Locals call on Bill Galvano to support removing ‘Florida’s shadow’ on Groundhog Day

A group of local activists is hoping Bradenton lawmaker Bill Galvano will see “the shadow hanging over Florida’s environment” on Groundhog Day and support a statewide ban on fracking.

The new Florida Senate president has already announced he would allow the vote to come before lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session but has yet to signal his position on the matter. In a recent executive order, Gov. Ron DeSantis called for a ban on the practice, as well.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a process that uses forceful amounts of water, chemicals and sand to break into rock formations and provide access to underground oil and natural gas reserves. Opponents, including DeSantis, say it’s not worth the potential environmental harm.

“After facing one of the worst algae crises to date, Floridians are calling urgently for our leaders to step up and protect our water by supporting a fracking ban and comprehensive legislation to combat nutrient pollution,” said Brooke Errett, a Florida organizer with Food and Water Watch. “There has been a shadow on our environment for a while now, but 2019 is the year that our leaders, especially Senate President Galvano, must lead the way and champion clean water.”

Brooke Errett, a Florida organizer with Food & Water Watch, speaks to a group of about 30 people gathered at the Bradenton Riverwalk to ask for Florida Senate President Bill Galvano’s support to ban fracking statewide. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

On the Bradenton Riverwalk on Saturday morning, Errett gathered a group of nearly 30 like-minded citizens to call on the Republican senator to support the ban. The gathering was also a chance to show appreciation for what she called a step in the right direction when it comes to taking care of Florida water.

“It’s a breath of fresh air after eight years of an environmental foe, but at the same time we have to continue holding (DeSantis) accountable,” Errett said. “We’re hopeful thanks to all the things he’s done so far, and we urge him to follow through with a complete ban on fracking and nutrient pollution.”

Errett invited a handful of prominent activists to speak during the demonstration, including Rusty Chinnis, founder of Sarasota Bay Watch, and Andy Mele, founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper. Participants held signs that read “Ban fracking now,” “Fracking is blasphemy” and “Get the frack out of Florida.”

“Ever since I came to Florida in the 1980’s, I’ve seen fishing decline,” said Chinnis, who is a registered captain. “Red tide is natural but the frequency we’re seeing is not. Fracking has the potential to make it happen even more.

“This is pivotal to everyone, whether you’re a carpenter driving nails in Lakewood Ranch or a plumber, a restaurant owner — everybody is very much affected by this.”

Diana Harvey stood among the crowd with a group of friends. She came to the rally on her birthday because she, “wanted to be part of the solution.”

“We live on a coral shelf,” Harvey said. “We can’t keep damaging Florida and have it be OK.”

Like many of the other environmentalists at the Riverwalk on Saturday, she wasn’t expecting such a conservationist approach from DeSantis.

“The only thing I can say is that I’m happily surprised,” Harvey said. “He didn’t talk much about his platform on the campaign trail, but I’m pleasantly surprised with his direction so far.”

On Friday, DeSantis unveiled his proposal for a $91.3 billion state budget for the legislature to consider. It features $625 million for “Everglades restoration and protection of Florida’s valuable water resources,” according to a press release.

“How we spend reflects how we serve, and the people of Florida should be served by leaders who spend with fiscal restraint while addressing the pressing issues facing our state,” DeSantis said in a statement.

The Florida legislative session begins March 5.