Tag Archives: FLC

Cities Addressing Florida’s Water Problems Together, Tuning the Tide, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

The Florida League of Cities advocates the Florida legilature on behalf of the majority of Florida's 410 municipalities.
The Florida League of Cities advocates the Florida legislature on behalf of over 400 Florida municipalities.

Today I would like to share good news from the Florida League of Cities of which I have been an active member, as an elected official of the Town of Sewall’s Point, since 2009. I was also fortunate to be chosen to chair the league’s environmental committee last year in 2013 and in 2013 the SLR/IRL became a part of the leagues legislative priorities. Today I am happy to share continued support by the FLC regarding  the plight of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River due to excess polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

Only a few years ago, the league had never heard of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, and thanks to last year’s public outcry and the leadership of Senator Joe Negron, and others, today we are part of their greater lobbying effort!

To give some background, the Florida League of Cities is the “united voice” for Florida’s municipal governments and was first started in 1922.  Its goals are to serve the needs of Florida’s cities and to promote local self-government and Home Rule. The league was founded with the idea that local self-government is the keystone of American Democracy. Today there are over 400 municipal members, (towns, cities, villages) represented by the league. (http://www.floridaleagueofcities.com)

Florida League of Cities Legislative Committeee
Florida League of Cities Legislative Committee, 2014. (Photo Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch)

Regionally,  the Town of Sewall’s Point, City of Stuart, Town of Ocean Breeze, Town of Jupiter Island, St Lucie Village, City of Port St Lucie, Ft Pierce, Fellsmere, Sebastian, Vero Beach and Okeechobee are active members of the league. 

There are five legislative committees of the league and ten priorities come out of each legislative session based on the work of the legislative committees that comprise members from all over the state with as many as 50 members sitting on a committee. This year’s Legislative Committee for the FLC occurred November 12-14 in Orlando.

The committees are as follows: Energy, Environmental and Natural Resources; Finance and Taxation; Growth Management and Economic Affairs; Transportation and Intergovernmental Relations; and Urban Administration.

Sam Henderson 2014 Chair for the EENR Committee, presenting with FLC's Ryan Matthews.
Sam Henderson 2014 Chair for the EENR Committee, presenting with FLC’s Ryan Matthews.

As I mentioned, I chaired the Energy and Environmental and Natural Resources Legislative Committee last year, but this year did not, and I was wondering if estuaries of the SLR/IRL and Caloosahatchee would take a back seat as there is fierce competition and many water problems throughout the state.  I was delighted to see that the committee continued its commitment to calling attention on a statewide level to the water problems of our region.

The POLICY STATEMENT for Water Quality and Quantity 2014 reads:

The Florida League of Cities supports legislation that provides recurring allocations of financial resources for local government programs and projects resulting in the protection of water resources, the improvement of water quality and quantity, and the expanded use of alternative sources of water.

The background immediately following this priority is even more specific stating:

Florida is currently dealing with multiple water challenges. South Florida faces water quality problems in the form of massive water releases of nutrient enriched waters. Those releases, which are controlled by the Army Corp of Engineers–a federal agency, pollute the estuaries and water systems that flow to the St Lucie on the east and the Caloosahatchee on the west.  North Florida faces an impending disaster in its oyster industry due to increased water usage by neighboring states Alabama and Georgia. Meanwhile all of Florida is struggling with how to efficiently conserve water and avoid devastation to the Florian Aquifer….

I am thankful to the league and to the many elected officials from all parts of our state who supported this legislative policy statement for 2014. This statement will go before the state legislature as the league lobbys and works for policies of the league.

We must be mindful of all of our water issues, from spring degradation, dying lakes and rivers, aquifer depletion, as well as the St Lucie/Indian River/Caloosahatchee/Lake Okeechobee issues we deal with at here home.

Understanding all of our water issues together is necessary, as we are all connected.

Together as cities fighting for what we love, our cities, we can overcome the common apathy of our state legislature and the destruction that has been brought upon our state by overdevelopment and lack of appreciation of our natural systems and the role they play in strong economies and quality of life.

With cities addressing Florida’s water problems together, we just might turn the tide….

Why I am Such a Big Supporter of Senator Joe Negron, Indian River Lagoon

Senator Joe Negron and I after a torrential down-pour at "Hands Across the Lagoon" Sept 28.2013.Sewall's Point. (Photo Dave Thatcher)
Senator Joe Negron and I after a torrential down-pour at “Hands Across the Lagoon” Sept 28, 2013. Sewall’s Point. (Photo Dave Thatcher.)

I am big supporter of Senator Joe Negron. I believe that his intervention has “changed the game” for the Indian River Lagoon and put the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon squarely on the map in front of every politician and agency in the state. Now we have a chance to save it.

Yes, there have been champions for the lagoon before, but in my opinion, no one has ever done what Senator Negron has done.

I had been aware of Joe Negron for years but it was not until 2012 that I had any  contact with him and that contact changed my life and improved my efforts for saving the Indian River Lagoon.

For half of 2011 and all of 2012 I was the mayor of the Town of Sewall’s Point and in 2011 the River Kidz had started on their own, authentically, in the Town. Two fifth grade girls, Evie Flagh, (my niece) and Naia Mader, held a lemonade stand in Indianlucie giving their proceeds to “those old gentlemen,” the River’s Coalition, who said they “needed youth in their organization.” Columnist, Eve Samples, had written about this and the children filled the calling. River Kidz ended up becoming a force with hundreds of kids joining and spreading to other counties. They even came up with their own mission statement: “Our mission is to speak out, get involved and raise awareness, because we believe kids should have a voice in the future of our rivers.”

As mayor, I made it my priority to help these kids as I have none of my own and am a former teacher. As a lifetime resident, I knew the dying river was a gigantic issue for the town and this all looked like a “good fit.”

Myself, my sister Jenny Flaugh, and good friend Nic Mader, started advocating along with these kids. Many other parents and children joined.

Senator Negron at the River Kidz' first rally for the river in October 2012. St Lucie locks and Dam. (Photo JTL)
Senator Negron at the River Kidz’ first rally for the river in October 2012. St Lucie locks and Dam. (Photo JTL)

In the late summer of 2012, I thought of who could help the cause of the river and the kidz? Who was in a  position to help. “Joe Negron,” I thought. He is our senator and he is the head of the Appropriations Committee, one of the most powerful positions in the state. I was nervous. I really did not know him. He was friends with my husband’s business partner as they had both gone to the Hope Sound Bible School in their youth.  I had seen him once at a birthday party. I was certain he had no idea who I was.  After much angst, one day I called him. Somehow I got his phone number from my husband Ed I think. I was shaking.

“Hello, Senator Negron. This is Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch from the Town of Sewall’s Point. I am the mayor. May I speak to you for a minute please?

“Yes,” he replied.”

I was a wreck. Believe it or not, I am not good at “asking.”

“Sir, I am calling for your help. I am calling about the river….and the future…..about the kids….”

By the end of the short conversation, Joe Negron said he had an op-ed idea for awhile…maybe he would send it in to the paper? It had to do with the river. I encouraged him.

“Yes. Yes.” I said, “Please. We need your help. Thank you.”

Within a month or so the op-ed came out: (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/joe-negron-congress-must-strip-army-corps-of-it) The headlines read: Congress Must Strip the Army Corp of Engineers of their Authority of Lake Okeechobee.”

The day I saw the op-ed, I said to myself, “Wow, he did it.”

In spite of one’s opinion on the situation, this article shook the foundations of the status quo. A state senator, chair of the Appropriations Committee, had said something, written something so taboo and it got the state and federal government’s attention and started a scrutinizing dialogue of the management of the lake and the deathly discharges to our estuaries.

Things ramped up. The ACOE starts releasing water from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in June of  2012. The River Kidz held a protest at the locks with their friends and parents. Joe Negron along with Martin County commissioner, Sarah Heard attended. It poured rain but they came. The Kidz feel important. The movement’s volume turned up. More kids and parents got involved. The river seemed to always be in the Stuart News.

Skip forward to the “Lost Summer” of 2013. The ACOE began dumping in May due to early rains. The river is a putrid, toxic mess. The kids can’t go in the water. The River Kidz rally at the locks again. Joe Negron attends, again….

And then Joe Negron, Senator Joe Negron,  pulls a rarely used and ultimate political card from his pocket going where he, and we, had never gone before. He organizes the “Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin.” It  occurs August 22, 2013 at the Kane Center in Stuart. All eyes of the state are upon us. The media, state and national and local, take over. We are on the map like never before. It is an explosion. Even newspapers in Europe cover the story. (http://www.flsenate.gov/Media/Topics/irllob)

By the end of the following year’s legislative process in 2014, more than 200 million dollars goes towards the Indian River Lagoon and related projects supporting “some more” water going south. Everyone is Tallahassee know about the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee. Not a fix but a start. A large start. Senator Negron has put his neck on the line as he is tapped “to be” Senate President. Some are angered by his complete focus on the IRL. He stands firm.

Between the Select Committee and the threat to cut ties with the Army Corp’s abusive relationship over us, change is in the air.

As an aside, I must admit, I have been criticized by some people, for my blatant  support of Joe Negron. That is OK. I knew that could happen. Politics is emotional. People are allowed to have their opinions and I have mine.

The commercial I did to support  him in this year’s election has been seen across the state. (http://clicks.skem1.com/preview/?c=44003&g=40&p=0794e19e2aa8c747d5d31c46c3822cfa)

At my recent Florida League of Cities meeting in Hollywood, all comments were positive. Elected officials were coming up to me from the panhandle, to Tallahassee, to Miami saying they had seen the commercial or heard of it and were impressed with our campaign for the Indian River Lagoon. “I never knew the estuaries got damaged by Lake Okeechobee…” They said.

Now the University of Florida is charged by the Select Committee with “a technical review of options to move water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades…” Will it fix the problem, I doubt it, but it will begin to and have some of the most outstanding minds in our state working on the problem now and in the future. In time,  it could help solve the problem…

In conclusion, I was raised to repay my debts and to Senator Joe Negron I am indebted. And I am honored to be so. I will do everything I can to help him and keep him in office and to encourage him to help the Indian River Lagoon.

Recently,  Eve Samples wrote an article about PACs and monies for Joe Negron’s campaign, which included campaign contribution from US Sugar.  What do I have to say about that?

Politics is a hard and imperfect game and everyone is trying to influence powerful people  however they can. Thankfully, I have a tool more powerful than money. I appeal to “conscience.” And Joe Negron is a man who listens to his. Of that, I am convinced.

 

The Importance of Florida League of Cities’ Statewide Friendships for the Indian River Lagoon

 

Commissioner Ziffer of Tallahassee and I serve together on the FLC EENR Committee. (Selfie FLC Annual Conference, Hollywood Florida, August 16, 2014.Commissioner Ziffer of Tallahassee and I serve together on the FLC EENR Committee. (Selfie 2014 at FLC Annua Conference. )[/caption (http://www.talgov.com/commission/commission-officials-ziffer.aspx)
Commissioner and friend Gil Ziffer of Tallahassee and I serve together on the FLC EENR Committee. (Selfie at evening gathering, 8-16-14, FLC Annual Conference. ) (http://www.talgov.com/commission/commission-officials-ziffer.aspx)
No matter the focus of technology, there is nothing more important than human relationships. I believe that the Florida League of Cities and the relationships I and others have made there in the past years have been key in giving statewide recognition to the problems of our St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

Almost all cities and towns are members of the league and membership allows cities to have many business and educational services such as insurance and legal benefits at a reasonable “collective” price.  Another aspect of the league is its legislative committees that work months prior to each legislative session to come up with a “policy statement,” for league lobbyist to use during the legislative session to promote the business of the league.

The five  committees are Energy, Environment and Natural Resources; Finance, Taxation and Personnel; Growth Management and Economic Development;  Transportation and Inter-govermental Relations; Urban Administration.(http://www.floridaleagueofcities.com)

I first joined the Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2010. It was intimidating to sit at the table with fifty or more mayors and commissioners from all over the state but it was enlightening to learn together about their issues.

It was here that I first learned first hand the extent of the destruction of our state aquifers and springs, (http://springseternalproject.org) and it was here that I got my nerve up to share about the problems of the sick St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon bottle nosed dolphins, and share how the southern Indian River Lagoon, my hometown,  has the highest level of lobo mycosis, a terrible skin disease,  as documented by Dr Gregory Bossert, formerly of Harbor Branch. It was here at this table I could relay the issue of  the documented compromised immune systems of these dolphins due to poor water quality from pollution of local canals and especially the ACOE’s releases from Lake Okeechobee. It was here and this table that I received support.  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16426180)

2012 IRL sick dolphins as topic for the FLC EENR Committee discussion.
2012 IRL sick dolphins as topic for the FLC EENR Committee discussion.

photo 2

Over the years, the people on this committee and the staff of the Florida League of Cities like lobbyist/staff Ryan Matthews and Scott Dudley became my friends. I learned about the league and many cities’ environmental problems and they learned about Sewall’s Point’s. Ryan and Scott taught all of us how to advocate in Tallahassee for legislation on our issues.

Then in 2012, something amazing happened to me.

President of the League for 2013-14, Dr. PC Wu, councilman from Pensacola, appointed me Chair of the Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I had written Dr Wu asking to chair the committee and he gave me the honor even though I am from a very small town compared to many of my fellow members. Mayor Sam Henderson of the City of Gulf Port was vice-chair. We had a good year and although not much legislation came forth this session, Springs, Septic Tanks and  Estuaries, our top priorities, were hot topics of discussion and received funding from the legislature. A start…

This work occurs due to relationships. I believe the only way we will ever really save the Indian River Lagoon or the treasured springs of Florida is “together.” Water knows no boundaries, just as friendship goes beyond political parties, backgrounds, and religion.

I thank my friends from the Florida League of Cites;  I will continue teach and learn about your aquifer/springs  issues and I thank you for learning about our east coast Indian River Lagoon. Together we will effect change.

IMG_7997 IMG_7999 IMG_8001 IMG_8002 IMG_8003 photo