Joe Negron Archives - Page 5 of 30 - Florida Politics

Everglades landowners ‘not willing sellers’ for Joe Negron’s Lake O reservoir

A group of landowners in the Everglades Agricultural Area are telling the state officials that selling land south of lake Okeechobee do nothing to fix problems they believe are caused north of the lake.

Senate President Joe Negron is pushing a Senate proposal seeks to create a $2.4-billion, 60,000-acre reservoir for Everglades water storage.

If there aren’t enough willing sellers, SB 10 says then 153,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land can be purchased under an option entered in 2010.

In a letter signed by 14 EAA landowners — including U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals and others — the landowners say just that: they are “not willing sellers of their property to the government.”

Each one of the names on the letter own more than 2,500 acres apiece: Robert Buker Jr. of both U.S. Sugar and SBG Farms; Robert Underbrink of Big B Sugar; James Shine Jr. of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, Raymond “Rick” Roth Jr. of Roth Farms; Alfonso and J. Pepe Fanjul of Florida Crystals Corp.; Alex Tiedkte of Eastgate Farms; John Hundley of Hundley Farms; Justin Soble of Star Ranch Enterprises and Star Farms; Alonso Azqueta of Trucane Sugar; private landowners Frances and Homer Hand; and Dennis Wedgworth of Wedgworth Farms.

“Water reservoirs south of Lake Okeechobee simply cannot store enough water to stop the discharges from lake Okeechobee when our region is inundated from harry rains,” they write. “Buying more land does not fix the problem.”

Additional publicly owned land, the landowners point out, would not have prevented the algae outbreak in Martin County to coastal estuaries.

No local, state or federal agency that seriously studied South Florida’s water issues have determined any land purchased in the EAA would “solve the region’s water challenges.”

Farmers in the EAA have been working for more than two decades to help restore the Everglades, the letter says and in that time, they have seen over 120,000 acres of farmland south of Lake O purchased by the state.

“Plans to buy land with little to no benefit to environmental restoration only serve as a distraction,” the letter concludes. “By staying focused on the science, we can ensure reaching the goal we started more than two decades ago can become a reality.”

The Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation is scheduled to hear SB 10 at a meeting 2-4 p.m. Tuesday in Room 412 of the Knott Building.

 

February poised to be busy month for fundraising for lawmakers seeking re-election

February will be a busy month for state lawmakers hoping to raise a few bucks for their next campaign before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Several candidates will be holding campaign fundraisers in Tallahassee during back-to-back-to-back committee weeks this month.

House Majority, the campaign arm of the Florida GOP, will host fundraisers for nine House Republicans, all of which are running for re-election, in the next few weeks.

On Feb. 15, there is a fundraiser for Reps. Heather FitzenhagenMaryLynn MagarKathleen Peters, and Holly Raschein. The event is scheduled to kick off at 5 p.m. in the Library Room at The Governor’s Club, 202. S. Adams Street.

Five days later on Feb. 20, the House Majority is hosting a fundraiser for Rep. Paul Renner and Rep. Cyndi Stevenson in the Library Room of the Governor’s Club.

Both events are hosted by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Rep. Jose Oliva, and Rep. Chris Sprowls.

On Feb. 21, a fundraising reception is scheduled for 5 p.m. at The Beer Industry of Florida, 110 S. Monroe Street, for Raschein and Reps. Travis Cummings, Frank White, and Jayer Williamson. That event is hosted by Corcoran, Olivia, Sprowls, Rep. Matt Caldwell and the Beer Industry of Florida.

House members won’t be the only ones using their time in Tallahassee to raise some dough. Sen. Dana Young is scheduled to hold a fundraiser for her re-election campaign on Feb. 13.

That fundraiser is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Florida Finance Strategies, 111-B East College Avenue. The reception is hosted by Senate President Joe Negron, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Sen. Rob Bradley, Sen. Anitere Flores, Sen. Bill Galvano, Sen. Jack Latvala, and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson.

Land purchase south of Lake O remains top priority for Joe Negron

Securing funding to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee remains a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron.

But Negron could face a tough road ahead. Gov. Rick Scott did not include money for a proposed Everglades reservoir in his 2017-18 budget, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran has dismissed the idea of bonding to pay for Negron’s project.

The Stuart Republican appears unfazed, saying it is his obligation to convince people the project is appropriate.

“I’m going to use the time I’m here to say enough is enough. We’ve been talking about southern storage for 20 years,” he said during the annual legislative planning session hosted by the Associated Press in Tallahassee on Tuesday. “It’s not a new idea. It’s not a radical idea. The time for talking is over. The time for action is now.”

In August, Negron announced he would push for funding to add 120 billion gallons of new water storage south of Lake Okeechobee during the 2017 legislative session. The estimated the cost of adding the reservoirs on 60,000 acres of land would cost about $2.4 billion.

At the time, Negron proposed bonding using $100 million a year from Amendment 1 dollars over 20 years to finance the project. And last week, the Senate took the first step in making good on that proposal.

Sen. Rob Bradley on Thursday filed legislation that gives the South Florida Water Management District until Dec. 18 to buy farm land for a water-storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The funding for the purchase would come from bonding $100 million of Amendment 1 dollars.

During a news conference later that day, Corcoran said he did not support a plan to finance the project. When asked about bonding, the Land O’Lakes Republican said the “House is not prepared to bond at all.”

Funding for the project was notably missing from Scott’s nearly $83.5 billion budget.

The proposed $60 million for the “Indian River Lagoon Caloosahatchee Cleanup Initiative,” which is meant to be a long-term solution for improving water in the area. The initiative would include $40 million in new funding for a 50-50 state matching grant program to help residents impacted by algae blooms move to sewer systems and $20 million in new funding for muck dredging and other capital projects to improve water quality and reduce sources of pollution.

His budget also includes $225 million for Everglades restoration projects; $20 million for the C-51 reservoir, which will provide more than 24 billion gallons of water storage and a water supply source for South Florida; and $4 million for targeted land acquisition.

“We’re doing projects to make the system better,” said Negron. “I appreciate the governor’s incredible track record on environmental issues.”

Still no word on makeup of constitution revision panel

With about a week before the start of the 30-day period in which it’s supposed to have its first meeting, the membership of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission is still unknown.

Representatives for Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran Monday said they still have not officially closed their application periods.

“The President is currently accepting applications,” said Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta, who provided the latest list of 81 names already in.

Because of continued interest, Corcoran also is still taking applications, spokesman Fred Piccolo said, after initially extending his deadline to last Friday.

Each man, however, only has nine picks allotted under the state constitution, which allows for a panel to “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.”

But the first meeting of the commission, mandated to form every 20 years, must occur within the 30 days prior to the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session. It kicks off March 7.

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson.

The Governor’s Office has posted its applicants online, a who’s who of current and former lawmakers, prominent attorneys, former state officials and others.

“The application is still open,” spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said. “Members can be appointed any time within 30 days of session convening.”

Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as Attorney General, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga gets three picks. Court spokesman Craig Waters Monday had no news on Labarga’s picks.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Joe Negron resigns from Gunster law firm

Senate President Joe Negron has resigned from the Gunster law firm, four days after Gov. Rick Scott suggested ethics reforms affecting lawyer-legislators.

Negron’s resignation was announced Monday by H. William ‘Bill’ Perry, Gunster’s managing shareholder.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, had been “of counsel” with the firm, usually referring to an attorney who works on a case-to-case basis for a firm, not as an associate or partner.

“Joe has been a great colleague and a valuable member of our litigation team,” Perry said in a statement. “We have accepted Joe’s resignation with both regret and the knowledge he will continue to dedicate his time and talents to the people of Florida as the leader of the Florida Senate.”

Last week, Scott had proposed a series of additional ethics measures to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has focused on heightening ethical standards and government transparency this year.

One provision would ban lawmakers from working for companies, including law firms, that lobby the Legislature. Gunster has a “Government Affairs Law & Lobbying” practice in Tallahassee.

And Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, is of counsel in the Tampa office of Broad and Cassel, practicing commercial litigation. That firm too has a government relations practice, including members who lobby in Tallahassee.

Negron’s webpage on the Gunster website, still active as of late Monday morning, showed that he practiced “business litigation” and “corporate law” for the firm, including “the defense of commercial law claims involving millions of dollars at stake.”

His “experience includes claims involving contract law, real estate and construction matters (including construction lien litigation), and insurance coverage,” the site said. “Of particular note, Joe defends litigation claims involving nautical and maritime law matters. He has also represented both for-profit and non-profit corporate directors and officers sued for breach of fiduciary duty.”

In a separate statement Monday, Negron said the “notion of a citizen legislature – people from all walks of life, business, and industry combining their experience and perspectives to form a government of, by, and for the people – has been a guiding principle of our country since its inception.”

“Florida’s part-time legislature, where elected officials, bound by term limits, live and work in the communities they serve, produces results for the people of this state that are far better than we could hope to see from full-time career politicians and bureaucrats,” he said. “Throughout my legislative service, I have carefully scrutinized my legal and legislative work to ensure I fully uphold the highest ethical standards.

“For the first time, I have reached a crossroads where my firmly held conviction to promote legislation that would benefit my constituents, community, and state has the potential to result in a possible perception of a conflict with my professional employment,” Negron added. “In the abundance of caution, to avoid even the possible appearance of such a difference, and to make certain I can continue to effectively advocate for my community, I have made the decision to step away from my position with the Gunster Law Firm.

“Practicing law at Gunster, a large statewide law firm, has been a tremendous opportunity to work with a very talented team of accomplished professionals. I will continue to practice law for the remainder of my time in the Senate and look forward to continuing to represent the citizens who elected me to serve in the Florida Senate.”

Scott’s move was seen by some as retaliation for Corcoran’s attacks on Scott’s agency heads, including deposed VISIT FLORIDA head Will Seccombe and DEP Secretary Jon Steverson, who quit to go work for a law firm to which he had steered millions in fees for outside legal work.

When asked last week whether Scott was being retaliatory “in any way, shape or form,” Corcoran said, “I always try to impute the best motive.”

House joins Joe Negron’s higher ed program

The House is now on board with Senate President Joe Negron‘s higher education priorities.

On Friday, state Rep. Bryan Avila filed companion bills (HB 3, HB 5) to Senate measures (SB 2, SB 4) filed by Bill Galvano.

The bills touch on modifying performance-based incentives, boost funding to hire and keep top faculty, and create additional scholarship programs.

The Stuart Republican had championed higher education in his December 2015 acceptance speech of the chamber’s presidency.

A few months later, Negron began a “state university listening tour” with fellow senators and other state officials, hitting 12 institutions of higher learning in four days.

Among the lessons he learned was to “make sure that students of all economic backgrounds can attend the university to which they’re accepted,” he told reporters.

Jeff Clemens bullish on Senate Democrats chances in 2018

Although Florida Democrats failed to improve their numbers in the state Senate in 2016, Jeff Clemens is very optimistic that in two years their power will increase.

“It just so happens that the way it plays out, the Democrats that are up for election in 2018 are in safe Democratic seats, so with the Republicans having to go defend as many as eight seats, there are opportunities,” the Lake Worth Democrat said Thursday night in St. Petersburg.

“Whether it’s the two seats in Pinellas, whether it’s the two seats in Miami-Dade, one in Tampa, one back in Alachua County, even in places in Polk, believe it or not. There are opportunities. So, I’m looking forward to it.”

The 46-year-old is now the Senate Democratic Leader-designate after current head Sen. Oscar Braynon serves out his current term. Part of his responsibilities are recruiting candidates for the 2018 cycle, and he says it’s rare for an incoming Senate Democratic leader to like his odds.

“Whether it was (Dwight) Bullard in ’16 or (Maria) Sachs in ’14 and ’12, we’re always on the defensive.”

Of course, after all, 40 Senate seats were redistricted ahead of the 2016 election, Democrats had flights of fancy about gaining more seats.

Instead, they stayed at 15, to the Republican 25.

“Yeah, you can’t sugarcoat it. It was disappointing,” Clemens said of what happened in November. “And there were seats we really felt were going our way and four weeks out; all the polls started to slip from us.

“So you lick your wounds, and, like I say, you try to find the silver lining. And to me, the silver lining is that I don’t have anybody to defend, and I can go out and be aggressive, and so we will. We’ll have candidates in all those seats, and you never know what happens in an anti-Trump 2018 wave.”

Clemens was in St. Pete to speak to the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee, where there were not nearly enough chairs to accommodate the members filling the conference room holding their monthly meeting at the Marriott Hotel on Roosevelt Boulevard.

While it’s impossible to know what the political terrain will be like in 2018, Democrats statewide are indeed heartened by the massive rallies that took place last weekend.

The trick is to harness that energy, Clemens said.

“The people are angry that things that they counted on for their health care, for their right to choose, that those kinds of things are going to be stripped away, and so the big challenge for Democrats is how do we harness that energy,” he added. “And as far as I’m concerned, you use shoe leather. You get out and knock (on) doors, and you talk to people. I’m a big believer in field and word-of-mouth, and we’re never going to have as much money as the Republicans do in our state elections, so you have to go out and work, so the hope is that this energy translates into work.

“The big difficulty is keeping it going for two years. People are upset now. We just have to make sure we don’t become numb to it. Which is a big risk.”

Regarding policy in the upcoming Session, Clemens hopes to accomplish more on the environment. He is quite aware that Senate President Joe Negron’s priority is to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges and increase water storage capacity. On Thursday, Republican Rob Bradley filed SB 10which would bond money backed with Amendment 1 funds to purchase land south of the lake for water storage. But Clemens says he worries about having such a laser-focus on just one aspect of Everglades Restoration could be to the detriment of other projects, such as dealing with blue-green algae that have fouled the state’s coastline.

Clemens is again serving on the Criminal Justice Committee, a panel that he says is one place where Republicans and Democrats have been able to work well together. Nevertheless, many of the bills that have come out of that committee in the past few years haven’t advanced very far, but there is much talk about that changing in 2017.

“We hear a lot from the House about how they want to be better stewards of the taxpayer’s money, you have to look no further than Georgia or Texas, where they’ve had very conservative legislatures, and they’ve found ways to divert people away from prison,” he said.

“It saves money. It’s good for the economy. It doesn’t put a felony on somebody’s record, and of course in Florida, we strip a lot of rights from people who commit felonies, it gets them back into work.”

And there aren’t many other places in the budget to save taxpayer dollars, Clemens said.

“This is one of the few ways to do it, because you can only cut education or cut health care so much, the prison industrial complex is where you can actually cut the amount of dollars you spend and get better results.”

 

Capitol Reax: Tax cuts, certificates of need, whiskey and Wheaties, fracking

Gov. Rick Scott proposed $618 million in tax cuts this week, which included four back to school holidays and reducing the commercial lease tax.

“Governor Scott’s ‘Fighting for Florida’s Future’ tax package includes a number of cuts which will significantly support Florida’s retailers, including a reduction in the business rent tax, cutting the business tax and including an expanded back-to-school sales tax holiday among others. FRF is excited about what the Governor’s tax cut package will mean for growing Sunshine State businesses, creating new jobs for Florida families and ensuring our state remains competitive.” – Randy Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.

 “We know from talking to job creators across the state and the nation that the tax on commercial leases puts Florida at a competitive disadvantage. Governor Scott has demonstrated an incredible commitment to doing everything possible to make it easier for businesses to succeed, and these recommended tax cuts are critical to ensuring continued economic growth. NFIB is proud to fully support this proposal and we look forward to the Legislature cutting $618 million in taxes this year.” – Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

“Every step we take to make Florida more business-friendly means more job creators choosing to move to and reinvest in our state. Governor Scott’s recommended $618 million tax cut package will help businesses large and small invest more in creating jobs for our families and will help ensure Florida’s economy will continue to grow well into the future. We are fighting to make our state the best place for job creators and families to succeed and the Florida Chamber of Commerce will continue to work with Governor Scott and the Legislature this year to support this tax cut package.” – David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce

“Governor Scott’s proposed $618 million tax cut package truly fights for both job creators and families across the state. Over the past few years, we have seen the exciting impact tax cuts have had on helping businesses move to and grow in our state, as well as the importance of helping Floridians keep more of their hard-earned money. In order to continue to help our economy grow, we must remain committed to lowering the cost of doing business, and reducing the business rent tax will surely help us meet that goal. AIF is proud to join Governor Scott in fighting for Florida’s future by supporting the passage of $618 million in tax cuts.” – Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida.

Republican Sen. Dana Young filed legislation aimed to ban hydraulic fracking in Florida this week. The bill comes after years of failed attempts to ban the controversial technique by Florida Democrats.

“Our industry has a long history of providing environmental and economic benefits. The United States is the leading producer of oil, natural gas and refined product in the world, and the decades-old technique of hydraulic fracturing has led to lower energy costs for consumers and improvements in the environment. Senator Dana Young’s proposed ban could undermine the benefits that Florida families and consumers are seeing today. “The technology has been proven safe, and Florida is realizing the economic and environmental benefits of its use. Thanks in part to the increased use of domestic natural gas, ozone concentrations in the air have dropped by 17 percent since 2000, all of which makes the United States not just an energy superpower, but also a leader in reducing global emissions. Let’s not move backwards when the gains of energy security are important for Florida families.” – David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council.

“Florida Conservation Voters applauds Senator Dana Young for sponsoring a ban on the dangerous process of fracking for oil and gas (SB 442). Fracking poses too big a risk for the millions of Florida families and visitors who rely on our groundwater for safe, clean drinking water. We’re pleased to see that Senator Young’s bill addresses both hydraulic fracturing, which breaks rock formations to extract fossil fuels and acidizing, which dissolves them. We look forward to working with Sen. Young throughout the 2017 Legislative Session as we work to ban fracking in Florida once and for all.” – Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters

Gov. Scott this week called on state officials to repeal the state’s certificate of need program.

“Repealing certificate of need laws is long overdue. Floridians’ access to quality care has been hampered by this burdensome restriction that has remained in place due to special interests’ focus on profits over patient outcomes. Repealing CON laws will lead to lowering health care costs and expending access to the care our Floridians deserve.” – Chris Hudson, state director, Americans for Prosperity-Florida

The Florida House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee used its meeting this week to hold a panel discussion on workers’ compensation.

“Insurers appreciate the subcommittee panel discussion on the current state of the Florida workers’ compensation system. PCI and our members believe the current Florida workers’ compensation system provides essential benefits to injured workers in a timely, efficient and economically sound manner, and the wage-replacement benefit system balances the interests of employees and employers. We continue to support the 2003 Florida workers’ compensation reforms that were put in place to protect the interests of employees, as well as help control costs for business owners.

“Workers’ compensation insurers are dedicated to fostering a healthy market for workers’ compensation that accommodates employee and employer needs. If you allow frivolous lawsuits with high dispute resolution costs to disrupt the system, it can be detrimental to the stabilization of the marketplace. It’s important to continue to provide quality care benefits to injured workers at a reasonable cost.

“We encourage lawmakers to work toward a solution that protects workers, while fostering a healthy Florida marketplace so the burden of workers’ compensation costs don’t fall on employers and employees.” – Logan McFaddin, regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee passed a bill to that would bring down the so-called liquor wall and repeal a Prohibition-era law.

“Today members of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee demonstrated their support for common sense, pro-business policies by passing Senate Bill 106, which repeals the Prohibition-era Alcohol Separation Law which requires distilled spirits to be sold separately from beer, wine and groceries. On behalf of Floridians for Fair Business Practices, we applaud their decision.

We commend bill sponsors Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores and Representative Bryan Avila for their diligent efforts to tear down barriers to business growth and expansion. This antiquated law does not demonstrate any benefits to Florida consumers and retailers, and its repeal would mirror society’s desire for convenience in a changing marketplace.  Our coalition is pleased to continue discussing the benefits of passing a repeal to the outdated law with additional committees as this bill is considered in the legislature.” – Richard Turner, general counsel and vice president of government relations of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, and a member of the Floridians for Fair Business Practices coalition.

Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill to bond money backed with Amendment 1 dollars to purchase land south of Lake Okeechobee, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron.

“We thank Senator Bradley for recognizing that a water crisis anywhere in Florida is a water crisis and filing this important legislation. Coastal communities were under a state of emergency for 242 days in 2016 as a result of Lake Okeechobee discharges. The creation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan nearly two decades ago recognized the great need for a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area in order to reduce the harmful discharges to the estuaries and to preserve water for when it’s desperately needed during the dry seasons. … Senator Bradley’s filing of SB 10 today moves us closer to having this critical water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that will be cost-matched by the federal government, and we applaud him for taking action to respond to Florida’s water crisis this legislative session.” – Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.

“Senator Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) has shown true leadership for Florida’s coastal communities and the Everglades by filing Senate Bill 10 today. The tragedies facing Florida’s coastal estuaries in 2016 were devastating to local economies and the environment. Floridians are hungry for this type of bold action to save Florida’s Everglades. After hearing from experts about water storage solutions, Sen. Bradley’s actions show that a ‘wait and see’ approach for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee is not acceptable. Audubon looks forward to working with the Florida Senate and House of Representatives to pass SB10.” — Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida’s.

 

Lake Okeechobee reservoir bill filed in Florida Senate

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate would reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee and increase water storage capacity.

Senate Bill 10, filed by Republican Rob Bradley, would bond money backed with Amendment 1 funds to purchase land south of the lake for water storage.

Bradley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources. notes that “current projects fail to include one significant component that the majority of scientists and experts uniformly agree on – a long-term solution requires additional land and storage south of Lake Okeechobee.”

“This legislation implements the constitution by using Amendment 1 funds, funds Florida voters dedicated to improving our environment, to address a critical and ongoing problem that impacts our residents, visitors, business, economy and quality of life,” Bradley adds.

The Bradley bill adds a new section to the Florida Statute: “Reservoir project in the Everglades Agricultural Area,” with the hope of creating 360,000 acre-feet of storage capacity, a goal that requires acquiring 60,000 acres of land.

$1.2 billion in bond proceeds would be used for the purchase of the land. The project is subject to congressional approval, and if that is granted as expected, the feds would offer a 50/50 match of that $1.2 billion.

The section declares an “emergency” in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, due to “harmful freshwater discharges” east and west of the lake that have created algae blooms and other issues.

Senate President Joe Negron has prioritized these efforts to mitigate the issues with Lake Okeechobee, as they present real public safety impacts for his constituents.

“Despite the sincere efforts of our state and federal government to plan and fund long-term solutions to address rising water levels and pollution in Lake Okeechobee, year after year as the Lake levels rise, the solution is to flood my community and many others across our state with billions of gallons of polluted water that destroys our estuaries and harms our local economies,” said President Negron.

“For nearly two decades, there has been scientific consensus and recognition by state leaders that additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee is necessary to stop this ongoing problem; from Governor Jeb Bush‘s historic support of the bipartisan Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in 2000; to the recent University of Florida Water Institute study commissioned by the Senate and completed in 2015,” continued President Negron. “This legislation provides a clear plan to address this plague on our communities in a manner that respects the interests of the agricultural community and private land owners.”

Support for this bill came almost immediately from the Everglades Foundation.

“We thank Senator Bradley for recognizing that a water crisis anywhere in Florida is a water crisis and filing this important legislation. Coastal communities were under a state of emergency for 242 days in 2016 as a result of Lake Okeechobee discharges.” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said in a press release Thursday morning.

“The creation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan nearly two decades ago recognized the great need for a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area in order to reduce the harmful discharges to the estuaries and to preserve water for when it’s desperately needed during the dry seasons.”

“Senator Bradley’s filing of SB 10 today moves us closer to having this critical water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that will be cost-matched by the federal government, and we applaud him for taking action to respond to Florida’s water crisis this legislative session,” Eikenberg added.

While there is some resistance to a measure like this from North Florida advocates who think the region isn’t getting its share, the fact is that SB 10 is not Bradley’s only water bill this session.

Senate Bill 234 would annually earmark $35 million, minus money for debt service, for projects related to the St. Johns, its tributaries, and the Keystone Lake region.

Included among those projects: land management and acquisition, and recreational opportunity and public access improvements.

As well, septic tank phaseout — a priority of many local governments — may fall under SB 234’s aegis.

Proposed plan to buy farmland south of Lake Okeechobee off to slow start in Florida Senate

So far, 2017 has been unkind to proponents of buying land south of Lake Okeechobee. That’s the takeaway from two January Senate committee meetings that have been held on the issue.

In the titanic legislative battle pitting landowners, minority residents from the Glades and state and water management district officials against Senate President Joe Negron and environmental groups, the Senate committee looking into the issue has heard testimony largely in favor of sticking the historic Everglades restoration plans first started in 1999.

For the proponents of buying land, you might say things have not gone as planned. Outside of Everglades Foundation scientist Tom Van Lent, the committee has yet to hear from a credible third-party expert making the case for buying up more land. Instead, they have heard speakers such as South Florida Water Management District Director (SFWMD) Pete Antonacci, DEP Deputy Secretary for Water Policy and Ecosystem Restoration Drew Bartlett, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Colonel Jennifer Reynolds acknowledge that the state has plenty of land to build the reservoir Negron is proposing.

Even some of Negron’s constituents aren’t having any of it. According to the Stuart News, earlier this week, minority residents from Pahokee expressed concern about his plans to buy 60,000 acres of farmland, which they say would devastate their community. On Wednesday, those residents were front and center in a meeting in Tallahassee. Representatives of the “Guardians of the Glades” included former Pahokee Deputy City Manager Tammy Jackson-Moore and pastor Robert Rease from Belle Glade.

After the meeting, Senator Rob Bradley, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, seemed conciliatory on a land buy, telling reporters, “Everyone said that … storage south of the lake must occur.”

Senate leadership has insisted the process will be driven by science. And it turns out that the science used by the Everglades Foundation may not be as solid as previously thought. Earlier this month, SFWMD Hydrology and Hydraulics Bureau Chief Akintunde O. Owosina wrote a scathing letter to Everglades Foundation scientist Van Lent, alleging that among other things, “the assumptions you made in the model input were obviously selected to reduce northern storage and create an outcome in favor of southern storage.” The letter set off several rounds of exchanges between the Everglades Foundation and the water management district – a sideshow environmental groups and Negron simply can’t afford.

In a statement released by the SFWMD Wednesday, the district once again challenged Van Lent’s assertion that buying land is necessary for fixing the problems in the east and west coast estuaries. In response to Van Lent’s presentation, the district noted that its scientists found Van Lent’s claim that storage south of the lake is preferable to storage north of the lake “misleading” and “the product of an agenda-driven academic exercise.”

The district also provided a quote from University of Florida scientist Dr. Wendy Graham from her Jan. 11 appearance before Bradley’s committee indicating the benefits of storing land south of the lake versus north of the lake are about the same. According to Dr. Graham, “”If you want to protect the estuaries, it’s pretty equal north or south of the Lake.” Except the fact that according to Negron, storage south of the lake will cost more, requiring $2.4 billion for land AND a reservoir.

In the early round, credit goes to Antonacci and Gov. Rick Scott. While not known for punching hard in the policy arena, it’s clear the Governor’s Office came to play hardball early on in this debate. By highlighting the Everglades Foundation’s questionable modeling, it puts the science behind Negron’s plan in doubt even before the bill sees the light of day.

All signs point to the plan being unveiled as early as this week. From there, it will likely head to Senate subcommittees, where members will have to answer questions on whether the same modeling questioned by the SFWMD is part of the Senate’s plan.

In an era where Republicans are leading the charge against “fake science,” will Senate Republicans have the courage to defend the plan under those circumstances?

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