Hillsborough River issues sparked citizen action

Sylvia Espinola receiving Hillsborough River Board Recognition

April 2020 – It was a normal day in the early 1980s for Tampa resident Sylvia Espinola as she enjoyed her view of the Lower Hillsborough River. Small pieces of trash flowing down the river had become so commonplace that residents hardly took notice, but today was different. As Mrs. Espinola watched the water flow by with its occasional beer can or plastic bag, suddenly she observed an entire mattress float by. It was at that moment she knew someone had to do something about the poor state of the river. Mrs. Espinola rallied a group of her friends, and after making contact and lobbying the Florida Legislature’s Tampa Bay members, a bill was passed in 1986 creating the Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board and Technical Advisory Council.

The plan was to not let three local governments that the river runs through in Hillsborough County work and plan development in isolation and neglect the health of the river. Mrs. Espinola knew that only by working together could the river be returned to its healthy state. The legislation creating the River Board prescribes that it be composed of one elected official from each of the three local governments. The River Board is mandated to monitor and address issues associated with the river and development in the river corridor. The legislation mandated that their first task was to create a river master plan. That plan would later be adopted into the comprehensive plans of the three local governments, and still stands today. The legislation includes a Technical Advisory Council (TAC) made up of members of key environmental agency staff and one lay citizen from each of the three jurisdictions. The TAC advises the River Board on issues affecting the river.

Mrs. Espinola selflessly volunteered her time for many years to the River Board’s TAC. She has since retired, but many others continue to take the reigns of this important organization to ensure the progress made in maintaining the health and wellbeing of the river continues for current and future generations.

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