In the zone: House Committee advances bill creating 2-mile protection buffer around Everglades
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 12/14/22- Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, R-Coral Gables, explains the Toll Relief Bill prior to passage, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

'Each year, this Legislature allocates funds to protect the Everglades and for Everglades restoration. This will help continue those efforts.'

Legislation to create a two-mile buffer zone around the Everglades Protection Area (EPA) is again advancing in the House after lawmakers gave the bill unanimous approval in its first Committee stop.

If passed, the measure (HB 723) would heighten restrictions on potentially harmful development and zoning changes near the endangered wetlands on which the state has spent billions to repair and safeguard.

“Each year, this Legislature allocates funds to protect the Everglades and for Everglades restoration. This will help continue those efforts,” said Coral Gables Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, who sponsored the measure this year and in 2023.

House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Subcommittee members voted unanimously to advance the bill Monday.

HB 723 and its upper-chamber analog (SB 1364) by Miami Sen. Alexis Calatyud would require local development plans or plan amendments concerning land within two miles of the EPA to follow Florida’s coordinated review process — rather than an expedited review process — under which the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would determine whether the proposed changes would hurt the EPA.

If that review, due within 30 days of a proposal’s receipt, finds the plan would adversely affect the Everglades, the plan must be amended to eliminate the potential harm.

Calatayud’s bill, which cleared its first Senate committee stop on Jan. 16, names Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties as where the restrictions would apply. Cabrera’s bill, meanwhile, would apply statewide.

“We appreciate that the bill identifies the coordinated state review process, which is already in place, utilized and understood by the … municipalities and agencies. They should be able to integrate these new requirements,” said Kim Dinkins, policy and planning director for smart growth advocacy nonprofit 1000 Friends of Florida.

She added that the measure is “an appropriate method to protect the state’s present economic investment and ongoing commitment to restore the Everglades.”

Representatives from the Everglades Trust, Audubon Society and Sierra Club also signaled support.

Billions of state dollars, including more than $4.5 billion under Gov. Ron DeSantis and $1.1 billion from President Joe Biden’s administration, have been earmarked for Florida’s famed “River of Grass.”

But in recent years, local governments have voted to encroach on the sensitive area. Miami-Dade approved a since-tabled project called the Kendall Parkway in 2018 that would extend State Road 836 by 14 miles over the EPA.

Four years later, Miami-Dade Commissioners voted 8-4 to override Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s veto of a 379-acre industrial complex west of Biscayne Bay in Homestead. The vote marked the first expansion of the county’s Urban Development Boundary (UDB) meant to preserve agricultural and protected lands, including the Everglades, for the first time in a decade.

Last year, the county received seven applications to build beyond the UDB.

State lawmakers have been trying to impose the two-mile zone around the Everglades for years. Past sponsors (all from Miami-Dade) include Sens. Bryan Ávila and Ana Maria Rodriguez, former Sen. Annette Taddeo and former Rep. Vance Aloupis.

HB 723, which Miami Rep. Vicki Lopez is co-sponsoring, is to go before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee next, after which it has one more stop before reaching the floor.

SB 1364 pends review by the Senate Agriculture and Rules committees before facing a full chamber vote.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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