Senate bill to strengthen Everglades protections heads to floor as House companion lags
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 11/8/23-Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, talks about CS/HB 7-C that provides grant funding to improve security for at-risk schools, churches, museums and community centers, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. The Senate passed the House version of the bill and it now moves to the governor for approval. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Lawmakers have been trying for years to impose stronger development limits within 2 miles of the endangered wetlands.

A proposal to better protect the Everglades from harmful development in Miami-Dade County is heading to the Senate floor, but slow movement by its House counterpart may again keep the legislation from passing.

The bill (SB 1364), which breezed through the Senate Rules Committee with scant discussion, would require construction projects and zoning changes within two miles of the endangered wetlands to undergo a coordinated state review.

If the Department of Environmental Protection then determines the plan will hurt Everglades restoration, the plan must be amended to eliminate those negative impacts.

Miami Republican Sen. Alexis Calatayud, the bill’s sponsor, amended her measure Monday to ensure it applies only to Miami-Dade. An earlier version would have affected Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

The bill’s House analog (HB 723) by Coral Gables Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, would apply statewide. It awaits a hearing before the second of three committees to which House Speaker Paul Renner referred it in December.

That could once more portend its doom. HB 723 is in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, which does not have another meeting scheduled this year.

Florida Politics contacted Calatayud and Busatta Cabrera for a comment on what they believe the bill’s chances are with the end of Session looming. Calatayud responded briefly but did not offer an answer by press time. Busatta Cabrera did not immediately respond.

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

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

Four years later, the Miami-Dade Commission 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 decades.

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

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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