UPDATED: A bill that lays the groundwork for continued Everglades restoration received strong support in the State Affairs Committee on Thursday.
(Update from 3/7/13, 3:50 p.m., includes the last paragraph and video.)
By a 17-0 vote both Democrats and Republicans passed SAC 13-01 out of committee. The bill is a critical step in the Obama administrations efforts to construct 6,500 acres of stormwater treatment areas and 110,000-acre-feet of additional water storage.
Led by lobbyists for billionaire Paul Tudor Jones Everglades Foundation, environmentalists have objected to the bill, saying it places too large a burden on South Florida taxpayers and fails to address water quality.
"We have to remember, America's Everglades is the water supply for 7.5 million Floridians," said Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg.
Representatives, nevertheless, agreed with bill sponsor Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, and Philip Parsons, attorney representing the sugar farmers, that farmers "are invested in Everglades restoration and have a continuing obligation to improve BMPs (Best Management Practices)."
Said Rep. Ben Albritton, R-Bartow, "It seems to me everybody who lives in the Everglades district pays ad valorem taxes. But sugar farmers are the only ones who have to pay more than that. And it's a lot more."
Albritton was referring to the $200 million Everglades farmers have paid in an "agricultural privilege" tax and another $200 million into implementing on-farm BMPs.
Committee members also said any problem with failing BMP numbers is likely to be a problem more with the program's overseers, the South Florida Water Management District, than with the noncompliant farmers.
Gov. Rick Scott has endorsed SB 768, a Senate bill cementing Everglades restoration, for which environmentalists have applauded him. After the House vote, in a press gathering with the governor, Capitol reporters asked him his opinion of the House bill. See the video below.
Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews or at (850) 727-0859.