, biodiverse, interconnected network of green spaces rather than development and “business as usual” decisions.

Our current environment endangers our health. Nutrients from sewage and glorified outhouses/septic tanks, pesticides and fertilizers from lawns and agriculture feed cyanobacteria that produce airborne microcystin toxins that can cause ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s, while at the same time killing seagrasses, fish and manatees.

Thus, the developments around the headwaters of the St. Sebastian River, a diverse and historic river that flows into the lagoon, must be carefully designed to bring these precious waters back to the way they were 50 years ago, not adding to this tragedy.  People enjoyed eating fish, shrimp, clams and oysters from our lagoon, waters that used to be crystal clear with abundant seagrasses and aquatic life.

Looking southeast over the St. Sebastian River, the Florida East Coast railroad bridge and a temporary one (right) Brightline contractors will use to erect a new one are shown Dec. 26, 2020. The new bridge between Roseland in Indian River County and Little Hollywood in Brevard County will give Brightline two rails of track to connect Miami and Orlando.

Our current natural lands, ordinances, and policies have failed to sustain nature and us. Visionary annexation experts and scientists can restore abandoned agricultural lands to feed us locally and purchase other land for restoration. Let’s reforest uplands and restore wetlands that have been destroyed. 

Stronger tree ordinances can preserve 15-inch diameter and greater trees that are older than any living human and sequester more carbon dioxide than trees less than 50 years old.

Stop clear-cutting. This adds to heat-island effects and reduces community aesthetics.  Build developments that incorporate trees, which can cool our community by 10 degrees. Let’s expand community native plantings, gardens, forests and recreation for all to enjoy. 

Native plants feed our native insects and birds. Pass stronger landscape ordinances reducing lawn turfgrass to 10% to 15% of a building lot. Encourage planting native trees and plants to reduce fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to save our birds, butterflies and bees. 

Reduce carbon dioxide emissions and bring quiet and peace by prohibiting two-cycle noisy lawnmowers and blowers emitting approximately 242 million tons of pollutants annually nationwide.

This map, contained in Sebastian public records in May 2022 proposing a voluntary annexation of 1,984 acres owned by Graves Brothers, shows the proposed annexation area, right in green. The red line denotes areas Sebastian could some day annex into the city.

Humans thrive in nature. Land and water are scarce. Let’s not waste watering non-native plants. Native plants’ deep roots don’t take exorbitant amounts of water. Turfgrass roots are only 2 inches and require more frequent watering because of evaporation.

In Florida, 64% of our potable drinking water goes on our lawns; in summer, 88%! To prevent run-off pollution, set stricter guidelines missing from existing developments. Restrict or ban all pollutants (pesticides, herbicides, artificial fertilizers) that poison our waters and that native plants don’t need. Prohibit phosphorus and allow only slow-release nitrogen fertilizers. Enforce the June 1-September 30 fertilizer ban as Alachua County does.

Don’t want to miss another column like thisHere’s our lspantest membership despanl

Richard Baker is President of Pelican Island Audubon

Convert all septic tanks to sewer systems, turning our human poop into electricity and nitrogen & phosphorus to sell to countries that have scarce resources. Encourage businesses and consumers to stop using single-use plastics. Ban single use plastic and use reusable bags.

All homes and communities must become environmentally sustainable. The future of our Florida communities need all of us to make it happen. Expert annexation advice, new ordinances, and innovatively sustainable design can help restore our environment.

Sebastian council members should provide visionary leadership for our future! Pass ordinances encompassing a healthy environmental vision. Hire annexation and environmental experts to help design annexation policies to save our St. Sebastian River, its springs, and Indian River Lagoon.

These steps can result in a vibrant environment that will be lauded as a model for Florida.

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