Monday, April 20, 2009

Senator proposes slew of springs bill amendments

A bill that would the regulate nitrogen releases from farms, septic tanks and sewage treatment plants to protect springs was passed over by a Senate committee Monday after more than a dozen amendments were proposed by a senator who says he has more springs in his district than any other in the state.

Sen. Charlie Dean, a Republican from Inverness whose district includes the Suwannee River and its numerous springs, said he was unhappy with SB 274 as written because he said it provides a "one-shoe-fits-all" solution to springs problems.

"I just don't think overall the springs bill as it is today right now is an effective vehicle for what we need for the state of Florida," said Dean, R-Inverness. "It's too broad, one-shoe-fits-all. The springs are too important."

SB 274 would establish springs "protection zones" in counties with larger springs and could require advanced septic tanks and sewage treatment and the regulation of fertilizer and manure on farms. The bill wasn't heard by the Senate General Government Appropriations Committee because of limited time and the amount of proposed amendments, said Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis and committee chairman.

Some springs across North and Central Florida have become choked with weeds and algae as nitrogen in groundwater has increased. Scientists say wastewater discharges, septic tanks, fertilizer, dirty stormwater runoff and livestock farms are among the sources of nitrogen.

The bill has support from environmental groups but faces opposition from the Association of Florida Community Developers and concerns from home-builders and agriculture groups. Dean said he would prefer a voluntary approach similar to the Suwannee River Partnership to provide financial assistance to farmers for actions to protect groundwater.

Environmentalists said the amendments proposed by Dean would strip the bill of its teeth and relegate the springs to continued studies. Bills in recent years that called for studies or pilot programs to reduce springs pollution also failed in the Legislature.

"The problem has been studied enough," said Janet Bowman, director of legislative policy and strategies for The Nature Conservancy's Florida chapter.

The bulk of SB 274 already has been tacked onto SB 2026, a bill supported by home-builders that would extend the life of permits for new construction. SB 2026 has two more committee stops before it reaches the Senate floor.

Copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not redistribute without permission.

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