Senators Plan Multiyear Springs Restoration

By: Jim Turner News Service of Florida | Posted: March 25, 2014 3:55 AM
Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee

A group of senators will move ahead with a plan to flood the state's natural springs with money.

But as the Legislature delves this week into the details of the budget, and as a separate large water issue draws attention, the senators say that money for their springs-restoration proposal might take years to get flowing.

"We look at this as a three-year process," said Sen. Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican who is slated to become Senate president after the November elections.

Gardiner and Rep. Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who is slated to become House speaker in November, have declared water policy issues as a priority of the 2015 and 2016 sessions.

The springs proposal (SB 1576), which got its first committee approval Thursday, seeks $378.8 million. Meanwhile, Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, is pushing for about $160 million this year for a variety of projects to reduce pollution runoff from Lake Okeechobee and clean the Florida Everglades.

The House budget matches some of Negron's proposal, which was spurred by outcries in his Treasure Coast district about the harmful impacts of the lake runoffs last summer.

Asked about the springs last week before the budget numbers were out, Negron said lawmakers were still early in the budgeting process.

"I'd expect there will be some funding for springs in the Senate budget," he added.

The House plan, part of a proposed $75.3 billion budget which will be reviewed Wednesday, offers $132.5 million for Everglades and northern Everglades projects, and $50 million for the springs -- $5 million less than Gov. Rick Scott has requested.

The Senate's budget proposal, $74.9 billion, gets a public airing Thursday.

House Speaker Will Weatherford has said his chamber's water approach this year will be to focus on tangible work over new policy, which would favor Negron's Everglades proposals over the Senate's springs effort. That effort continues to be crafted by Sens. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs; Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Alan Hays, R-Umatilla; Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby; and Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee.

Provisions of Negron's plan include $40 million to speed construction of the state's portion of a C-44 reservoir and stormwater treatment area for the Indian River Lagoon-South Restoration Project, and $32 million for projects tied to ensuring that all surface water discharges into the Everglades Protection Area meet water quality standards.

Both projects are in the House budget.

Negron also is seeking $30 million a year as part of a three-year funding plan for a Scott-backed proposal to bridge a portion of the Tamiami Trail in an effort to redirect water south through the Everglades. Funding for the bridge is in the Department of Transportation's work program.

The Senate springs plan seeks to control the amounts of fertilizers allowed into waterways, redirect waste water and replace septic systems at no charge to homeowners.

Gardiner called the unanimous vote Thursday by the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee the "first step" in a multiyear effort that has seen resistance from business groups such as Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Home Builders Associations, and wastewater utility operators.

"You are not going to study us to death on this one," Gardiner said. "And you are not going to run out the clock."

The springs programs -- directed at protecting 33 first-magnitude springs and five others that are in districts covered by senators backing the bill -- are proposed to be funded through a massive shift of state documentary-stamp tax revenues, which are fees already paid when real estate is sold.

Dean said the Senate proposal continues to be adjusted, while Simmons said the state's economy will be damaged if the springs are allowed to continue to deteriorate.

"The future of our lifestyle is in our hands," Simmons said.


Tags: News, Politics

Comments (3)

7:40AM MAR 25TH 2014
"Gardiner called the unanimous vote Thursday by the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee the "first step" in a multiyear effort that has seen resistance from business groups such as Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Home Builders Associations, and wastewater utility operators."

What part of restoring/protecting our waters are they resisting? The part where new regulations may have to be drafted and enforced because previously a lack of regulations or enforcement has led to our waters needing hundreds of million of dollars to clean up or restore?

That we taxpayers have to pay all that money to clean up the waters that they are in good part responsible for polluting?

Or more likely is it the part where they'll have to live up to the Tea Party and Conservative principles and stop socializing part of the cost of doing business by passing the cost of preventing pollution to their customers instead of passing the cost of cleaning it up to taxpayers?

In any case, they should make it clear what they're resisting. I'd hate to see a campaign started where whenever we go to the beach or the river to swim or fish and we see signs posted advising us not to that we publicly thank the Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Home Builders Associations, and the wastewater utility operators.

Worse yet, if there's no visible improvement to our waters by the next election, I'd hate to see it become a head hunting campaign against those in office who failed to do what's right and necessary because they were swayed by those three associations.
8:44AM MAR 25TH 2014
LDouglas, you are exactly correct. Removing over 2 billion dollars from the Water Management Districts and gutting their professional staff is the real message these Republican legislators and Governor Scott have sent. Plus the excreable Senator Patronis's continuing efforts to make sure developers and agribusiness have the absolute control of Florida's water and other natural resources.
9:42AM MAR 25TH 2014
Add Adam Putnam to the list with Senator Patronis

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