Springs measure tacked onto permitting bill

Ichetuckneee Springs State Park

Florida’s home builders and developers got more than they expected Tuesday when a bill that would extend the life of permits for developments was amended to include springs protection.

SB 2026 was amended by the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation to include the bulk of SB 274, the “Florida Springs Protection Act.” Developers have opposed that bill, which was passed by the committee in March, because it could require advanced septic tanks and advanced sewage treatment in counties with major springs.

“It was a surprise to see it (springs protection) added to this particular bill when it’s already in another format and has already been heard before this very same committee,” Edie Ousley, communications director for the Florida Home Builders Association, said Tuesday.

Sen. Lee Constantine, the committee chairman and sponsor of the springs bill, said the move will force the House to take the springs bill seriously. There is no House companion bill to SB 274 but there are House companion bills to SB 2026, which extend already-approved permits for three years.

“The bills they have (in the House) are really not strong environmental bills,” said Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs. “So if you are going to get them (House members) to work with you, you have to put it some place they will pay attention to.”

Constantine has said the Legislature must act now to preserve its springs or risk losing an important part of its natural heritage.

Springs across the state have become choked with weeds and algae as nitrogen levels in groundwater have increased, scientists say. Sources of nitrogen include treated wastewater, septic tanks, fertilizer and livestock operations.

The Association of Florida Community Developers and the Florida Home Builders Association have raised concerns about the cost of the springs bill requirements to homeowners. A Senate staff analysis of SB 274 says advanced septic systems cost between $10,000 and $15,000 per household.

Meanwhile, developers and their supporters are backing bills, such as SB 2026, to reform the permitting process and extend permits until the housing and development markets improve.

Now that the springs measure has been tacked onto SB 2026, the Florida Home Builders Association will be giving the bill a second look, Ousley said.

“We would have preferred to see SB 274 (Florida Springs Protection Act) move on its own merits,” she said.

Some environmentalists now are OK with SB 2026, the regulatory reform bill, with springs protection included.

“It’s a developers’ bill,” said Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida. “We thought putting the springs bill on it was a nice little compromise between the things the developers wanted and what we wanted for the springs.”

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne and sponsor of SB 2026, was not immediately available for comment.

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com