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Brevard commissioners to consider $55 million projects to help Indian River Lagoon

Decision pushed to March 10

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Brevard County commissioners will decide in March whether to support or modify an advisory board’s recommendations for spending more than $55 million generated by a special half-percent sales tax targeted for projects designed to help restore the Indian River Lagoon.

The sales tax was approved by county voters in 2016, and is expected to raise $494 million over its 10-year life, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.

In all, the 2020 update to the lagoon tax plan includes 43 new projects, which would bring the total number of projects recommended for funding to 242.

About $28.1 million — or more than half of the $55.5 million to be allocated in the latest project plan update — would go toward projects to convert areas that have septic systems to sewer service.

The second- and third-largest categories of allocations would be:

$8.1 million for new high-priority stormwater treatment projects.

$7.7 million for upgrades to advanced septic where sewer service is not available.

Those recommendations from the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Citizen Oversight Committee reflect a previous County Commission directive for the panel to increase its focus on projects aimed at reducing the chance of pollution from human wastewater and on stormwater treatment.

Here's how the rest of the proposed allocations breaks down:

  • $3.1 million for nutrient reductions at wastewater infiltration basins and spray-fields.
  • $3.1 million for treating water during muck removal.
  • $1.9 million for muck removal.
  • $0.6 million for wastewater treatment plant upgrades to reduce nutrients in reclaimed water.
  • $0.5 million for smoke testing to find leaks in public and private sewer infrastructure.
  • $2.6 million as 5% contingency for the increased project allocations.
  • Additionally, $6 million will remain unallocated, and would be available to pay for future projects or for other purposes.

The Citizen Oversight Committee voted on the latest project recommendations in December and approved other updates to the plan in January.

"The recommended changes in the 2020 update represent a continued shift in emphasis away from muck dredging and toward human wastewater-related projects and stormwater treatment," the county's Natural Resources Management Department said in its agenda report to county commissioners.

The latest proposed project update, for example, designates a total of $182 million over the life of the sales tax to projects that improve the treatment of human waste. That's 45% of total projected spending, up from the 24% proposed in the original 2016 plan.

These projects include such things as:

  • Upgraded treatment of reclaimed water.
  • Nutrient removal from treatment plant spray-fields and rapid infiltration basins.
  • Smoke testing to identify leaky sewer infrastructure.
  • Conversion of septic neighborhoods to sewer service.
  • Connection of septic homes to adjacent sewer lines.
  • Upgrade of high-risk conventional septic to advanced septic systems.

The original Save Our Indian River Lagoon Project Plan allocated 65% of the funding to muck removal projects. The 2020 update reduces the percentage of funds for muck removal to 27%.

The tax is designated for projects that reduce the incoming load of new pollution; remove accumulations of old pollution; restore natural stabilization and filtration systems; and facilitate processes to respond to new information.

In 2019, the County Commission recommended that the Citizen Oversight Committee reduce the allocation to muck projects by about $100 million.

More than half that amount was reallocated in the adopted 2019 update. At the time, $46.8 million was left to be allocated in the 2020 update when additional data would be available, and when county, municipal and community entities would have an opportunity to submit additional project requests.

The 2020 update — unanimously recommended by the Citizen Oversight Committee — fully allocates the remainder of the $100 million muck reduction, with most of it going to wastewater treatment.

Entities that submitted the 43 new projects included:

  • Brevard County, one project.
  • Brevard County Stormwater Department, six projects.
  • Brevard County Utility Services Department, 13 projects.
  • Brevard Zoo, eight projects.
  • Cocoa, three projects.
  • Indialantic, one project.
  • Marine Resources Council, two projects.
  • Satellite Beach, three projects.
  • Titusville, four projects.
  • West Melbourne, two projects.

The volunteer Citizen Oversight Committee includes seven members and seven alternates representing seven fields of expertise: economics/finance, education/outreach, lagoon advocacy, real estate, science, technology and tourism. Half of the committee was selected by the Space Coast League of Cities and half by the Brevard County Commission.

During a County Commission meeting, the issue was tabled until March 10.