County eco-tourism efforts may include clam-seeding project

Later this month, county officials will set funding priorities for eco-tourism projects aimed at putting heads on beds, and one of them could be an effort to restore once-plentiful clams to Brevard County’s stretch of the Indian River Lagoon after recent decades of scarcity.

“Yes, we have been approached with a clam-seeding project,” Tom Bartosek, the visitor-information manager with the Space Coast Tourism Office, said last week. “This would be affiliated with the University of Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.”

Bartosek declined to identify who was seeking the grant for this project, saying they’d rather not go public this early.

And there are no grants available quite yet anyway. This would be part of a new $1 million-a-year program, using tourist taxes to improve the lagoon’s environment and boost tourism.

Starting after Oct. 1, in fiscal year 2019-20, the money would come from the 5 percent “bed tax” the county adds onto hotel and other short-term rental stays. County commissioners on Aug. 14 approved the concept, amending the county’s tourist-development ordinance to include lagoon- and estuary-related projects.

County tourism officials expect to have $1 million a year left from their beach-improvement program after paying for beach projects. The lagoon-tourism money would come from that $1 million.

But beach work is still the top priority, Beach Improvement Committee Chairwoman Laurilee Thompson said.

If the county needs the $1 million for beach-tourism work, she said, that’s where it will go instead of the lagoon.

“I don’t anticipate this ever happening, but it could be we need that million in a certain year,” Thompson said. “We put that clause in to protect ourselves.”

She referred to an agreement the county has with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If the Army has to pay to restore part of the county’s beachfront after a hurricane, she said, the county must provide $50 million as a match.

Bartosek said residents are often confused between the new lagoon-tourism effort and the existing Save Our Indian River Lagoon Plan. That plan is based on a half-cent lagoon-improvement sales tax. Its projects, such as muck removal, are aimed at removing or diverting nitrogen and phosphorus from the lagoon.

Nitrogen and phosphorous nourish growths of algae that block sunlight from seagrasses and choke off oxygen from fish and other marine creatures.

The new program, however, is intended to improve the lagoon habitat, not remove excess nutrients. Some possible projects would be restoring lagoon shorelines, improving recreation areas, supporting sport fishing and wildlife viewing, and educating the public.

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