Boost for pollution-fixing Everglades protection plan

 

Kimberly Mitchell

The Everglades Trust is hailing as a major victory the Florida House passage Tuesday of  Senate President Joe Negron’s plan for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to filter and feed water to the parched River of Grass.

The House passed the plan 99-19, following in the Senate’s footsteps.

“With the passage of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan’s reservoir, which was approved and authorized by Congress in 2000, the legislature advances to the Governor the long-awaited and urgently-needed Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir legislation for his signature,” the nonprofit, led by former West Palm Beach Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell, said in a statement released this afternoon. “Today marks the most significant victory for Everglades restoration in more than two decades.”

“This is a very big day,” Mitchell said.

Keep Florida Fishing, advocates for the American Sportfishing Association, also hailed passage of the plan, saying it would provide money to speed creation of the reservoir to reduce fertilizer-contaminated releases to coastal estuaries.

The vote also drew praise from U.S. Sugar and Florida Sugarcane Farmers, who strongly opposed earlier versions that would have required more farmland be taken out of production to build the reservoir.

“Senate Bill 10 has been greatly improved, takes essentially no privately owned farmland and even removes the threat of eminent domain,” Judy Sanchez, Senior Director for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs for U.S. Sugar, said.

“The House deserves credit for quickly passing legislation that can provide some protection for our water resources while also protecting our farming communities and vital food production.”

She added: “U.S. Sugar always supports solutions that are based on science, which, in this case shows the source of the water significantly impacting the coastal estuaries flows from north of Lake Okeechobee, not the south.  Obviously, you’re going to have to build some solutions north of the lake to finally fix the discharge problem.  We look forward to working with legislators in the future to get that done.”

Florida Sugarcane Farmers also issued a statement praising the lawmakers for not taking private farmland out of production.

“While not perfect, Senate Bill 10 will ensure the planned reservoir is eventually completed on existing state-owned land,” the farmers group said. “Having turned the page on buying additional land south of Lake Okeechobee, the Florida Legislature in a future session can focus on plans that will address the excess water and nutrients originating north of the lake, which science shows can reduce the frequency of discharges by more than 60 percent.”

Not happy with the process was another landowners group, Everglades Agricultural Area Farmers, Inc.

“Farm families like mine were very concerned when government leaders, out of the blue, announced a plan to take our private land without even speaking to us,” member Keith Wedgworth said.

“Fortunately, they ignored an ill-intentioned, flawed plan championed by the anti-farmer Everglades Foundation and rewrote Senate Bill 10 to protect our private property,” he said. “We urge the Legislature to now focus on plans that will actually tackle water problems at their source, which is the only way to reduce discharges, clean pollution and avoid future algae blooms in the estuaries.”