Gov. Ron DeSantis spotlighted the Everglades Restoration Project in Miami Tuesday morning, continuing to work to fulfill his promise to devote $2.5 billion to water quality and related projects during his first term in office, and expressing confidence that the legislative budget will match one of his key priorities.
The Governor and other officials visited the site where more than five miles of Tamiami Trail roadbed was being removed to facilitate water flow, with bridges forthcoming. DeSantis and the others on hand spotlighted the project as evidence of the administration’s commitment to environmental spends and follow through.
“We set the standard very high and we’re meeting it,” DeSantis said. “We are ahead of schedule on some of these projects.”
He noted the combination of his administration’s funding for Everglades projects and “a lot of support from the federal government” during the Donald Trump era.
The momentum will continue, DeSantis predicted, in the budget currently being hammered out in the Legislature.
He described revenues compared to pandemic projections as “way beyond measurement or expectation,” and described the “robust funding” for Everglades and water projects in the Governor’s Office budget, adding that the Senate is “not that far away.“
“I think we’re going to end up having a lot of successes in this budget,” DeSantis said.
The trail bed removal, DeSantis said, is expected to be complete by January. It will facilitate the flow of “billions and billions of gallons of water.”
Overall, the administration is not just “meeting” its environmental funding goals, it’s “exceeding” them, he noted, with every confidence that momentum will continue.
“All in all, we continue to make progress. We set a lot of ambitious goals. We’re meeting those goals. We’re exceeding those goals in many respects,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis presented as a candidate and early in his term as more environmentally-friendly than his immediate predecessor, and remarks from others on hand made that case in rather direct language.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein noted the sharp uptick in “ribbon cuttings.”
“Over my career, it was really sad that we weren’t having ribbon cuttings. It wasn’t until this Governor came and had the leadership to demand that the environment be a priority that we started to hit the battle rhythm of getting things done. It’s not a rewarding spot to be in an environmental agency when you’re not making progress, not getting funding, and not moving forward,” Valenstein asserted.
Among those changes, Valenstein said, was DeSantis’ commitment to science, via appointing a chief science officer.
DeSantis noted that geoscientist Mark Rains of the University of South Florida will be the second in that position. Rains will replace Thomas Frazer, who will become Dean of the College of Marine Science at USF. Valenstein, however, explained the importance of the office and the pick.
Valenstein noted Frazer demanded that “science leads the way,” and he was empowered to do so because “we know we have a Governor who will support us with funding and support to change policies when we can show the science demands it,” a seeming contrast to the previous Governor, who appointed him to the position two years prior.
Rains has expertise in eco-hydrology and managing water, which Valenstein sees as helpful for studying and managing algae blooms and restoration projects in the Everglades and statewide.
Florida Department of Transportation head Kevin Thibault likewise was laudatory, saying the road removal project “shows the leadership of our Governor to make sure we’re doing the right stuff for the people of Florida.”
Thibault said it was time, after 90 years, to remove the road bed.
And he looks forward to the bridges as the “next steps” in the project. New bridges seem to be metaphorical as much as physical, as Republicans in this era embrace a functional realism on environmental issues that may not have been present in the past.