SB 10 Archives - Florida Politics

It’ll be magic if Joe Negron succeeds with new Lake O reservoir land buy

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations committee heard a presentation from South Florida Water Management District Executive Director Ernie Marks on the status report of the reservoir project authorized by Senate Bill 10.

Following the presentation, Appropriations Chair and Senate Bill 10 sponsor Rob Bradley expressed confidence in the district’s plans. But following the meeting, Senate President Joe Negron told reporters he is still planning to seek another 4,000 to 5,000 acres of land before the end of Session.

Why would the Senate president make these comments when the district says it has the land it needs, the chair is happy, and the project appears to be on schedule?

Negron’s comments come following a picture coming into focus that leaves little room for land buying, particularly taking more agricultural land out of production, which is a pillar of Florida’s economy.

In January of last year, Bradley first filed SB 10 — a bill that (at one point) called for the purchase of nearly 60,000 acres of working farmland south of Lake O.

It didn’t take long for questions to arise about how the state of Florida would buy this private farmland, warning it would adversely affect those living the region.

Among the first sounding the alarm about “eminent domain” was Marco Rubio.

“What about the people that live in those communities? What about Pahokee, what about those cities in the Glades communities that are going to get wiped out,” Florida’s junior senator told a blogger in April 2017. “If you buy up all that farmland, that means there’s no farming, that means these cities collapse, they basically turning ghost towns. Shouldn’t they be at the table? Shouldn’t they be part of this conversation as well?”

Soon afterward, an overwhelming bipartisan Senate majority revised SB 10, stripping the controversial provision that would have bought the 60K acres of privately-held farmland.

The last version of SB 10 — which Gov. Rick Scott signed into law that May, and was applauded by environmentalists such as the Everglades Foundation — prohibited the use of eminent domain.

According to comments today from Marks, more than 80 percent of the large landowners south of Lake Okeechobee are not selling. Glades farmers are steadfastly against losing valuable, productive agricultural land.

Also, the coming budget crunch following Hurricane Irma doesn’t lend itself to land grabs.

And there’s also the fact that this Florida Senate has little appetite for another bruising debate over land buying in an election year.

Finally, any deviation from the district’s schedule could delay the reservoir project — possibly for years.

Bottom line: this ship has sailed.

I have always maintained that President Negron is a true statesman, and this may be a moment showing the Stuart Republican cares more about the people in his district rather than the people in the Florida Senate — an admirable trait in any elected official.

But if Negron has any intentions of squeezing an acre of private land out under these circumstances, he’s more than a statesman. He’s a magician.

Joe Negron named ‘Champion of the Everglades’

Environmental group Audubon Florida presented Senate President Joe Negron with an award Tuesday recognizing his “steadfast leadership” in Everglades restoration.

Negron earned the “Champion of the Everglades” award for a bill he ushered through the legislature earlier this past session that mandated the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and prevent a repeat of the historic and harmful algal blooms that wreaked havoc on Florida waters in 2016.

Audubon Florida’s deputy director, Julie Hill-Gabriel, described the legislation as “an incredible victory” for the Everglades.

“President Negron helped secure a much-needed restoration project for America’s Everglades. His tireless efforts responded to an ecological crisis by garnering support for one of the most important wins for Florida’s environment in a decade,” she said. “We applaud President Negron for his commitment to protecting Florida’s environment for generations to come. It is with great excitement we name President Negron as a Champion of the Everglades.”

Audubon Florida said the award is reserved for “individuals who have gone above and beyond their call of duty to protect Florida’s water and wildlife in the River of Grass.” Past winners of the award include Nathaniel Reed and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Audubon Florida has been a strong partner in the ongoing effort to reduce and one day eliminate harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee that destroy our environment and harm our economy,” Negron said. “I am honored to receive this award and look forward to working with Audubon in the future as we continue to closely monitor the implementation of Senate Bill 10 and other legislative efforts to restore and protect Florida’s environment and natural resources.”

Joe Negron: Army Corps will speed up Lake O work

Senate President Joe Negron on Friday said progress on a southern reservoir outlined in legislation passed this year, addressing South Florida’s water quality, is getting a kick-start.

“…The Army Corps of Engineers intends to expedite the federal approval process … The Corps has determined the best option for achieving southern storage is not to seek new federal authority, but to use existing authority to pursue a modification to the current (project),” Negron said in a Friday statement.

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation this year pledging $800 million in bonds toward Negron’s signature project (SB 10), a $1.5 billion plan to restore Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades by building a reservoir south of the lake. The governor called Everglades restoration “a top priority.”

“This development is entirely consistent with the options and timeline outlined in Senate Bill 10 and achieves the Legislature’s goal of moving forward on southern storage as expeditiously as possible,” added Negron, a Stuart Republican.

“I appreciate the Corps’ shared interest in promptly achieving our goal of reducing harmful discharges into our communities, and I look forward to continuing an efficient state and federal partnership on this important effort.”

The project is designed to stop discharges of toxic algae-infused overflow into streams and estuaries to the east and west by storing 78 billion gallons of water in a reservoir to the south, with treatment and ultimate discharge into the Everglades and Florida Bay.

The law forbids use of eminent domain, relying on land the state already owns or can swap with private landowners.

Army Corps needs more time on Joe Negron reservoir

Federal assistance may be on the way for the state’s latest Everglades restoration effort.

But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it will need another month to figure out how to join in Senate President Joe Negron‘s plan for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Col. Jason Kirk, the Florida commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, advised the South Florida Water Management District this week that a review is underway of options for working together on changes to what is known as the Central Everglades Planning Project. The changes were outlined in a measure (SB 10) that Negron pushed through the Legislature this year.

“We are currently working through multiple options for the next steps to address your request,” Kirk wrote.

Supporters of the reservoir, a priority of Negron, R-Stuart, anticipate the federal government covering half the cost of the work.

Part of the bill requires the water management district to request the Army Corps participate — by next Tuesday — in helping to develop a report on revisions needed to increase water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.

District Executive Director Pete Antonacci, who is leaving the district Tuesday to head Enterprise Florida, asked the Army Corps in a letter to participate on the report on June 26.

Kirk responded Monday that the Army Corps expects to have a full response by the end of August.

District spokesman Randy Smith said Wednesday the “district is working with the Corps to push the plan along as fast as possible.”

Katie Betta, a Negron spokeswoman, said the president is pleased the Army Corps provided an update as he continues to “closely monitor the implementation of Senate Bill 10.”

The Senate bill allows Florida to bond up to $800 million as a way to speed construction of the reservoir, which is intended to help clean South Florida waterways and potentially reduce the recurrence of toxic algae outbreaks that have impacted Negron’s Treasure Coast district in past years.

Treasure Coast residents blame polluted water releases from Lake Okeechobee for the algae outbreaks.

The proposal seeks to accelerate plans for a reservoir — part of a larger ongoing Everglades project effort called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP — to clean water that can be sent through the Everglades toward Florida Bay.

Under the state proposal, the reservoir, initially using 14,460-acres of state-owned land within the Everglades Agriculture Area, will need to be deeper than originally planned.

Julie Hill-Gabriel, deputy director of Audubon Florida, called Kirk’s letter a positive sign.

“We look forward to the agencies working together to implement Senate Bill 10, reduce discharges to the sensitive coastal estuaries, and send needed freshwater south to the Everglades,” Hill-Gabriel said.

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

Joe Negron joins Akerman law firm as litigator

Five months after he quit a law firm job following concerns of conflicts of interest, Senate President Joe Negron has joined the Akerman firm’s West Palm Beach office.

The firm announced the move Wednesday in a press release. Negron will be “of counsel,” an arrangement usually meaning an attorney works on a case-to-case basis and not as an associate or partner.

Negron previously worked at Akerman from 2005-10. It is ranked the largest law firm in the state by Florida Trend magazine and the Daily Business Review.

“Joe is widely known by both the bench and the bar as a compelling advocate who skillfully represents businesses and directors in complex commercial disputes,” said Lawrence Rochefort, chair of Akerman’s Litigation Practice Group. “His strong reputation and track record make him a powerful addition to our trial team.”

In January, Negron—a Stuart Republican—had resigned from the Gunster law firm, four days after Gov. Rick Scott suggested ethics reforms affecting lawyer-legislators.

At the time, Negron said his decision was spurred by Gunster’s representation of U.S. Sugar, which was named in a land acquisition provision included in a Senate measure (SB 10) aimed at protecting Lake Okeechobee from toxic runoff.

Both Gunster and Akerman have lobbying practices in the capital.

“Throughout my legislative service, I have carefully scrutinized my legal and legislative work to ensure I fully uphold the highest ethical standards,” Negron said earlier this year.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Negron has “30 years of experience in high stakes litigation, business law and complex commercial litigation,” the press release said.

“He counsels officers, directors, publicly traded and privately held corporations, and individuals in an array of business disputes, including breach of contract and warranty, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence,” it says. “He represents clients across a range of sectors, including healthcare, insurance, real estate and technology.”

On Wednesday, Negron said in a statement, “Given Akerman’s leadership position in Florida and in major markets across the United States, I am very pleased to be returning to the firm, which provides the right platform for me to advance my practice while maintaining my deep commitment to the West Palm Beach market.”


Rick Scott signs SB 10, the Lake Okeechobee restoration plan, into law

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation Tuesday pledging $800 million in bonds toward Senate President Joe Negron’s signature project — a $1.5 billion plan to restore Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades by building a reservoir south of the lake.

Scott had signaled his intention to sign the legislation earlier in the week, calling Everglades restoration “a top priority.”

SB 10 did not include Scott’s call to invest $200 million in the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding the lake.

Still, the governor said President Donald Trump had pledged federal money to the project and that “Florida cannot miss this opportunity to partner with the Trump Administration for a project that will significantly benefit Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and our environment.”

“After 20 years of talking, southern storage is finally becoming a reality,” Negron said. “We are well on our way to putting the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the pages of history, instead of the front pages of daily newspapers.”

The project is designed to stop discharges of toxic algae-infused overflow into streams and estuaries to the east and west by storing 78 billion gallons of water in a reservoir to the south, with treatment and ultimate discharge into the Everglades and Florida Bay.

The law forbids use of eminent domain, relying on land the state already owns or can swap with private landowners.

“I look forward to the work ahead as we continue to work with Governor Scott and our federal partners to expedite the planning and construction of this critical project,” Negron said. “Together, we will end the plague of toxic blue-green algae that harms the health of our citizens and destroys our environment and our economy, once and for all.”

Keep Florida Fishing, the advocacy arm of the American Sportfishing Association, issued a written statement praising the governor’s action.

“With today’s signing of SB 10, Gov. Scott has shown his strong commitment to advancing Everglades restoration,” said Kellie Ralston, Florida fishery policy director for the Association.

“Thank you to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran for their leadership in preserving and protecting Florida’s natural resources,” said Gary Jennings, director of Keep Florida Fishing. “This will ensure that Florida remains the ‘Fishing Capital of the World’ for generations to come.” 

Rob Bradley reflects on his big win, and big loss, during the Legislative Session

The Senate manager for two of the most ambitious bills debated during the Legislative Session was a little wistful following sine die.

Sen. Rob Bradley, who carried SB 10 for Senate President Joe Negron, called the bill “one of the real legislative achievements of the last decade or so, that we can all be very proud of.”

The bill is Negron’s $1.5 billion Lake Okeechobee plan, and it will make a difference, he said.

“The Everglades needs more water. And we’re going to end those toxic discharges into our coastal communities. That is one part of Session that I think will be in history books,” the Orange Park Republican said.

Moreover, Amendment 1 money approved for the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights lakes area “was really important to the people I represent in North Florida. We really did not feel that we were getting our fair share of those dollars up until this year. Now we are.”

Another Bradley bill, implementing the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, failed when negotiations with the House broke down last week.

“Sometimes, bills don’t pass. That’s part of it. But that’s one that’s a real regret of session for me, personally, that we were not able to get that across the finish line,” Bradley said.

He was open to a Special Session on the topic, noting that decision is up to the governor or the Legislature’s presiding officers.

“I hope that we address that issue sooner rather than later. At the latest, next session. And if we addressed it before then, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings, either.”

The Legislature’s inaction leaves implementation up to Department of Health rulemaking.

“We ultimately, though, as Legislature need to implement Amendment 2, and we will.”

Joe Negron’s signature Lake Okeechobee project headed to governor’s desk

The Senate voted Tuesday to send a trimmed-down version of SB 10, Senate President Joe Negron’s Lake Okeechobee restoration plan, to Gov. Rick Scott.

The 33-0 vote followed approval by the House earlier in the day.

Under amendments adopted in the House, and accepted in the Senate, bonding authority to acquire land and construct reservoirs would shrink from $1.2 billion to $800 million, bill sponsor Rob Bradley explained. The complete price tag for the project is $1.5 billion.

The project is designed to avoid the runoff of toxic algae-laden water from the lake into rivers, streams and estuaries to the east and west — like those that sickened people and depressed tourism last summer.

“I promised my constituents that we would dramatically expand southern storage by leveraging existing water infrastructure, and utilizing a combination of state, local, and private land,” said Negron in a statement. “After twenty years of talking about southern storage, this legislation establishes and fully funds a concrete plan to achieve this critical component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in a reasonable amount of time.

The bill provides for construction of reservoirs north and the south of the lake to store the overflow, and for treatment of the water and release into the Everglades and, ultimately, Florida Bay.

“Today the Florida House joined the Senate by passing SB 10, which will build additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee. I have continued to support the diversion of Lake Okeechobee water away from our estuary as well as diversified storage options within our watershed to help protect the Caloosahatchee,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, whose district includes a region impacted by the discharges.  “SB 10 will bring relief from the harmful discharges that plague our estuary. I am very proud we were able to achieve this goal in the 2017 session.”

Scott has endorsed storing water south of the Lake, but not the bill’s bonding authority.

North Florida Land Trust: Rob Bradley bill hurts ‘farmers and ranchers’

A surprisingly hard-hitting Thursday press release from the North Florida Land Trust took aim at Sen. Rob Bradley for his SB 10, the “$1.5 billion plan to fix Lake Okeechobee, and stop overflows of toxic ‘guacamole water’ into the state’s rivers and streams, which passed the Senate Wednesday on a vote of 36-3.”

The NFLT claims that farmers and ranchers are adversely impacted by the measure.

“The Canaan Ranch, Cannon Family Farm, Land Family, Lyme Lafayette, Rainey Pasture and South Prong properties are all listed as Tier 1 candidates for protection under the Rural and Family Lands Program.  That program allows the landowners to continue to work their land while giving up their development rights to their property.  Neither Senator Bradley’s bill or his budget request provides any money to that program,” the press release notes.

“Not only does this hurt existing farmers and ranchers, in the long run it will hurt young farmers seeking to get into the family business because of the cost of working lands,” said NFLT President Jim McCarthy.

The release also takes aim at Sen. Travis Hutson, who supported the measure, noting that Perry Smith Family Farm, Tilton Family Farm and Wesley Smith Family Farm are all impacted.

Senate approves plan to fix Lake Okeechobee, end algae invasions

Senate President Joe Negron’s $1.5 billion plan to fix Lake Okeechobee, and stop overflows of toxic “guacamole water” into the state’s rivers and streams, passed the Senate Wednesday on a vote of 36-3.

Last June’s overflow of toxic algae blooms, which devastated tourism and sickened many people, and prompted Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency, is forcing the state’s hand, bill sponsor Rob Bradley argued.

“I promised my constituents that we would dramatically expand southern storage by leveraging existing water infrastructure, and utilizing a combination of state, local, and private land, in a manner that respects the interests of the agricultural community and private landowners,” Negron said in a written statement following the vote.

“After 20 years of talking about southern storage, this legislation establishes a concrete plan to achieve this critical component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in a reasonable amount of time,” Negron said.

“We can’t wait any longer. What happened in the summer of 2016 was a call for action. Fortunately, we are now responding to that call today,” Bradley said.

In fact, he said, the state began planning to store water south of the lake 20 years ago, in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERT.

“Twenty years ago, CERT called for 300 acre-feet of storage south of Lake Okeechobee. It’s time to finish the job,” Bradley said.

Senators praised Negron for pushing the project, his top priority for the Legislative Session. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto called him a “hero.”

“The mettle and the steel that he showed is something we can all emulate,” Bradley said.

“We don’t spend enough time on the critical needs and critical issues of our state. Thank you very much for providing the leadership, kicking us in the butt, getting us going,” Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala said.

“I think it’s real important to send this down to the House today with a nice, solid, positive vote, so they know we mean business about this issue,” Latvala said.

Sen. Perry Thurston Jr. said he was “lukewarm” in favor of the bill because it doesn’t do enough to create jobs. “Two million dollars for improvements doesn’t even begin to touch the mark,” he said. “We can do better.”

Only Republican Jeff Brandes, and Democrats Jeff Clemens and Victor Torres Jr. voted “No.”

The Senate rejected a series of amendments on voice votes, including proposals to divert the plan’s financing into projects already on the drawing board; allow the use of eminent domain to acquire the land needed, and to reserve eminent domain authority to acquire land.

Senators approved an amendment to boost state funding for a job training center in the Glades area.

The idea behind the plan is to divert runoff of phosphorus-rich water into storage and treatment, for eventual release into the Everglades and, ultimately, Florida Bay.

CS/SB 10 represents a scaled-back version of Negron’s original concept but still would store at least 100 billion gallons of water on a smaller footprint by increasing the reservoirs’ depth to 14 feet.

The plan counts on $1.2 billion in bonding authority — something House leaders do not favor.

But it would save money by building the project on land already owned by the state, or where private landowners agree to sell or lease to the state. It forbids the use of eminent domain to acquire property.

“If we pass this bill, we will spend $275 million on the Everglades this year,” Bradley said — about what it spent last year.

The state would not exercise its option to purchase large tracts of sugar land.

The bill includes jobs programs for agricultural workers in the affected area, where the unemployment rate is at least 40 percent. They include jobs building reservoirs, investment in an airport and inland port in the area, training incentives, and ending use of inmate labor in the fields for 50 cents an hour.

The Appropriations Act up for consideration later in the day would provide $2 million for the port and airport.

The bill also provides for storage projects north, east, and west of the lake, and for investment in septic tank-to-sewage system conversions sought by Scott.

But southern storage is absolutely necessary to solve the problem, Bradley said. That hasn’t happened yet because of political and financial obstacles.

“It takes an event sometimes to wake the system up and say, ‘You know what? We’re not going to kick the can down the road anymore.’ And that’s what’s happening today.”

The debate centered on details of the program, including the jobs language. Bradley said it’s too soon to tell how many people would benefit, since construction planning has yet to begin.

“We have a problem in the Glades Community” with employment, he said. “This is something we need to do independent of these terrible environmental disaster issues.”

Sen. Randolph Bracy wondered now the sponsor arrived at $1 million for the port and airport projects.

Bradley answered that the money would allow planning to begin, and doesn’t represent the full cost of those projects. The Senate budget contains additional millions for infrastructure in the area, he added.

Senate leaders have been in touch with federal officials and believe Congress and federal agencies can be brought on board, he said. Meanwhile, the state would proceed as planned.

“We need congressional approval to make this a reality,” Bradley conceded. But “this is a reasonable proposal. … This isn’t a crazy idea. This isn’t like trying to shoot water to the moon.”

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