Bill redirects $50 million a year for Hurricane Michael restoration
Florida’s timber industry could take a multibillion-dollar hit from Hurricane Michael.

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“I feel comfortable this session we’ll do something for those areas.”

Legislation plowing $50 million a year of public lands money into Hurricane Michael recovery cleared the Senate Environment and Natural Resources committee Tuesday on a unanimous vote.

The money would pay for re-forestation, ecosystem management, fire control, debris removal, pollution mitigation, coastal protection, and beach nourishment through the 2025-26 fiscal year.

The vote demonstrates the Legislature’s determination to help the 14-county Michael disaster zone recover, said committee chairman Bill Montford, who sponsored the legislation (SB 376).

“And the Governor, too,” Montford said, following the vote.

“It shouldn’t go unnoticed that he was over three times the first two weeks he was in office. His wife has been there multiple times. There’s a commitment from President (Bill) Galvano, to making sure we address issues there, as well,” he said.

“I feel comfortable this session we’ll do something for those areas.”

He argued the recovery efforts are a worthwhile use of the money, which would come from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, financed by taxes on real estate transactions.

Amendment 1, approved by the voters in 2014, directs that one-third of the trust fund go to land and water conservation and restoration, but the Legislature has tended to honor that mandate in the breach.

No one nitpicked on that score during the hearing on Montford’s bill.

“It’s a clear indication that people understand the devastation that occurred. This was the most powerful hurricane to hit Florida in decades. And it hit a unique part of Florida. The ecosystem that we have has been totally disrupted.”

The Legislature has shifted nearly $385 million from reserves into Michael recovery under the budget for this fiscal year. Montford wasn’t sure how much the Legislature might OK in total, but $50 million “won’t be enough,” he conceded.

“We’re still trying to get data from these small counties in terms of what’s out there that needs to be done.”

The committee approved an amendment that would bar the use of the money for cleanup on private lands or wastewater treatment. Montford would like to help private landowners, too, “but I’m not sure we’ll get there,” he said.

The amendment “was a huge leap in the right direction,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters.

“That’s always been a concern — that these dollars that were intended for conservation would be usurped for out other, also important problems,” she said.

“The concerns are really about making sure we get the language exactly right. But I think the direction the bill’s moving in is a good one.”

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.


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