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Ben Diamond proposes plan for protecting Florida’s environment, water quality

As he’s walked Florida’s House District 68 the past weeks, candidate Ben Diamond says he’s found one overriding issue among voters: a concern for the environment and the state’s waterways.

So, on Tuesday, Diamond held a news conference to unveil a six-point plan he says he’ll work to pass if elected.

“I’m running for the Florida House because our state leaders need to do more to preserve and protect our water and our environment,” Diamond wrote in his proposal. “Like many of you, I’m devastated to see the green, toxic algae blooms washing on the sands of our Atlantic Coast.”

State policies in recent years, he said, have only weakened water quality and environmental standards and helped polluters at the expense of the environment and water.

“What we have seen from Tallahassee in response to this crisis?” Diamond asked. “No real action, just typical finger pointing.”

Diamond added, “This has been a difficult summer for the environment in Florida.”

One such crisis began in Lake Okeechobee, where toxic algae cover 33 square miles. That toxic water was pumped out to reduce dangerously high water levels in the lake with the result of toxic algae pouring into estuaries that ended up in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Many waterways have become unsafe for recreation, which Diamond said could have an adverse impact on tourism. Fish kills and manatee deaths have also occurred.

The aquifer and drinking water are also at risk, Diamond said.

Diamond’s six-point plan:

— Buy land near Lake Okeechobee to provide more space to store and treat contaminated water.

— Pass a more stringent timeline for polluters to “clean up their mess.”

— Restore the budgets of regulatory agencies responsible for protecting the state’s waterways and environment.

— Update and modernize Florida’s stormwater management standards and practices.

— Restore oversight of septic systems.

— Adopt the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations for establishing water quality standards.

The news conference, at St. Petersburg’s Northshore Park, also served as a platform for Florida Conservation Voters to announce its endorsement of Diamond.

“We think he’s going to be an invaluable friend to Florida’s environment once he’s elected,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters.

Florida Conservation Voters is a nonpartisan coalition of the state’s conservation community. It was started to advocate for Amendment 1, the water and land conservation amendment that passed in November 2014. Diamond served as a pro bono lawyer and adviser for that campaign, which won approval with more than 75 percent of the vote.

Diamond also won the praise of St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice who praised him, saying, “I know that Ben Diamond is head-and-shoulders above the rest” when it comes to doing what’s needed to protect the state’s environment.

Diamond is facing Eric Lynn in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary for HD 68. The winner of the primary will face Republican Joseph JB Bensmihen in the Nov. 8 general election.

HD 68 covers northeast St. Petersburg, Feather Sound and a portion of Pinellas Park.

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