The Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that requires officials to look into what is wrecking the Little Wekiva River in Central Florida and expand initiatives to protect wildlife corridors throughout the state — aiding migratory routes for animals such as black bears and panthers.
The Senate took up the House version (HB 727), which awaits a second reading on the House floor, and passed that measure 40-0.
The Senate version (SB 976) had been pushed by Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur of Sanford. He initially filed it to authorize the state to look into and address the alarming siltation and overgrowth of the Little Wekiva in Seminole County. In its last committee stop, Brodeur’s bill had been amended to resemble Republican Rep. Keith Truenow‘s HB 727, which focuses on protecting and promoting wildlife habitat corridors.
“This bill protects ecological systems in Florida by mandating a study of rapid sediment accumulation in the Little Wekiva River. Most excitedly, though, this bill creates the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act, designating existing priorities in the Florida Ecological Greenways Network, as the Florida Wildlife Corridor,” Brodeur said. “It encourages recognition of these lands and waters, as the Florida Department of Transportation maintains and builds our highways.”
“These provisions promote preservation and protection of vulnerable lands and waters, especially those needed to allow for the migration and genetic exchange of Florida’s apex predators, such as the black bear and the panther,” Brodeur added.
More immediately, the bill would authorize a multi-agency study, to be completed by the end of the year, to figure out what is damaging the Little Wekiva, a beloved Central Florida waterway. The bill charges the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, working with other agencies, to figure out what to do about it.
In the past couple of years, sediments have filled a stretch of the river north of State Road 434, not far from where the Florida Department of Transportation is overseeing the $2.3 billion, six-year overhaul of Interstate 4 through greater Orlando. The river has stopped flowing freely in some places and has flooded out to create new channels in others.