Welcome back to the Impact Zone, Surfrider’s series dedicated to all things legislative session in Florida. This week we had our eyes on the House and Senate committees focused on hurricane recovery and resiliency and clean water legislation filed to protect beachgoers across the state from getting sick at the beach.

Recovering from a Supercharged Atlantic Hurricane Season

The activists and advocates in Surfrider’s Florida + Puerto Rico Network know the devastation and lingering impacts of the 2022 hurricane season all too well. Whether it was the catastrophic flooding and wind from Category 4 Hurricane Ian that inundated communities from coast to coast, or the subsequent battering and erosion from Hurricane Nicole on the Atlantic side of the peninsula, there is no shortage of work to be done and resiliency solutions to be implemented by the legislature.

This week, representatives from local governments impacted by the 2022 storm season spoke about the harrowing losses suffered by their respective coastal communities and made recommendations about actions these committees can take in the following weeks to assist in recovery, mitigation, and adaptation. Unfortunately, for communities that suffered from debilitating erosion, cutting red tape and easing permitting for building more hardened structures, like seawalls, was a prominent topic of discussion.

Surfrider’s position on seawalls is clear: “Under no circumstances does the Surfrider Foundation support the installation of stabilization or sand retention structures along the coastline.” (Surfrider Beach Preservation Policy) That is why we were incredibly heartened by the House meeting and comments from Representative Jim Mooney (R-120): “I’m not a big fan of sea walls, I think they exasperate the loss of sand.” Same, Representative Mooney, same.

While the exchange later demonstrated an interest in a more holistic look at the full array of solutions to flood mitigation and adaptation, it is high time that the legislature consider exploring more efficient and coordinated review for permitting natural infrastructure in coastal adaptation projects. If we want to talk about cutting red tape, it should be for the solutions provided by Florida’s incredible natural environment and ecology. From mangroves to wetlands to coral reefs to dune vegetation, we truly have an arsenal of nature-based solutions at our fingertips, if only we could employ them with full force necessary to protect Florida’s coasts for years to come.

Priority Clean Water Legislation Filed

Last year, Surfrider’s Florida network partnered with Calusa Waterkeeper to support the Safe Waterways Act in an effort to protect public health, safety, and welfare of all beachgoers who recreate in Florida’s waterways. While the legislation died in committee in 2022, regional staff and partners have been working diligently for months to craft new legislation to make sure we all know when it’s safe to swim at the beach. Senator Lori Berman (D-26) and Representative Peggy Gossett-Seidman (R-91) filed bipartisan legislation this week in the House and Senate, SB172 and HB177, respectively. Surfrider is elated at the news of filing and looks forward to supporting this legislation in full force through our 2023 campaign. Now that the bill has been filed in both chambers, it has a number of committee stops to go for consideration by members before it can be voted on by the entire legislature. We look forward to engaging our network through the legislative process every step of the way!