Growing up in the central part of the state during the ’60s and ’70s, it was quite a treat when my parents would pile the kids in the family car and drive the 90 miles to Brevard County.
A trip to Brevard meant one of three things — we were going to see a space shot, we were going to the beach or we were fishing in the Indian River Lagoon. Whichever way it went, we were guaranteed a memorable weekend enjoying nature and each other.
Even in a state known for its natural resources, the precious and unique assets of Brevard stood out as a jewel.
What drew my family here is what draws most visitors to the Space Coast. It is the beach, the lagoon, space travel — not a luxury hotel. There are lots of places to go for a luxury hotel. What Brevard County offers is much more valuable.
The recent county commission vote (with only Commissioner John Tobia voting against) to give $30 million in corporate welfare to a private developer for a luxury Westin hotel — with the comment it would be a “game changer” in bringing tourists to the community — is absolutely mind-boggling for several reasons.
First, $30 million could go a long way in improving the lagoon, starting with replacing leaking septic tanks and retrofitting county and city wastewater infrastructure that continues to spill millions of gallons of raw sewage into the lagoon.
One of the few things that even county leaders can agree on is that putting raw sewage into water bodies degrades the water body.
Secondly, to give $30 million of taxpayer money to any private entity, especially when the county’s own Tourist Development Council strenuously objected to it, shows both a callous disregard for their own advisory board process as well as a disdain for the one real asset that they should be protecting — the Indian River Lagoon.
It also signals disrespect for the local tourist businesses who have worked for years in maintaining attractive and affordable options for tourists without the benefit of massive county funding. No offense to the Westin, great to have them in the community, but why should taxpayers be the ones to subsidize it?
Kudos to Bob Baugher, a private citizen and hotelier suing the commission for misappropriating funds and illegally supporting a private developer. And to Rep. Randy Fine, a state legislator who sees no value in giving state lagoon grant funding to a commission that is more interested in currying favor with lobbyists than in doing the job they were elected to do.
The Brevard County Commission (current and former) has completely neglected their infrastructure, sending millions of gallons of sewage into the lagoon through wastewater runoff, septic tank leaching and public wastewater system breaks.
Significant restoration of the IRL will take people who can make some tough decisions. I am weary of hearing candidates and commissioners say they “care about the lagoon” but do little except continue to ask for more taxpayer money.
There are things only a county commission can do that would go a long way to restore the waterway, like fixing the county infrastructure and helping cities do the same. Passing legislation to require adequately functioning septic tanks and periodic tank inspection; providing funding assistance where appropriate or necessary. The commission can also pass and enforce fertilizer ordinances for properties adjacent to the lagoon. These are actions that would truly be a game changer.
Since the only county commissioner willing to lead is in the minority, I am joining other citizens in appealing to the Brevard County legislative delegation. The delegation can use their influence to force the county commission to rescind their lobbyist-influenced vote which gives precious tax revenue to Miami developers.
Brevard County Commission, you polluted our lagoon. Now fix it.
Linda Weinberg is an attorney who lives in Cape Canaveral.
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