Wilton Simpson: We must create a statewide plan to restore, protect all environmentally sensitive areas

A few days ago we saw an unfortunate failure of leadership in the Florida Legislature. As a businessman still somewhat new to the process, I was disappointed that the will of the majority was bypassed. By putting politics before the work of the people, too many important issues were left stuck in the balance.

One of these issues is the future of our environment, particularly the protection and management of our water. Because of the impasse, no comprehensive legislation relating to Amendment 1 has yet been passed. I remain confident that in the budget consideration over the next several weeks, we will have another opportunity to work to ensure protection of Florida’s natural resources. There are differing views on how to accomplish this goal.

Some people believe the only way to honor the intent of Amendment 1 is to purchase specific land owned by a sugar company in South Florida near the Everglades. Others, like me, see Amendment 1 as a holistic, statewide strategy to create long-lasting protections from the Panhandle to the Keys. I absolutely believe the Everglades are an important ecosystem worthy of preservation and protection; that is why during my first year in the Florida Senate I championed the Everglades Restoration Act. This act, which became law in 2013, affirmed our commitment to adequately fund the Everglades Restoration plan that was agreed to by the state of Florida and the federal government.

With that legislation, we set aside $880 million to fund Everglades restoration. It’s a multiyear project that was thoughtfully considered and analyzed before passage. For that reason legislators from both parties came together, unanimously passing this legislation, putting politics aside in the interest of good environmental policy.

Voters all over Florida didn’t support Amendment 1 for the purpose of preserving one isolated area of the state. We have to evaluate and prioritize the usage and management of all of Florida’s water supply, not any one region.

Amendment 1 will be in effect for 20 years. It is critical that we get the implementation right by using the best science. If any one area of the state becomes the solitary focus of this funding source, we have all missed the point.

We must create a statewide plan to restore and protect all environmentally sensitive areas. In my district extending into Central Florida we have watersheds fed by springs. Across the state there are beaches whose preservation fuels tourism economies. The quality of water in the Kissimmee River basin feeds areas to the south. The health of estuaries like the Indian River Lagoon matter; so too does the St. Johns River in Northeast Florida. All of these systems deserve to be made a part of Amendment 1 consideration.

For Florida’s future, for clean water and an environment that generations can live a high quality of life in, I am committed to getting this right.

State Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, represents District 18, which stretches across parts of Hernando, Pasco and Sumter counties. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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