Drainage district bill needed to launch project, clears Houseby John Kennedy | April 27th, 2011
Legislation that would add financial muscle to the obsure Lake Worth Drainage District — and possibly launch an ambitious South Florida water project — was approved Wednesday without comment by the House.
The House OK’d the legislation 117-0 by first-year Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, as part of a consent calendar that included almost two-dozen local bills.
The measure (HB 741) would give the drainage district authority to issue taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for canal improvements and construction of a 25-billion-gallon reservoir in western Palm Beach County to hold stormwater.
The water would then be treated and moved through existing canals to South Florida’s thirsty shoreline communities from Wellington to Fort Lauderdale.
The legislation now awaits a Senate vote.
Supporters have touted the project as a common sense solution to the region’s environmental and growth management problems. But Gov. Rick Scott’s office has raised questions — which still may be unresolved — about taxpayer liability stemming from the plan, called the C-51 Reservoir Project.
Berman was warned earlier this session that Scott was considering vetoing the legislation. But the governor’s office hasn’t shed more light about his views on the project.
Currently, stormwater is wasted — flushed from the C-51 canal into the Lake Worth Lagoon — bringing with it sediments, pollutants and fresh water that seriously damage wildlife in the lagoon.
Instead, the project calls for it to be routed from the new reservoir east through the C-51 canal, then south to the Hillsboro Canal in Broward County. The project would rely on the ability of a patchwork of water managers, utilities and a controversial mining company — all with separate motives — to work together on the estimated $500 million project.
A large portion of the work is expected to be done by Palm Beach Aggregates LLC, a partnership between Florida Crystals and Palm Beach Aggregates, a mining company that grabbed headlines and the attention of federal investigators during corruption probes of two Palm Beach County commissioners.
For the company, the reservoir project would involve tons of rocks and dollars. Tentative plans call for Aggregates LLC to build the reservoir and necessary pumps, then sell it — at a price not yet determined. The company sold an adjacent reservoir to the South Florida Water Management District for $220 million.
The likely buyer would be the Lake Worth Drainage District, created 96 years ago to provide water control and supply from Okeechobee Boulevard south to Broward. The district has historically been limited to weed control, maintaining canal banks, monitoring water levels and issuing permits.
But as owner and operator of a reservoir that helps quench South Florida cities and shapes development, while negotiating contracts with other utilities, the district would emerge as a major player in the region’s water management.