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Dead fish following a previous red tide.
Dead fish following a previous red tide.

Miami Beach Commissioners Retreat From Plan to Sue Gov. Rick Scott Over Red Tide

For months, Rick Scott has faced scorching criticism over Florida’s red tide crisis, which has heaped dead fish along the state’s shorelines and shuttered its beaches because people literally can’t breathe. Thanks to his years of environmental deregulation and budget slashing, the term-limited governor has been branded “Red Tide Rick” and might actually lose his U.S. Senate bid.

Miami Beach commissioners seemed unanimous last week in wanting to do more to hold him accountable. Commissioners Michael Góngora and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez suggested the city sue the governor for allowing toxic sludge to fill state waterways.

They said they hoped other cities might join. “I personally believe that the governor’s responsible in part for this issue existing,” Góngora said during an October 17 commission meeting. “We have not had a governor focused on protecting our waterways, and we’ve seen the result of that.”

At that meeting, City Attorney Raul Aguila said he was open to the idea. But in a letter to commissioners this week, Aguila reported that after researching the lawsuit, he’s recommending the city hold off. Miami Beach has never shied from legal action — it’s currently heading to the state Supreme Court to defend its law requiring a higher minimum wage — but a lawsuit against Scott for red tide is likely to be dismissed because the governor is about to leave office, his office said. 

Góngora said he's changed his mind based on the attorney's recommendation. He tells New Times he's disappointed but doesn’t want to spend taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit that probably won’t succeed. “It’s an important claim not only on merits, but to send a message from South Florida that we don’t appreciate that the governor doesn’t pay attention to water quality,” he says.

It's unclear whether other commissioners will change their stands. One thing that makes pursuing the effort unlikely: While other coastal cities have reported millions in lost revenue due to poisoned shorelines, Miami Beach has never been forced to even close a beach.

Instead, Góngora says the Beach will likely call out the governor in a strongly worded resolution.

“Our state has extraordinary natural gifts and obviously its shoreline is its most prominent natural gift,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said. “And if we as a barrier island don’t speak out on behalf of all those shorelines and all of the residents… then no one may.”

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