Pollution in Martin County extends beyond riverbanks

Illogical votes by Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding at the first commission meeting of the New Year and by Sarah Heard at the last of 2013 indicate nothing much will change as we enter 2014.

Fielding voted against granting a liquor license to a well-established restaurant in Hobe Sound that met all the county’s tough criteria and whose proprietors, Craig and Karen Kingston, had long demonstrated exceptional standards of good citizenship.

Fielding’s nonsensical vote Jan. 7 was overruled by the other commissioners, however his voting logic often baffles even his supporters, never more so than his 2013 swing vote regarding Bessey Creek’s shoreline that allowed the Floridian development to proceed in spite of Commission Chair Sarah Heard’s machinations to kill it.

The developers later produced such a well-designed plan, exceeding the county’s environmental standards, that they were lauded by all the county commissioners, including Ms. Heard — who then voted against plan approval. The Floridian demonstrated that business development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive; they can successfully co-exist with careful planning and diligent oversight. Since Heard voted against the Floridian’s plans in spite of her own praise at the same meeting, she again demonstrated her favorite tool: “Heardocrisy,” a pure form of hypocrisy designed to deflect and decry.

Fielding’s Bessey Creek vote downright rattled his supporters, many of whom expected from him what they routinely get from Heard: an unwavering mantra to project environmental stewardship as the impetus behind all commission actions, although the genuine motive is to stop point blank any form of development. That’s their usual marching orders. Heard’s voting record demonstrates that environmental protection does not inform her decisions. Any environmental considerations that result from her actions simply are a byproduct of her unyielding intent to stop all growth—even if the river and lagoon suffer further degradation, even if already established businesses are crippled by her actions, and even if the means are unethical or illegal.

Heard voted at the last meeting of 2013 NOT to have county staff conduct a survey of septic tank discharges into the St. Lucie River, stating flatly: “Septic tanks are not the problem; agriculture is the problem.” This is typical Heardocrisy. She fought to install septic tanks at the headwaters of the environmentally sensitive Loxahatchee River in 2011 rather than allow residents to hook up to a Palm Beach County sewer line. She quashed a sewer line extension in Jensen Beach within Commissioner Doug Smith’s district in 2012. She refuses to proceed with an already awarded grant to extend the Port Salerno sewer line west on Salerno Road that would allow Port Salerno businesses just yards from the Manatee Pocket to get off septic tanks. Why? Because sewer systems contribute to growth and development, the same rationalization behind Maggy Hurchalla’s successful efforts 20 years ago to stop the county’s conversion to a sewer system when she was a county commissioner.

Now Hurchalla—and Heard will follow—is calling for more stringent standards for septic tanks, which will NOT remove nitrogen from effluent. Septic tanks were never designed to remove nitrogen, which feeds algae blooms. The inconvenient truth is that septic tanks have no place along our estuaries in the 21st century. Ask any environmental scientist. Yes, stormwater runoff from agriculture probably also contributes to the pollution of the St. Lucie and the Indian River Lagoon, but the county’s survey of enteric bacteria in the river will determine which type of bacteria is more prevalent—human or animal—and will be the first step in developing a map of the “hot spots” that need to be addressed first. These results, however, will be limited to only one pollutant.

To get a more comprehensive map of the estuary’s pollution sources, we need to support the work of scientist Dr. Edie Widder, founder of the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, who has already begun to create a toxicity map of the Indian River Lagoon. (www.teamorca.org) Although Fielding’s decisions are often illogical, Heard’s decisions are environmentally inexplicable, unless you understand that her supporters include the mega-wealthy who intend to preserve their isolation and privacy at any cost—an altogether different type of “environmentalist.”

Heard’s actions also reveal a lack of ethical standards, choosing “whatever means” to achieve the desired ends. Her attorney will attempt in February to explain to a judge why Heard’s personal emails discussing county business with Maggy Hurchalla (regarding the Lake Point Restoration Project) are exempt from the public records law. We don’t believe they are under Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

(And in case you missed it at the Jan. 7 commission meeting, the transfer of more than $100,000 from reserves was approved in order to pay the legal fees and expenses of outside attorneys for the cases challenging the county’s comprehensive plan rewrites and the Lake Point suits.)

Should the court eventually determine that yes, those emails are public record, and that Heard deliberately attempted to destroy them, she would face criminal charges for official misconduct as an elected official—a third-degree felony. No wonder she hired a personal attorney, but why are taxpayers expected to pay his fee?

No question we want the dirty water flowing through our estuaries stopped, but we also want the pollution behind the dais of the Martin County Commission cleaned up, which cannot happen through more distortion, false claims of environmental stewardship, or by violating state and federal laws.

We want the hypocrisy to end. We want genuine, honest debate of what is good for the health and well being of this county and what is not. We want decisions based on logic and law.

Only then will we see a vibrant community evolve that enjoys clean water, sound growth and a healthy tax base to enhance and preserve an exceptional quality of life for all our citizens. That’s our hope for 2014.