Rob Bradley: 'The lakes have left us' - Florida Politics

Rob Bradley: ‘The lakes have left us’

Lake Geneva in Keystone Heights isn’t what it used to be.

And neither is Keystone Heights.

Decades back, Lake Geneva was full — kids swam in the water that used to be underneath the raised pavilion. Out on the lake, water skiing contests and other events supported local businesses and brought tourists from miles around to this corner of Old Florida.

The tourists have no reason to come anymore. And an old, beloved Italian restaurant is now a Shell Station, as local Sen. Rob Bradley said Friday.

As a child, Bradley swam in one of those Keystone Lakes: Lake Brooklyn, where the Senator had some of his best childhood memories.

Over the years, however, the lake gets “lower and lower.”

And as Bradley noted, it has been hard to get attention to the issue.

“There aren’t as many people here as Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville. This is a place where not a lot of attention has been given,” Bradley said.

“I’m tired of it.”

“Every time I came out here, it broke my heart,” Bradley said. “The lakes have left us.”

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The Senator is well-positioned to push ambitious environmental projects: this Legislative Session, the Fleming Island Republican chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, and sits as the vice-chair on the Environmental Preservation and Conservation committee.

Bradley, who has noticed the gradual draining of the Keystone Lakes since his youth, tops his priority list this Legislative Session with Senate Bill 234, which is intended to change the appropriations formula of 2014’s Water and Land Constitutional Amendment.

The bill, currently working its way through committees in the Florida Senate (and stalled out in the Florida House, without even a committee hearing yet), has a simple objective: to ensure that the St. Johns River Water Management District gets an annual earmark of $35 million in “Amendment 1” dollars, minus money for debt service, for projects related to the St. Johns, its tributaries, and the Keystone Lake region.

In front of Lake Geneva in Keystone Heights, Bradley held a press conference Friday, flanked by Rep. Travis Cummings and Rep. Bobby Payne, the House sponsor of the legislation.

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On Friday, the representatives discussed the “Black Creek Water Resource Development Plan”: a five-year, $41 million plan to capture excess water from Clay County’s flood-prone Black Creek and pipe it into the Keystone Lakes, via a discharge at Camp Blanding, where a spreader field would disperse the water to Alligator Creek.

If the project can get funding this year, design can start, and it could be complete by 2023.

SB 234, Bradley said, is intended for projects like this — to restore water to these lakes, which would have a direct impact on Keystone Heights, but which “helps all of Florida” by providing an “aquifer recharge area” for the Suwannee and St. Johns River Basin.

This position is supported by the St. Johns River Water Management District, the executive director of which used the “aquifer recharge area” phrasing in her remarks.

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As a child, Bradley swam in one of those Keystone Lakes: Lake Brooklyn, where the Senator had some of his best childhood memories.

Over the years, however, the lake gets “lower and lower.”

And as Bradley noted, it has been hard to get attention to the issue.

“There aren’t as many people here as Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville. This is a place where not a lot of attention has been given,” Bradley said.

“I’m tired of it.”

“Every time I came out here, it broke my heart,” Bradley said. “The lakes have left us.”

____

Bradley, Cummings, and Payne function as a team: a tight-knit delegation focused on rural issues.

Cummings noted correctly that this project won’t be a “one-year issue.”

Though Keystone Heights is in Payne’s district, Cummings had to be at the event.

“What’s good for Clay County is good for me,” Cummings said.

Payne noted that a question among people in this area is “where’s the lake now? 50 feet past the dock, 75 feet past the dock?”

And the local politicians echoed these comments, describing beach bonfires where the lake used to be.

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The case for the appropriation is obvious to anyone who sees these dried up lakes and remembers what once was.

But for Rep. Payne, the bill has proven to be a heavy lift.

Payne is “working” the committees, he told us. And working with his Clay colleague.

“I’ve been working with Rep. Cummings to [communicate with chairs], and we think we’ll get there,” Payne, a Putnam County Republican, said. “It’s better to go with two people than one when you’re trying to get these things done.”

Bradley echoed that confidence in the Cummings/Payne team.

“Rep. Cummings has serious stroke in the House and this is a priority for him. I’m confident in his ability, working with Rep. Payne, to help us be successful in this effort,” Bradley said.

On the Senate side, the bill is moving through committees.

Appropriations will agenda the Senate version “soon,” Bradley said, and Chairman Jack Latvala and Bradley have “talked extensively about the bill and this issue, and he has indicated support for what we’re trying to accomplish.”

While Senate and House priorities diverge, Bradley said, “each side ends up getting something that is important to them.”

“And this is something that is important to me and to the Senate, and very important to Reps. Cummings and Payne,” Bradley added.

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