9 Investigates: Governor, DEP respond to questions surrounding dolphin, manatee deaths lawsuit



BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. - On Thursday, Eyewitness News first reported the Florida Department of Health had received a 60-day notice of litigation from central Florida attorneys on behalf of a Cocoa Beach businessman and the endangered species in the Indian River Lagoon.  On, Friday Channel 9's Christopher Heath asked Gov. Rick Scott and the head of the Department of Environmental Protection what they plan to do about the notice and its assertion that unchecked growth, specifically septic tanks, is killing marine life.

Since January 2013, more than 80 dolphins and 120 manatees have died in the Indian River Lagoon.  According to the notice of litigation, a contributing factor in the deaths is the high nitrogen levels in the lagoon, levels that can be traced back to the almost 300,000 septic tanks that surround the estuary.

In a statement Thursday to Eyewitness news, Sheri Hutchinson of the Florida Department of Health said, “The Florida Department of Health has referred this matter to the Department’s legal office for analysis and handling.  The Department has been an active partner in discussions regarding the Indian River Lagoon and has taken all necessary steps to protect the public health.”

Less than 24 hours after the notice was filed, Scott was in central Florida to announce $27 million in loans to communities for storm water and wastewater treatment. 

“Everything that happens around the state when it comes to water quality is something that concerns me," said Scott when asked about the Indian River Lagoon and the pending lawsuit.

Scott said that ultimately it is up to the Legislature to develop policy to deal with the lagoon and find the funding to carry it out.  The governor also said it is a system that is being evaluated by the Department of Environmental protection.

"Obviously we are very focused on the Indian River Lagoon," said Secretary Herschel Vinyard of the Department of Environmental Protection.  "It's a mistake however to focus only on septic tanks, it's a fool’s errand."

DEP said several factors are at play in the lagoon, including runoff and lawn chemicals. 

While the notice of litigation does not name DEP or Scott, it does call upon the state under the Endangered Species Act to stop permitting for septic tanks along the ailing Indian River Lagoon and deal with those that are currently leaking into the lagoon.

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