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Nancy Smith

Rick Scott Deserves a Chance to Restart Everglades Restoration

October 7, 2011 - 6:00pm

Hasn't the Florida Everglades had about all it can stand of an egocentric governor looking to build a legacy on the back of the state's greatest natural treasure?

I'm talking here about former Gov. Charlie Crist, whose self-aggrandising legacy quest set back Everglades restoration as much as a decade.

How? By abandoning many projects within the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, giving up on Acceler8, and stopping the plan to restore the northern Everglades.

Crist, darling of Florida environmentalists, was going to assure his legacy by buying out South Florida's subtropical watershed system -- 187,000 acres of it, anyway, the lock, stock and barrel holdings of U.S. Sugar Corp., for $1.7 billion.

In 2008, the Chicago Tribune, in a story about the U.S. Sugar deal, quoted Crist as telling a friend, "I could become a great national environmental hero when this is done."

That never happened, of course. The money dried up like an August creekbed. Crist didn't become an environmental hero. And he didn't save the Everglades. What he did was dismantle and delay a bipartisan plan for restoration that was actually working.

I was reminded of Crist's lust for a legacy during an Everglades Foundation teleconference Friday afternoon. Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, gave the press his spin on Gov. Rick Scott's new restoration plan -- and in so doing, dangled the legacy carrot in Scott's face.

"We are frankly very optimistic about the direction things are now moving," Fordham told the press. "... This represents a significant change for the governor. ... I'm sure he can see the possibilities for a real legacy in Everglades restoration."

I sure hope not.

More legacy building is not what the been-there-done-that Everglades needs.

And it seems doubtful Scott is looking to thump his chest over some imagined Everglades success at this point. He's trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat, trying to avert litigation, make good things happen with no money, find water for residents and agriculture, keep progress on restoration coming.

What this governor doesn't want the state to do is buy any more land. He wants to downsize some construction projects and rely more on storing water on public and private lands. Some of his ideas, incidentally, bear a strong resemblance to the ones Crist trashed in 2008.

To do it economically, Scott is asking for more time -- six more years, until 2022 instead of the virtually impossible 2016.

That was the basis of the plan he presented in Washington Thursday, when he and state Department of Environmental Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. and South Florida Water Management District Director Melissa Meeker met with President Barack Obama's environmental team. Will it work? It's too early to tell. But he built a bridge with the federal government. Stakeholders are looking for common ground.

Scott didn't ask to have this mess thrust upon him. Nor does he deserve the usual gaggle of environmental naysayers -- same ones who cheered Crist's lalaland-buy plan -- showing up at the doorstep of the White House to take potshots at him.

I'd like to see him get the time he asks, dreams of legacy aside, to implement a plan that can get Everglades restoration back on track in these sour economic times.

This is an opinion column: Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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