Brevard hopes $900K spawns lagoon eco-tourism projects

Any Brevard County city, school or nonprofit agency that wants to help lure more tourists here by improving the Indian River Lagoon’s ailing habitat has about a month to apply for portions of a $900,000 grant to do so.

The money became available Oct. 1, the start of the county’s 2018-19 fiscal year, through the Tourist Development Council.

But there’s something missing. The nine-member volunteer council in August first advertised there would be $1 million available for lagoon eco-tourism projects.

“We need to use $100,000 of that money for communications and public relations” about the lagoon efforts, Bonnie King, the interim director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism, said last week.

Those efforts would be in partnership with the county Natural Resources Management Department, which already is conducting several pollution-reduction projects through the Save Our Indian River Lagoon Plan.

While the existing lagoon plan uses proceeds from a special half-cent sales tax, the tourism-related improvements will get money from a different source, the 5 percent “bed tax” the county adds onto hotel and other short-term rental stays. “So none of this is coming from property taxes,” King stressed.

The County Commission on Aug. 14 amended its tourist-development ordinance by including lagoon- and estuary-related projects. Before state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) got a bill passed allowing counties to do that, the county couldn’t use tourist taxes on the lagoon.

King said the $1 million a year comes from the tourism agency’s beach-improvement program – as long as it doesn’t need the money for hurricane-repair efforts, which would take priority.

So far, she added, some prospective applicants have approached her office for information. One group, for instance, has suggested seeding the lagoon with larval clams to restore the once-thriving stock. But nobody yet has filed a formal application.

Prospective applicants were invited to ask questions Monday in a meeting similar to a pre-bid conference.

Grant rules show eligible projects should address litter control; restoring and protecting shorelines; restoring habitat for fishing and wildlife viewing; or improving access to the lagoon. To make the council’s list, projects will need at least a 4-1 vote. And any grant of more than $50,000 would need a 3-1 match.

Mike McGarry, manager of the county’s Beaches, Boating and Waterways Program, said projects along Brevard County’s entire section of the five-county lagoon would be eligible for the grant. But he declined to identify any particular area more in need than others.

“It’s hard to say if there’s any one area because all lagoon (eco-tourism) efforts would be eligible,” he said. “And they all add up to help the lagoon.”

Prospective applicants can file online at http://lagoonlifegrants.application.sgizmo.com/s3/. The application deadline is Nov. 7.   

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