A week after Gov. Rick Scott unveiled a 2016 budget that many claim severely shortchanges Florida Everglades restoration by limiting land acquisition, the Florida House of Representatives announced the creation of the “Legacy Florida” bill.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, establishes a dedicated funding source to restore the Florida Everglades.
If it passes, "Legacy Florida" will direct funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) to fund Everglades projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the long-term plan, the final Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection in December 2014, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program.
“As a seventh generation Floridian, I have made the care of our natural resources a legislative priority. I want to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty of well-managed land and water,” said Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, in a statement issued by the House speaker's office. “The Everglades is at the heart of our natural resources, and I believe consistent funding will help preserve and protect this national treasure.”
Said Harrell, “Cleaning up the St. Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, the Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades has been a priority for me since I was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives. The future of our way of life is linked directly to the health of our rivers ...‘Legacy Florida’ will provide the resources to make it possible for our children and grandchildren to enjoy these natural treasures.”
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has thrown his weight behind the bill, issuing this statement: “The Everglades is a nationally recognized, environmental treasure that is a source of pride for Floridians, provides a home to many unique species of wildlife and supplies water to more than 8 million people in Florida.
"We have the vision and science-based strategies to restore this precious ecosystem, but only with adequate funding can we achieve our goals," said Putnam. "The leadership of the Florida House of Representatives, led by Speaker Steve Crisafulli, has demonstrated a strong commitment to Florida’s natural resources with the ‘Legacy Florida’ proposal ..."
As part of Scott's proposed $79.3 billion budget introduced last week, Scott is asking for $62.8 million for the land-acquisition program Florida Forever, $188 million for work to improve the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee and another $50 million to help maintain the state's natural springs.
Though the governor calls it a "historic investment" in the environment, environmentalists contend that land purchases are required now for Everglades restoration. Overall funding should be higher in light of the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 and controversial spending decisions made by the Legislature this year, they say. Those decisions, which included using money to cover agency operations, are the focus of two lawsuits.
Harrell sought and received the support of major Florida stakeholders in preparing to introduce “Legacy Florida.” Here is what some of them had to say in the speaker's press statement:
Eric Eikenberg, CEO, The Everglades Foundation
"The Everglades Foundation appreciates the Speaker's support of legislation that will dedicate funding to Everglades restoration, and especially the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, to help move projects to completion. The Everglades is an economic engine for this state and a sound investment. Restoration projects create jobs and protect the water supply for one in three Floridians. We look forward to working with the Florida Legislature and the Governor's Office to ensure a dedicated revenue source for a restored Everglades becomes a reality."
Eric Draper, Executive Director, Audubon Florida
“Dedicated funding will ensure steady progress on the projects needed to provide clean water to the Everglades and estuaries. We applaud this legislation and its commitment of state funds to ecosystem restoration. Floridians should welcome this as a major step forward toward implementing plans to meet water quality goals and deliver freshwater flows.”
Robert Thomas, Chairman, Florida Land Council
"The Florida Land Council applauds the establishment of a dedicated funding source for Everglades restoration. Long term funding for the implementation of the Everglades water quality plan, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program is needed to ensure that there is ample clean water available for a healthy ecosystem while meeting the other water related needs of the region.”
Temperince Morgan, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy
“The Nature Conservancy applauds the Legislature for creating a steady and predictable funding stream for projects that will improve water quality and quantity for the Everglades and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. We believe this significant commitment of Amendment 1 funds assures completion of projects that help to restore essential habitats for Florida’s imperiled species.”
Tom Feeney, President and CEO, Associated Industries of Florida
"Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida H20 Coalition applaud Speaker Steve Crisafulli for supporting dedicated funding for the Everglades, which will help tackle Florida's major water problems in a comprehensive way. By supporting legislation, which would appropriate a portion of Amendment 1 funds annually for Everglades projects, we will be able to see positive impacts through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. We look forward to working with Florida lawmakers and the Governor to see this funding plan come to fruition during the 2016 Legislative Session."
Harrell will file the bill in the coming weeks. Here is a summary of the draft legislation:
- From funds distributed into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) pursuant to s. 201.15, F.S., (Amendment 1 33% funds), after paying required debt service, a minimum of the lesser of 25 percent or $200 million must be appropriated annually for Everglades projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan as set forth in s. 373.470, the Long-Term Plan as defined in s. 373.4592(2), F.S., the final Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection in December 2014, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program as set forth in s. 373.4595, F.S.
- From these dedicated Everglades funds, $32 million must be distributed each fiscal year through the 2023-2024 fiscal year to the South Florida Water Management District for the Long-Term Plan as defined in s. 373.4592(2), F.S.
- From the dedicated Everglades funds remaining after deducting the $32 million, a minimum of the lesser of 76.5 percent or $100 million must be appropriated for 10 years (through 2025-26) for the planning, design, engineering and construction of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan as set forth in s. 373.470, F.S.
- The legislation requires the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management district to give preference to those Everglades restoration projects that reduce discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee estuaries in a timely manner.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith