Indian River County, FL Commissioner Bob Solari Responds to Allegations About the Effectiveness of Spoonbill Marsh

AT THE INDIAN RIVER COUNTY COMMISSIONER’S MEETING ON NOVEMBER 15, 2016 COMMISSIONER ROBERT SOLARI RELEASED THIS INTER-OFFICE MEMORANDUM REGARDING THE SPOONBILL MARSH CONSPIRACY.

spoonbill-sign

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS

 INTER-OFFICE MEMORANDUM

TO:            Members of the Board of County Commissioners

DATE:        November 15, 2016

SUBJECT:   The Spoonbill Conspiracy

FROM:       Commissioner Bob Solari

A county resident, Barry Shapiro, has made allegations about the effectiveness of Indian River County’s Spoonbill Marsh. Among other things Mr. Shapiro alleges that Spoonbill Marsh is “not only an environmental tragedy but also a potentially criminal cover-up of the truth by our county officials.” (Shapiro letter “To whom it may concern” dated August 20, 2016.) Shapiro asserts that the Spoonbill Marsh is “not properly functioning” (August 20, letter) and is damaging the Indian River Lagoon.

I am addressing this issue, as opposed to Mr. Burke, our Utility Director, or Mr. Reingold, the County Attorney, because, I believe, as will be made clear, the Spoonbill Conspiracy was not driven by any substantial problems at the Spoonbill Marsh but was simply a nasty and sophomoric attempt to alter the outcome of the last elections, specifically, my County Commission primary race against Jay Kramer. As Shapiro writes:

“County Commission chairman Bob Solari has aggressively defended the marsh system and is currently basing his re-election campaign on the benefits to the county these marshes provide.” (August 18 email and August 20 letter.)

Perhaps the best place to begin this story is with a short description of the Spoonbill Marsh.

As many residents know, County drinking water is supplied from wells, which draw water from the Floridian Aquifer. The majority of County water is processed at the North County Reverse Osmosis Treatment plant. A byproduct of the reverse osmosis treatment process is demineralization concentrate, also known as brine. Basically water is drawn from the aquifer, goes through the reverse osmosis process, undesirable minerals and salts are removed, the potable water is sent to our water customers and the brine concentrate is disposed of.

Roughly 20% of what is drawn from the aquifer ends up as brine concentrate. For years this concentrate was simply put into a canal, which led to the Indian River Lagoon through the North Relief Canal. In 2002, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) asked the County to come up with an alternative discharge method for the brine concentrate.

The most obvious solution, one chosen by the COVB for its brine, was to construct a deep injection well to dispose of the brine by pumping it back into the aquifer. The County chose a much more innovative method of disposal, the Spoonbill Marsh, which would create a wetland from an old mosquito impoundment site adjacent to an abandoned citrus grove, both of which were being overrun by invasive species such as pepper trees.

When FDEP discussed the project with the County, FDEP was clear that any permit would require that the project clearly demonstrate a “Net Environmental Positive Benefit.” This net benefit would require not only that the treated water entering the Lagoon be cleaner than the existing water in the Lagoon, but also demonstrate a net increase in wildlife populations including birds and fish and other marine life.

The Spoonbill Marsh is located on a 67-acre parcel of land owned by the Grand Harbor Development from which the County received a perpetual easement. It is bordered by the Lagoon to the east, the Grand Harbor Development and North relief Canal to the South, undeveloped Grand Harbor land to the west and an undeveloped parcel of conservation land owned by the Indian River Land Trust to the north. The Land Trust property and the Spoonbill Marsh are separated by a FDOT ditch, which drains water from U.S.1.

The Spoonbill Marsh process, while innovative, is fairly simple. The brine concentrate from the Water Treatment Plant is piped to mixing areas located on the western portion of the Spoonbill Marsh. Polluted Lagoon water is pumped to the same location, mixed with the Brine and then moves through a series of ponds, runnels (a narrow channel in the ground for liquid to flow through), restored wetlands more runnels and natural wetlands and eventually, after removing significant amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, returns to the Lagoon.

The Spoonbill Marsh has been operating for just over six years and, given its purpose, can be considered a great success. It is clear to anyone who has visited the site that there has been a marked increase in both birds and marine life and regular testing documents the removal of significant amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. In the twelve months corresponding to the County’s 2015-2016 Fiscal Year, over 13,000 pounds of nitrogen and more than 2,300 pounds of phosphorus were removed from nitrogen and phosphorus laden waters, which, but for the Spoonbill Marsh, would now be polluting the Indian River Lagoon.

I am proud of the work that the County has done at Spoonbill Marsh. It is a cutting edge environmental project that everyone in the County can be proud of. Is it a perfect project? No. Is it polluting the Lagoon? No. Is it a step to restoring the Lagoon to better health? Yes, it most certainly is.

On with our story.

On the evening of Friday, August 19, I received a somewhat frantic phone call from a supporter telling me about a disturbing story about the Spoonbill Marsh that was running in Marc Schumann’s blog, Inside Vero.

The Inside Vero blog begins with a picture of one of my campaign mailers, which touts the benefits of the Spoonbill Marsh. The first paragraph states: “County Commissioner Bob Solari, who is running for re-election, has made the effectiveness of Spoonbill Marsh an issue in his campaign…” Schumann then wrongly calls the Spoonbill Marsh a “wastewater treatment facility”.

The bulk of the blog consists of an email sent on August 18, 2016 from Barry Shapiro.  The email is, quite frankly, bizarre. It talks about a meeting that Shapiro is “asked not to tell anyone about.” The meeting was attended by people whose names he cannot disclose. It talks about a report written by someone whose name cannot be revealed. The report evidently says that the Spoonbill Marsh is bad, but the report is not attached to the email.

Interestingly though, Shapiro does state: “If you want to read the report I will make it available to you.” At the County we were interested in reading the report. Mr. Burke emailed Shapiro asking for a copy on August 23. Shapiro replied the same day writing that it would be available “in the next couple of days.” Having heard nothing from Shapiro Mr. Burke emailed back on August 30. Shapiro replied September 1, replying in part: “I have spoken with the key authors of the report and at this time they have asked me not to send the report directly to you.”

Shapiro goes to a meeting he cannot talk about attended by attendees he cannot disclose who are upset about a report he will not share with us written by an anonymous author and vetted by leading scientists and environmentalists who are not disclosed.

What do we know about Shapiro?

  1. Shapiro states: “Clearly I have a political ax to grind.”
  2. In Kramer’s race against me for the County Commission, Shapiro gave Kramer a $950 in-kind donation.
  3. On August 23, Shapiro had a letter to the editor published on TCPalm in support of Kramer for County Commission.
  4. And in his own words, Shapiro is not an “…environmentalist or an expert in any way when it comes to issues of our ecology.”
  5. But Shapiro does have a “media background,” which he used to try to get Kramer elected to the County Commission.

While Shapiro would not send the County a copy or the report, the County did obtain one and Mr. Burke notified the Florida Department of Environmental Protection about Shapiro’s allegations.

Given the nature of the report and its context, released two days before early voting, written and vetted by undisclosed people and championed by a supporter of my opponent, this should have ended things and would have, had 32963 not published a story about it.

While the story itself is written at the same level as Shapiro’s email, it will serve to address some of Shapiro’s allegations about Spoonbill Marsh.

The article is from the October 6, 2016 issue of 32963. The 32963 article on the Spoonbill Marsh runs under the headline “Environmentalists call Spoonbill Marsh a ‘toxic waste dump’” The article then lists allegations including:

  1. “Marsh water that is overflowing onto environmentally sensitive land to the north that is owned by the Indian River Land Trust.”
  2. Supposed disappearing water, that was not accounted for.
  3. An outflow meant to facilitate the flow of water back to the Lagoon was not functioning.
  4. Shortly after the facility was constructed the FDEP cited the County for permit infractions for “failure to construct the disposal system at the Spoonbill Marsh site in accordance with the approved design.”
  5. The Spoonbill Marsh “is detrimental to fish and wildlife.”

Please note, despite the purposefully inflammatory headline, “Environmentalists call Spoonbill Marsh a ‘toxic waste dump,’” none of the allegations have anything to do with pollution. Yes, the article notes that Barry Shapiro says that the Spoonbill Marsh is “a liquid toxic waste dump,”but Mr. Shapiro also clearly states that he is not an “environmentalist or an expert in any way when it comes to the important issues of our ecology.”  (September 20, 2016 letter) Shapiro also states about the report in question, “It’s Greek to me but maybe you can decipher it.”

So, and please think about this, the only basis for the nasty headline, is a statement from someone who claims he is not an environmentalist or “an expert in any way when it comes to the important issues of our ecology,” who in fact says of the report, upon which he bases his malicious politically motivated comment: “It is Greek to me but maybe you can decipher it.”

“Its Greek to me.” Now, for Mark Schumann and his coterie of useful idiots (and let me give a special shout-out to Bea Gardner), “It’s Greek to me” “is an idiom in English, expressing that something is not understandable.” (Wikipedia)

Again, the nasty headline and tendentious article in 32963 is based on the comments of an admitted non-expert who clearly states that he does not understand the report upon which his statements are based.

As for the mentioned allegations:

  1. “Marsh water that is overflowing onto environmentally sensitive land to the north that is owned by the Indian River Land Trust.” Yes, this may be true and our County staff has been working on this issue with FDOT, Grand Harbor and the Indian River Land Trust since February of 2016.
  2. Supposed disappearing water. Perhaps, but it may just be evapotranspiration and seepage. In any case there is no indication of harm to anyone or anything.
  3. A blocked outflow meant to facilitate the flow of water back to the Lagoon. Yes, there is, but our permit with FDEP allows us to use the outfall to the south.
  4. Shortly after the facility was constructed the FDEP cited the County for permit infractions for “failure to construct the disposal system at the Spoonbill Marsh site in accordance with the approved design.” This is true, but before the facility started operating the “the County suggested, and the State approved, four major additions: a debris screen at the intake point; floating plant maps; oyster seed structures; and sea grass zones”.
  5. The Spoonbill Marsh “is detrimental to fish and wildlife.” This is ludicrous. The mystery report does not even mention fish and wildlife. A pre-construction wildlife survey (not including water dependent species such as fish) identified 17 species on site. A 2013 wildlife survey identified 53 species on-site during the winter survey and 58 species on site during the summer survey.

While the author of the 32963 article does mention a number of unsubstantiated rumors, she does not bother to mention that the promulgator of the report was a $950 Jay Kramer contributor who just a couple weeks prior had a letter of support for Kramer’s commission race published in the local paper and that he admittedly did not understand the report that she probably had not read. This is information that was readily available and might have been useful for a reader who wanted to make a fair appraisal of the issues discussed. Is there any wonder that people do not trust the press these days?

If the 32963 writer had actually decided to investigate the allegations instead of simply regurgitate them, she might have discovered and then been able to question the apparent author of the report. Mr. Burke did. He examined the electronic file that Shapiro had sent to a member of the press, which was forwarded to the County.

To confirm Mr. Burke’s discovery, the file was sent to our Computer Services Manager, Basil D. Dancy.

I will quote from Mr. Dancy’s report:

“I have been asked to authenticate the identity of the author of a report/presentation referenced by Barry Shapiro in a recent news article questioning the efficacy of a county facility (Spoonbill Marsh). While we have not received a copy of this report directly from Mr. Shapiro (see e-mail dated September 1, 2016), a copy was sent to Mr. Vincent Burke, Director of Utility Services, by Mr. Thomas Hardy on August 26, 2016 (copy attached).

Upon investigation of the file submitted by Mr. Hardy, it is apparent from the properties of the file that it started out as a PowerPoint presentation authored by Mr. Carter Taylor. It was then converted to an Acrobat PDF file on August 25, 2016. These pieces of information are set by the program used when the file is created.

The created date references when the file was converted to the PDF format not the original presentation date. We would need to get a copy of the original PowerPoint file to see when it was created but from viewing the PDF file there are dates in the presentation which imply the presentation was created on August 5, 2016. Due to the nature of the PDF file format the information listed cannot be changed after the file is created so no user could alter the data referenced and displayed in the screen shots attached without these changes being readily apparent.

Who is Carter Taylor? The only Carter Taylor I know is a director of the Indian River Neighborhood Association, known as the IRNA. Coincidently, the IRNA endorsed and contributed to Kramer’s campaign. It is also one of Inside Vero’s biggest advertisers.

But could the same Carter Taylor actually be the one described as Shapiro as “The author of the report, the whistle-blower, (who) can not come forward…”

The Carter Taylor I know has had a number of conversations with me. The last significant conversation was one he had in my office about the County’s proposed short-term rental ordinance. That day he indicated that he was perfectly happy with the direction the Commission was taking. The Carter Taylor I know could have no realistic fears about coming to any County Commissioner with any information about any County activity.

Yet the IRNA member Carter Taylor who was part of the IRNA review committee, which chose to endorse Jay Kramer over me is the only Carter Taylor I know of in the County. As sad as it is to believe that he was the author of the benighted, scurrilous report, until another Carter Taylor is discovered, I will believe that he and the author of the report are one and the same.

I now draw near, but am not quite at the conclusion.

A number of things are hopefully clear.

The Shapiro report was nothing more than a scurrilous last minute Hail Mary to influence a local county commission race.

The Spoonbill Marsh is not perfect, but it is a great cutting edge project that is, literally, as we sit here, helping to return the Lagoon to a healthier state.

I am proud of this organization for having the guts and foresight to champion the Spoonbill Marsh and I am proud of all the County employees, consultants and contractors who built and operate the facility.

I would like to thank Thomas Hardy, the author and publisher of Vero Communique for his well-written and researched articles about the Spoonbill Marsh. For anyone interested in the truth I recommend they visit the Vero Communique website to search for and read his Spoonbill Marsh articles.

I would also like to thank the Press Journal. The Press Journal received the same information as 32963, but they did not respond like Pavlov’s mad dog and immediately regurgitate the Shapiro missive. They did ask me about it during a candidate interview and this was certainly a reasonable and professional approach.

I have come to expect little from the progressive 32963. It is sad that 32963 cannot simultaneously hold onto its progressive ideology and maintain professional standards.

The saddest creature in this whole affair may be the pathetic blogger Mark Schumann, the progressive useful idiot of choice. He does respond like Pavlov’s mad dog to anything negative about the County, regardless of how ridiculous it is.

The best description of Mark Schumann that I have come across is from a book review that I read in the October 1, 2016 Wall Street Journal (page c7):

…as one of his fellow radicals wrote: “Everyone who contradicted him he treated with abject contempt; every argument that he did not like he answered with biting scorn at the unfathomable ignorance that had prompted it, or with opprobrious aspersions upon the motives of him who advanced it.”

The book review is about the progressive Karl Marx, but it artfully describes the progressive blogger Mark Schumann.

Marc Schumann calls for civility but is the most uncivil of people.

Schumann calls for truth but is the most disingenuous of bloggers.

Schumann trumpets for tolerance but is the most intolerant of the intolerant strain of modern progressive.

The worst thing about Shapiro’s pathetic attempt to try to alter the election with his Spoonbill Conspiracy is that it wastes the time and energy of a lot of good people, time taken away from doing the type of work they like to do, the work of making Indian River County a better place for the people who live and work here.

The good news is that this election season is now over and the Barry Shapiro’s will disappear, at least for a while.

The better news is that there are few Barry Shapiro’s and Mark Schumann’s in Indian River County. The vast majority of residents are good people doing good things for themselves, their family and their community each day. It is this vast majority of good decent people who have made this a great county, the county that I am happy to live in and proud to serve.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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