Red tide tests show lower concentrations in Palm Beach County

New test results for Karenia brevis in Palm Beach County show lower concentrations from the Palm Beach Inlet to Boca Raton.

The results, released Wednesday, were from samples taken Tuesday, according to the state’s red tide status map.

All of the samples showed low levels of the algae that shut down beaches last week and forced lifeguards to don masks to protect from breathing in the toxic cells that can cause coughing, watery eyes and wheezing.

BREAKING: Record-shattering Michael makes landfall between Mexico Beach and Panama City

 

UPDATE:  Hurricane Michael made landfall at about 1:30 p.m. with 155 mph winds between Mexico Beach and Panama City.

UPDATE 12:55 p.m.: The eyewall of Hurricane Michael is coming ashore between St. Vincent and Panama City with 150 mph winds.

Landfall is eminent.

The most recent pressure level was recorded at 917, which is lower than Hurricane Andrew’s 922.

Colorado State University researcher Phil Klotzbach said only two U.S. hurricanes have made landfall with a lower pressure – the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 and Camille in 1969.

Update 11:30 a.m.: Hurricane Michael continues to strengthen this morning with wind speeds up to 150 mph as it approaches Panama City.

Previous story: Hurricane Michael exploded overnight into a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds and could strengthen before making landfall this afternoon.

Michael, which was 65 miles south-southwest of Panama City as of 10 a.m., is moving north at 13 mph.

Although there were some thoughts Michael would reach minimal Cat 4 strength, no one was forecasting this kind of rapid intensification. No Category 4 or 5 hurricanes have previously hit Florida’s Panhandle. A Category 5 storm begins with winds at 157 mph.

It was at 2 a.m. this morning that Michael first became a Category 4 with 130 mph winds.

As of 6 a.m., its initial rain bands began spreading across the Panhandle. Hurricane Force-winds extend out up to 45 miles from Michael’s center. Tropical storm-force winds extend out up to 185 miles.

“Satellite images of Michael’s evolution on Tuesday night were, in a word, jaw-droppingl,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist for Weather Underground. “A massive blister of thunderstorms erupted and wrapped around the storm’s eye, which had taken taking a surprisingly long time to solidify.”

Michael’s quick formation and forward speed left limited time for preparation compared to the five days of suspense between Florence’s birth as a hurricane and its Category 1 landfall near Wrightsville Beach on Sept. 14.

“I’m 59 years old and lived here all my life and I don’t think I’ve ever been this concerned,” said Johnny Paul, who was boarding up his Wewa Outdoors shop on Tuesday in Wewahitchka, about 17 miles north of Mexico Beach. “When you wake up and see Jim Cantore is just an hour away, you get a little nervous.”

Paul and his neighbors went to bed Tuesday thinking Michael was going to be a high-end Category 3. They woke up to a strong Category 4 with the National Weather Service in Tallahassee declaring; “This is as SERIOUS as it gets.”

STORM 2018: CHECK THE INTERACTIVE TRACKING MAP

Cantore, a Weather Channel broadcast meteorologist, was in Panama City Beach Tuesday morning. The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office issued a playful no trespassing warning for the veteran storm chaser saying it would prefer he make “non business-related visits” during winter months.

Paul said he was most worried about wind damage, but it was the flush of saltwater storm surge that emergency operations officials and National Hurricane Center forecasters spent extra time highlighting.

Depending on Michael’s location at landfall, areas as far south Cedar Key could see up to 12 feet of storm surge if it peaks during Wednesday’s high tide, with the Gulf of Mexico pushing 10 miles deep into the Apalachicola River to Hancock Bay.

EYE ON THE STORM: Get updates on the blog

“There’s a little wiggle room still on intensity at landfall but the track has been pretty straight forward in terms of forecasting,” said Chris Dolce, digital meteorologist for Weather.com, an IBM company. “It’s pretty sparsely populated in some of those areas, so that is a bit of good news.”

By tonight, Michael should be well inland and starting to make a sharp turn to the northwest as an area of low pressure picks it up, catapulting it through Georgia and the Carolinas as a tropical storm. Up to 10 inches of rain is possible in the Panhandle, but Michael’s expedited trip toward the Atlantic means a lower four to six inches in Georgia and the Carolinas.

Gov. Rick Scott, who declared a state of emergency in 35 counties and has assembled 2,500 National Guard troops to help with recovery, called Michael a “monstrous storm” that “keeps getting more dangerous.”

Leon County Emergency Operations Manager Kevin Peters said Michael is the “most extreme” storm to hit the area since 1894. State capital Tallahassee, which suffered widespread power outages after Category 1 Hurricane Hermine in 2016, is in Leon County.

“If you don’t follow warnings from officials, this storm could kill you,” Scott said.

This morning, Scott was interviewed by Cantore on The Weather Channel.

“I’m worried about the people who stayed behind, this thing came up fast,” Scott said. “It’s coming, it’s coming right now.

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BREAKING: State team deployed to investigate MacArthur Beach fish kill

Dead fish wash up on the beach south of Donald Ross Road during an outbreak of red tide in Juno Beach on October 3, 2018. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

UPDATE 5 p.m.: A state team of biologists will investigate a fish kill reported today at MacArthur Beach State Park.

According to a press release:

Parks staff is working to perform clean-up as quickly as possible, while coordinating with FWC to investigate any potential causes. To date, at Governor Scott’s direction, DEP has distributed grant funding of more than $10 million to support efforts in impacted counties to mitigate and combat red tide.

UPDATE 4:45 p.m.: Most Palm Beach County beaches will remain closed Thursday, with the exception of Phil Foster Park, Peanut Island and Ocean Ridge Hammock.

Officials said this afternoon that people are still complaining of scratchy throats and wheezing – symptoms of a red tide that was found in low to moderate quantities in waters from Palm Beach Inlet to Jupiter Inlet.

Also, “limited fish kills on some beaches” have been reported.

To report a fish kill, call the FWC’s hotline at 800-636-0511.

UPDATE: The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said dead fish are being cleaned up off of MacArthur Beach Beach State Park and will be tested for red tide.

The park is closed. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will test for the Karenia brevis toxin to see if that was the cause of death.

Previous story: Palm Beach County is posting specially-made signs warning of red tide at its beaches today, which remain closed as lifeguards continue to report coughing, scratchy throats and watery eyes.

Aquatics director Laurie Schobelock said the new vinyl signs being made by the county’s sign shop will be posted at beach information boards and at beach entrances if there are extra.

She said the county is getting a few calls reporting dead fish, but that she was at Juno Beach this morning and didn’t see dead fish. She did feel the red tide-induced scratch in her throat and said it was a little sore until she returned to her office.

PHOTOS: Red tide hits Palm Beach County 

RELATED: What the red tide samples showed, and other algae questions answered

“This is all a moving target,” Schobelock said about managing the red tide situation. “The decision about closing the beaches tomorrow will be made later in the day.”

The county had expected to open beaches today, but reversed course after NOAA released a forecast that predicted “moderate” levels of red tide along Palm Beach County through at least Friday.

New red tide test results are expected today from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, but it’s unknown if they will include information beyond what was released Monday that showed low to moderate levels of Karenia brevis at 11 sites tested.

“The biggest thing is if anyone is having any sort of respiratory issue they should stay away from the beaches,” Schobelock said. “Exercise caution and be aware this is going on.”

Delray Beach resident Harvey Latidus said he walked his dog this morning near Atlantic Avenue and felt what he likened to “tear gas.”

He was concerned there were no signs explaining what was happening.

“It got me good this morning,” he said. “They have the red flags out so they don’t want you in the water, but there are no signs, there’s nothing. The city could send a flier or give notice to people in regards to this.”

Red tide, which grows in saltwater, is naturally occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. This summer, onshore winds pushed the toxin close to beaches that were fouled by massive fish kills, as well as dead manatees, turtles and dolphins.

How the red tide got to Palm Beach County is still a matter of debate, although the general theory is it got caught in the Florida Current, which runs through the Florida Straits into the Gulf Stream.

Richard Stumpf, a NOAA oceanographer who tracks algae blooms by satellite, said a red tide bloom passed west of the Marquesas Keys, which are west of Key West, in mid-September. Following that, a mild algae bloom formed offshore of the upper Keys and stretched west to the Gulf Stream.

“That moved through the Palm Beach area over the weekend when you had strong easterly winds,” Stumpf said. “The winds would help accumulate cells at the shore concentrating them from a mild to a dense bloom.”

RELATED: Fighting, fingerpointing no way to fix toxic algae issue

Malcolm McFarland, a research associate at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, said the natural currents didn’t look like they were in the right place to pick up the red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It could be a local bloom entirely separate from what’s happening on the west coast,” McFarland said. “And that would be even more interesting.”

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JUST IN: Some county beaches to remain closed because of red tide

UPDATE 5:40 p.m.: Palm Beach County beaches from R.G. Kreusler Park north to the Martin County line will remain closed after lifeguards and staff report continued irritation from red tide.

Previous story:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has released a map detailing the locations where testing occurred over the weekend for red tide.

The map also includes the concentrations of Karenia brevis in the samples.

A second map and forecast from NOAA shows moderate red tide conditions are expected in Palm Beach County through Friday.

Water samples were taken after beachgoers complained of scratchy throats, coughing and skin irritations this past weekend. The 11 samples, taken up to 7 miles offshore, tested positive for very low-to-medium concentrations of red tide and the single-cell algae Karenia brevis that causes it.

RELATED: Red tide Q&A and how it differs from blue-green algae

There have been 57 occurrences of red tide in the Gulf of Mexico since 1953. Eight of those events have made their way to Palm Beach County (with cell counts 100,000 cells/liter or more). All eight of those events originated in the Gulf of Mexico and were carried by currents to the east coast.

Gov. Rick Scott commented for the first time about the red tide on the Atlantic coast this morning, saying the state is ready to “deploy any needed resources.”

“With red tide now observed on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, we aren’t wasting any time combatting this natural phenomenon,” Scott said in a statement. “Over the past 61 years, scientists at FWC have documented red tide in Florida’s Atlantic waters nine times, and now, just as we’ve done on the Gulf Coast, we are absolutely committed to quickly deploying every available resource our Atlantic Coast communities may need to combat and mitigate red tide.”

Palm Beach County’s public beaches will open Wednesday, while individual cities can make their own decisions on whether to fully open, or keep swimming restricted.

PHOTOS: Beaches close across Palm Beach County after people complain of respiratory distress

“Reopening county beaches on Wednesday, Oct. 3rd, provides for a day’s preparation of proper messaging on the beaches,” a Monday press release from the county states. “All Palm Beach County beachgoers are advised to swim near guarded beaches and heed any warnings posted at county or city beaches.”

Boynton Beach and Boca Raton did not restrict access or swimming, while Delray Beach was closed to swimming Monday.

RELATED: Cleaning up Florida’s red tide corpses 

Ben Kerr, the public information officer for Lake Worth, said water samples were taken at Lake Worth Beach on Saturday and Monday, with results pending.

Similar to Palm Beach County, Lake Worth will reopen its beach Wednesday. The Casino and Benny’s on the Beach will remain open, although the top parking lot is closed today.

Red tide samples taken Sept. 30. Courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

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BREAKING: Preliminary results show red tide present in Palm Beach County

 

The Karenia brevis algae, which causes red tide, is present in Palm Beach County’s coastal waters, according to preliminary results from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The tests of water samples taken after several people complained of respiratory issues on Saturday showed low to medium concentrations of red tide. The water samples were taken Sunday.

“We will enhance our monitoring and testing,” said Susan Neel, director of FWC’s community relations office. “Red tides on the east coast are rarer and typically of shorter duration than those on the Gulf coast.”

Beaches from Jupiter to Delray Beach have been closed to swimming since Saturday, with some cities closing the sand portion of the beach also.

“It’s unusual, but it’s not unheard of for it to end up on the east coast,” said Richard Stumpf, a NOAA oceanographer who studies harmful algae blooms and their movement. “The reason it’s rare is you have to have the bloom and an east wind. It’s a combination of things that have to happen.”

Red tides are naturally occurring and have been observed in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1800s.

The bloom can reach the east coast if it gets caught in the Gulf of Mexico’s loop current and travels with the Florida current through the Florida Straits into the Gulf Stream – a north-moving river of warm water that skims the Palm Beach County coastline. Once in the Gulf Stream, waves can force the toxin produced by the Karenia brevis into an aerosol form, that can then be carried by east winds to Palm Beach County beaches.

A test for red tide taken Wednesday at the Juno Beach Pier was negative.

Since 1972 when the transport of red tide from the west coast to the east was first identified, seven other instances have been documented, according to FWC. Those include 1990, 1997, 1999 and 2006.

Stumpf said he’s monitoring satellite images of the state and doesn’t see any clear evidence of red tide on the east coast. High concentrations of red tide can appear brown in the water.

“There’s nothing I can pin down and say, ‘Oh, there it is,’” Stumpf said. “Our best guess is it’s piled along the edge of the Gulf Stream and it’s really hard to see that.”

Some people experience respiratory irritation (coughing, sneezing, tearing and an itchy throat) when the Florida red tide organism is present and winds blow onshore. The Florida Department of Health advises people with severe or chronic respiratory conditions, such as emphysema or asthma, to avoid red tide areas.

According to FWC’s website, a water sample from the Juno Beach Fishing Pier taken Wednesday by the Loggerhead Marine Life Center tested negative for the presence of Karenia brevis. That result was released in a Friday report.

The lack of the algae in the water column last week is consistent with red tide forecasts from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration which said no “respiratory irritation associated with Karenia brevis is expected” on the east coast of Florida.

Red tides on the East coast of Florida are extremely rare. They can even subside and then reoccur. The duration of a bloom in nearshore Florida waters depends on physical and biological conditions that influence its growth and persistence, including sunlight, nutrients and salinity, as well as the speed and direction of wind and water currents.

There have been 57 occurrences of red tide in the Gulf of Mexico since 1953.  Eight of those events have made their way to the east coast in the area of Palm Beach County (with cell counts 100,000 cells/liter or more).  All eight of those events originated in the Gulf of Mexico and were carried by currents to the east coast.

 

Hot September: 5th warmest in West Palm Beach

Visitors soak up sun and cool off at Centennial Square and Fountain Park in West Palm Beach Sunday August 5, 2018. (Meghan McCarthy / Daily News)

South Florida suffered through a simmering September that ranked 5th warmest in records dating back 125 years.

The average temperatures at Palm Beach International Airport was 83.1 degrees, which is more like August than early fall. The average high temperature at the airport was 89.5 degrees.

But it wasn’t just West Palm Beach sweating in September.

More than a dozen cities statewide felt their warmest September on record last month, including Melbourne, Daytona Beach, Tampa and Key West, which averaged a balmy 85.8 degrees.

Part of why South Florida was so hot last month was it remained for weeks in the grip of a high pressure system, which is still influencing the weather with strong easterly winds and mostly clear skies.

Today’s high in West Palm Beach is forecast to reach 90 degrees. If that holds true, it will be the eighth day in a row where the mercury reached 90 degrees or higher.

The normal high for this time of year is 87 degrees, with an overnight low of 74.

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Summer of algae: Despite decades of efforts, near record levels of fertilizer fouled Lake O last year

Hurricane Irma’s torrential rains flooded Lake Okeechobee with more than 450 metric tons of phosphorus in a single month, contributing to a fertilizer dump that nourished this summer’s harmful algae bloom and surpassed the state’s phosphorus goal 10 times over.

Between May 2017 and this past April, 1,046 metric tons of phosphorus soured Lake Okeechobee, carried largely in runoff from farms, dairies, cattle ranches and communities north of Florida’s freshwater center.

About 6 percent of the water and 7 percent of the phosphorus that went into the lake during the same time period came from areas south of Lake O, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

RELATED: Palm Beach County beaches closed after people fall ill from red tide-like irritant 

Scientists predicted an algae bloom was possible after Irma’s September soaking drove lake levels up 3 feet in a month, but the extent of the phosphorus loading wasn’t clear until results were released during a September meeting of the district’s Water Resources Analysis Coalition, or WRAC.

“Last year was a fluke because of the way the rain came with Irma, but it’s a high point in a chronic problem,” said Audubon Florida scientist Paul Gray, who specializes in Lake Okeechobee research. “Clearly we haven’t done near enough to fix it.”

RELATED: White House approves massive reservoir to hold Lake O overflow

The five-year average flow of phosphorus into the lake, including last year, was 598 metric tons. In each of the four years previous, the range of phosphorus was between 415 metric tons and 574 metric tons.

The state goal set in 2001 is 105.

Read the rest of the story and find out more about the decades of failures in trying to fix the nutrient flow in MyPalmBeachPost.com.

 

South Florida heat ties records, but early cool front possible next week

A nearly two-week streak of abnormally warm temperatures is challenging South Florida records and pushing heat indexes to “concerning” levels into the weekend.

Official weather service gauges in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale cooled Wednesday morning to only 81 and 82 degrees, respectively, tying overnight heat records set in both cities in 1998.

The unofficial low Thursday morning in West Palm Beach was 82 degrees, which would break a 1991 record of 81 degrees if it holds true.

CHECK The Palm Beach Post live radar

Blame a stubborn Bermuda High, which has had a hold on the state through much of the month, for the unusual warmth. Fifteen days have seen the mercury rise to 90-degrees or warmer at Palm Beach International Airport, including hitting a whopping 93 degrees on Sept. 19 and 20.

The normal daytime high for late September is 87 or 88 with the normal overnight low typically dropping to 75.

Derrick Weitlich, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne, said the extra daytime heat has been aided by an easterly sea breeze pushing further inland and causing showers and thunderstorms to bypass the coast.

“The storms increase cloud cover and rainfall to really cool things off, but we’ve been drier than normal for most of the month and had higher temperatures,” Weitlich said.

RELATED: South Florida weekly fishing report

An average of 4.6 inches of rain has fallen over coastal Palm Beach County this month, which is more than 2 inches below normal, according to South Florida Water Management District records.

Miami meteorologists warned Thursday of “feels like”, or heat index, temperatures in the triple digits into the weekend. West Palm Beach hit a high of 91 degrees Thursday with a heat index of 105. Although warm, it’s not enough to trigger a heat advisory which is issued when the index is forecast to reach 108 degrees for at least two hours.

“Heat indices are a concern the next few days as temperatures could feel 100 to 107 in some locations in Hendry, Glades, Collier, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties,” meteorologists at the Miami NWS wrote in their forecast.

Through Monday, daytime highs in West Palm Beach are expected to reach near 90 degrees with overnights dipping into the upper 70s.

STORM 2018: Hurricane Central

This weekend, the Bermuda High will move further west with its center over the Peninsula. Its clockwise flow is forecast to whip winds up to 15 mph with higher gusts. By Monday, east winds could increase to 16 mph with higher gusts.

That means higher chances of rough seas and rip currents through the weekend.

On Tuesday, a stronger high pressure system moves across the northern part of the U.S., which could push a “backdoor” cold front “possibly through South Florida” Miami meteorologists said.

Although uncertainty in the forecast remains high, meteorologists said models have been hinting at the front with enough consistency they felt confident putting it in the forecast.

Weitlich said a backdoor front is one that comes from the northeast. He’s skeptical one would make it to South Florida this early in the season.

“In terms of temperatures, we certainly won’t see much of a change,” he said.

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Anglers barred from popular fishing spot after gators get aggressive

Alligators, like this one spotted in The Acreage in 2011, tend to hunt opportunistically, not aggressively, said David Hitzig of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

A popular fishing spot in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge will be temporarily off limits to anglers after alligators accustomed to getting free meals from humans have become increasingly aggressive.

Veronica Kelly, a spokeswoman for the refuge, said several alligators have been removed and euthanized after approaching people in an area where fisherman have been seen feeding them.

One of the gators was more than 12-feet long.

“We’ve had 11 violation notices for feeding and enticing alligators since March,” Kelly said. “We regularly get calls about people feeding them, but usually by the time the officer arrives the people are gone.”

The area, which will be off limits to bank fishing through Nov. 2, stretches about 100 yards north and south of the Lee Road Boat Ramp. The ban includes fishing from the fishing platform, boat dock, and boat ramp areas.

RELATED: Gator victim came from Japan but loved Florida 

This alligator was removed from the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge after it became aggressive. Refuge managers believe people were illegally feeding it. Photo courtesy of Barry Willette/USFWS Volunteer

“When gators get  used to being around humans, it totally changes their behavior and they start coming to people for food,” Kelly said.

In one incident, a fisherman reported an alligator tried to jump in his boat. Another person reported being chased by a gator.

The maximum penalty for feeding alligators could be up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

Kelly said the refuge hopes the gators that frequent the area will get hungry and leave by Nov. 2. The refuge includes 141,000 acres west of Boynton Beach.

RELATED: Hundreds of gators caught in Palm Beach County, this map shows where 

“On national wildlife refuges, wildlife comes first,” a refuge press release says. “Refuges are set aside for the protection of wildlife and their habitat first and foremost.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are an estimated 1.3 million alligators in the state.

A fisherman at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge’s southern corner, far west of Boca Raton in 2017. (The Palm Beach Post/Eliot Kleinberg)

Alligators are under federal protection as a species. It’s a designation that recognizes a need to keep alligators from being excessively hunted, but also makes allowances to kill a gator considered a nuisance or dangerous.

Related: 7-foot gator wanders outside Florida elementary school

Between 1948 and through 2017, there have been 401 alligator attacks in Florida with 24 fatalities. In June, an alligator killed 47-year-old Plantation resident Shizuka Matsuki while she walked her dogs in Davie’s Silver Lakes Rotary Nature Park, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

To report instances of people feeding alligators or other wildlife violations while at the refuge, call 800-307-5789.

 

No tax increase in water district budget, but opposition from unusual source

The leaves of water-lilies (Nymphaea spp.) float ontop of the water and are beneficial to Lake Okeechobee.

The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board will give final consideration to its 2018-2019 budget tonight, which includes no property tax increases for the eighth consecutive year.

The tentative budget of $813.9 million reduces the tax rate for 15 of its 16 counties by about 5.3 percent to $29 per $100,000 of taxable property value. That reduction, called the “rollback rate”, ensures that even though property values have increased, residents will pay the same, or slightly less, than the previous year.

“By eliminating nonessential costs and limiting administrative overhead, this governing board proudly continues its tradition of not raising taxes while achieving flood protection, water supply and environmental restoration,” said Governing Board Chairman Federico Fernandez in a July press release after the board tentatively approved the tax rate in an 8 to 1 vote.

The lone dissenter in the July vote, and subsequent budget discussions, was Jim Moran, who represents Palm Beach County on the board.

Moran, who was appointed to the board by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, is a self-described “conservative tea party guy,” and advocate of smaller government.

But he said he can’t support an 8th year of reduced tax rates.

“We need more money, we’re broke” Moran said in July. “When I first came on the board we had $400 to $500 million in what I call unrestricted reserves, but we’ve spent that down for restoration projects and other projects to what is now below $60 million and we are still only collecting the same amount we were eight to nine years ago.”

South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member James Moran. Moran was appointed to the board in 2011 by Gov. Rick Scott.

Moran said keeping the tax rate the same this year would raise an additional $18 to $20 million that could be used for repairs and maintenance to the district’s flood control system, employee raises and bonuses, invasive plant control and upgrades to the district’s fleet of vehicles, including construction equipment.

“It’s one thing to cut back to the bone and still be able to run efficiently, but it’s another thing to have the budget so lean you are not adequately doing flood control or rewarding employees who deserve better bonuses and raises,” Moran said Monday.

The proposed budget does include an additional $3 million for employee compensation, which is a $1.7 million increase, and $3 million for operations and maintenance, which is used to for repairs to levees, canals and water control structures.

District staff said in July that even if money was no object for operations and maintenance, they couldn’t physically complete more projects or do more repairs and that the $3 million allocation was decided on after discussions with Chief Engineer John Mitnik.

Moran has been the lone voice on the board with concerns regarding the upkeep of district flood control systems, repeatedly pointing to a  year-long review by the inspector general that found the annual allotment set aside for repairs should be about $88.5 million, while the actual budget averages only $53 million.

District officials agree the repair budget needs to be bolstered, but not by as much as what is indicated in the report, which they say is based on a facilities survey conducted three years ago that is outdated.

The district is in charge of about 760 culverts, weirs, spillways, locks and pump stations. It also maintains 2,100 miles of canals and 2,000 miles of levees in the 16-county region it oversees from Orlando to the Florida Keys.

Moran resigned as chairman of the district’s Water Resources Analysis Coalition in May after he had asked that the report be added to the coalition’s agenda, but was denied.

“Where I’m not seeing the great concern arise is with our staff,” Fernandez said in July about Moran’s concerns. “The messaging we’ve been receiving is one of staying the course because we’ve been very effective in sticking to our knitting and in not asking for more than what we need.”

The district has been in cost-cutting mode since 2011, which included losing hundreds of employees to layoff and buyouts. In 2009, the district had 1,828 full time employees. The 2018-2019 budget includes 1,475 employees – a nearly 20 percent reduction in the past decade.

Moran wasn’t the only person encouraging the board to keep the millage rate the same.

He was joined by Nyla Pipes, a member of the district’s Water Resources Analysis Coalition and executive director of One Florida Foundation, and Cara Capp, Everglades restoration program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. Both spoke at the July meeting.

Pipes mentioned this summer’s algae plague on Lake Okeechobee and in both northern estuaries.

“If you are looking at a rollback rate when all of us are advocating for projects we know we need, we are sending a very mixed message and I am confident Floridians want to get there on all of these projects and they want to get there faster,” Pipes said. “Literally, at this moment, we have declarations of emergency in this state, and it’s time to recognize the economy is getting better and Floridians will stand behind you if you continue doing the good work you’re doing.”

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