Sugar and water do not mix in the Everglades.A new battle breaks out over a bill to change funds

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The bill, which changed state policy towards the restoration of the Everglades and made the Senate’s priority contrary to the Governor’s, despite hours of passionate protests from supporters of clean water Wednesday morning. Instead, it proceeded through the suspension of a single committee.

Dozens of fishing guides withdrew the charter of the day, one captain estimated that about $ 40,000 was lost in daily business, and the Senate Expenditure Commission believed the bill would damage water quality and their lives. Said that. farmers‘Interest in restoration.

“If you vote in favor of this bill, you’ll be taking years of work to improve the state with one hand,” said Lee Richardson, a restaurant owner in Charlotte County. “Is it all smoke and mirrors? If you vote for this, I’ll get my answer … you come here and continue to empower our state tourists I care more about the sugar industry than I do. “

SB 2508 sponsors change the way state agencies advocate federal Everglades policy, influence how state dollars are released for restoration projects, reject all criticisms, and misunderstand fishing guides Claimed to have been.

“Clarify the record. Clean the smoke and set the mirror aside,” said Senator Ben Albritton, a Republican and citrus farmer in Bartow. “70% of the budget State government?? It’s a good government. “

The Senate Expenditure Committee has approved Bill 16-4. The main effect of this measure is to change its position to the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency most closely working with the federal government on the restoration of the Everglades, and more if agricultural users want to receive it. Is to force the advocacy of water. State funding For a restoration project.

The water level of Lake Okeechobee is controlled by the federal government through the Army Engineers, and in the past, federal regulations forced government agencies to send large-scale explosions of contaminated water from east to west, toxic and economic. It caused a catastrophic surge of blue algae. Green algae.

It changed in 2017 when legislators passed Senate Bill 10 in response to an outbreak of toxic algae. The plan was to build a deep reservoir on state-owned land south of the Everglades agricultural area to hold contaminated emissions from Lake Okeechobee.

Over the past three years, the corps has been working on a new set of rules that will reduce the amount of water needed to send east and west by more than a third and triple the amount of water sent south for recharging. The thirsty Everglades restores health to Florida Bay, where many fishing guides rely.

Senate Chair, Governor on the other side

The water management district publicly supports the direction of the rules and states that it has not yet been finalized and its priority is “balance” among all users. These efforts are backed by Governor Ron DeSantis, who appointed the Board and made the restoration of the Everglades a priority for his administration.The governor created the blue-green algae task force to fight toxic flowers and restored an unprecedented amount of state funding. Water quality Effort.

However, the plan was criticized by farmers in the Everglades farming area and Senator Wilton Simpson, a Republican of Triruby who owns an egg farm and is running for agricultural commission.

A bill sponsored by Albritton with the bipartisan support of Senate leaders officially tells the Senate and House of Representatives that the Army Corps will not cut water in order to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding. You need to prove that you are recommending a level or “bad” to the farmer.

The main farmers in the area in question are sugar cane and sugar cane producers, some of whom sued the federal government on this same issue last summer, claiming that the new reservoir would deprive them of the water needed for irrigation.

Florida’s largest industrial farm is one of the largest contributors to the legislative political campaigns of both parties. They donated more than $ 5 million to lawmakers, their political committees, and political parties for the 2022 election cycle.

The biggest contributors were US Sugar, which has donated $ 2.2 million so far, and Florida Crystals, which has donated $ 2.1 million.

Everglades supporters say

Eric Eikenberg, head of the Everglades Foundation, told the committee that the Senate or its staff had not attended any of the 30 public meetings in the last three years, and the bill was the first to be weighted by the Senate. When I did, it was created just a few months ago. The process ends.

“If this bill does not convince the Army Corps of Engineers to return the security blanket for LOSOM’s sugar industry, [Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual] If you do so, you will not be able to receive the money to restore the Everglades, “Eikenberg told the Commission.

SFWMD chair Chauncey Goss told the senator that his agency had not discussed the bill in advance and had “concerns”, but did not elaborate when pushed by the senator.

Another Everglades concern in the Albriton bill focuses on a huge controversial reservoir designed to hold tens of thousands of gallons of contaminated Lake Okeechobee water, causing algae-causing emissions. Further reduce. DeSantis called the reservoirs of the Everglades agricultural area a “top priority” and recently chose to fight the federal government for not promptly funding some of the projects.

Dozens of business owners and fishing guides visit Tallahassee, urging Senators to reject the new restrictions and warning that their business will be harmed if water flows change and algae outbreaks return. did. Sanibel hotel owners said the 2018 water crisis cost more than the COVID-19 turmoil, but only this time there is no federal funding or insurance policy to fill the gap. was.

Procedural movements limit discussion

One exception to the potential new requirement if a district requires state cash is funding already created for EAAs and other priority recovery projects specified in SB10.

The Senate bill has been passed, but the House has no corresponding bill and will be part of budget negotiations.

However, Senate leaders have opted to promote changes as a “conformity bill” to the Senate’s budget, rather than a policy bill that requires extended discussion and approval, and lawmakers amend it. You can’t, just approve or reject the vote.

The decision should be a warning sign to Senator, said Senator Jeff Brandes of R-St. Petersburg voted against the bill. “It’s almost immeasurable to proceed with the bill without talking to one group that has a major impact,” he said. water Administrative district and governor offices.

The bill also includes provisions to switch more responsibilities and powers to the Florida Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, which it manages if Simpson is elected. It also provides additional funding to farmers.

Proponents of the bill included business and agricultural interests, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Native Growers and Landscape Architects Association. One of the rare voices supported during the public comment marathon was Adam Bassford, Vice President of Government Affairs for Related Industries in Florida. sugar industry.

“We believe that this unprecedented level of funding should be accountable to Florida citizens and businesses,” he said. “That accountability is very important for companies that are allowed legitimate users.”

More important details

Two other important provisions of the bill that received less attention than the Everglades part include changes to environmental permits and land protection.

The bill could allow the Environmental Protection Agency to raise funds in exchange for promoting environmental and wetland permits, including utilities whose projects include “public objectives,” and these expedited agreements are reached. We guarantee that it will last for at least 3 years.

“If DEP has the right resources and staff to take over the wetland process, this is absolutely not necessary,” said Evesample, head of the Everglades friends. “This seems like an absolutely wrong way to handle that backlog.”

On the land purchaser side, Albritton’s bill empowers the Department of Agriculture to fully purchase land or development rights for environmental protection purposes. This is what DEP normally handles. The Specification These assets, protected by state dollars, can also be sold for profit in the form of ecological credits.

“This is a double inundation, and there may be less land protected due to wildlife habitat,” said Florida Conservation Voter Lindsay Cross.

The Biden administration has announced more than $ 1 billion to restore the Everglades

2022 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Quote: Sugar and water do not mix in the Everglades. Bill to change funds obtained on February 10, 2022 from (February 10, 2022) ) Outbreak of a new battle

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Sugar and water do not mix in the Everglades.A new battle breaks out over a bill to change funds

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