Senators Plan Multiyear Springs Restoration
Around the State
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.