OM Newsletter: The wolf in sheep’s clothing: When ‘no-growthers’ disguise themselves as environmentalists

Article Posted on June 1, 2018

There are many long-standing myths in Martin County that create divisiveness in our community.  One of our goals is to educate the public and create a more informed citizenry by exposing these myths and providing the facts to our friends and neighbors.

In this issue, we discuss Myth #4: All no-growthers are environmentalists.

Dear Friends,

Here’s another Martin County myth that needs debunking.  It’s the notion that people who want to stop all growth in our community are ALSO the best stewards of our natural resources.  You’ll be surprised to learn that’s not true. 
One disturbing example of this myth is the case of the Jensen Beach Mooring Field.  Six years ago we almost had a mooring field in a location that would have helped to protect the fragile seagrass along the shoreline south of the Jensen Beach Causeway. 
According to Martin County’s own website: “Mooring fields offer permanent structures for boaters to secure their vessels and provide an organized and secure way to protect boats as well as shore side infrastructure. Additionally, our rivers and waterways, rich in aquatic habitats such as sea grass communities, nourish and provide safe harbor to a variety of aquatic life. Mooring fields and the use of mooring buoys have become an accepted tool in reducing the negative impacts of anchoring on seagrass beds and coral reefs.”
Sounds like a good thing, right?   Not according to some self-proclaimed environmentalists who helped kill the project back in 2012.  
Fast forward to this April, when a storm’s aftermath caused boats to be blown onto the rocks along the Jensen Beach Causeway. One of the boats, a live-aboard, had been semi-permanently anchored a few hundred yards offshore in navigable waters. During a TV interview, the skipper said he had two anchors that held the vessel in place. Shockingly, one had been a plow anchor and it was still no match for the wind and rough surf that beat up the lagoon that day.
That boat, along with another one, dragged their anchors all the way to shore, through what little seagrass remains there. The boats are gone now. The debris cleaned up.  What you can’t see from the surface is the damage those boats left behind, hidden under the murky water. 

The scarred bottom remains.
How do we protect our lagoon and its remaining seagrass from yet another anchor-dragging boat? It's the same question asked by the National Marine Sanctuary in the Florida Keys, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and countless other marine sanctuaries. The answer is simple: Build a mooring field.
Nearly every marine sanctuary around the world, more than 100 of them, have done just that. Martin County almost did too. We even collected sufficient grant money in 2012 to build it. Then the 2012 commission, led by Chair Sarah Heard, killed the mooring field project and returned nearly $1 million to the funders in 2013, because, she claimed, the aquatic preserve was an "inappropriate location" for a mooring field. What?
Scientists around the world build mooring fields to protect their natural resources. Clearly, it's exactly where we would WANT to locate a mooring field. So let's take a closer look at the Jensen Beach Mooring Field project.
FACT: The Jensen Beach Mooring Field plan allowed 51 buoys, carefully placed by divers to avoid impacts to seagrass. Boats tethered to buoys swing freely, which eliminate boat shadows over the same spot for long periods that can seriously impede seagrass growth. The 18-slip dinghy dock also would be built with light-transmitting materials to foster seagrass growth. Plans also included upland facilities for showers, laundry and a dockmaster's office supported by mooring field fees.
FACT: In addition to eliminating the damage caused by anchors, the county would have more control through the creation of a mooring field.  A mooring field grants more oversight to local government that is usually prohibited by federal laws protecting the freedom of vessels on navigable waters. A dockmaster and daily mooring fees create a barrier to long-term "parking" for live-aboards that sometimes are neglected, unsightly or abandoned. A mooring field also ensures that human waste on moored vessels is pumped out, instead of dumped out. This too seems like an environmental benefit for our aquatic preserve, right?
FACT: Martin County had begun work to obtain the appropriate permits for the mooring field, beginning back in 2009. Permits from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers were given in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Three federal agencies, the US EPA, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, offered no objections. The Board of County Commissioners contributed the "soft" costs of considerable staff time to prepare and submit the permits and prepare the design for the project, totaling about $340,000.
FACT: In addition to having all required permits in hand, the county had secured grant funds totaling more than $1 million from Florida Inland Navigation District, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. The money was in the bank and construction was scheduled to begin in February 2013.
Instead, less than a month before construction was to begin, the county commission (led by so-called environmental stewards) ordered all the grant money be returned to the funders.
And here we are today.  Fortunately for the health of the Indian River Lagoon, the Jensen Beach Mooring Field has been resurrected from an undeserved death. It is back in the county's Capital Improvement Plan.  Sadly, the funding is not.
Keep this story in mind the next time the self-proclaimed environmental commissioners vote against projects that can clearly help to improve the health of the Indian River Lagoon. Look more closely at the motives behind what they choose to fund – and what environmental projects they try to kill.  And ask yourself, why?
Why would they vote against projects that could have made a positive impact on our estuary and our quality of life?  Their motives are more often about political vendettas and preventing growth at any cost – even at a cost to our natural environment.


Rick Hartman
P.S.  We’ll be bringing you more myths in future e-mails from me.  Stay tuned!

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