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Everglades to get its own Capitol caucus

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

The state Capitol has its Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus and even Tea Party Caucus, with likeminded legislators forming loose-knit groups to promote their cause.

Beginning next week, a Florida Everglades Caucus will dawn — launched Monday at an event scheduled in Boynton Beach.

Rep. Steve Perman, a Boca Raton Democrat, and Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, are the founding members of the caucus. They’ll be joined by the Everglades Foundation, Everglades Coalition, and other environmental activists at Monday’s 1 p.m., kick-off event, planned for Bedner’s Farm, west of Boynton on U.S. 441.

Goals of the caucus aren’t immediately known. But Gov. Rick Scott is likely to be seeking state cash and legislative backing for his plan announced last month for Everglades restoration.

After demands from federal officials for more action from the state, Scott unveiled a proposal that calls for building reservoirs, expanding wetlands and removing dams and other obstacles to freshwater flow in the Everglades region.

The Republican governor also is looking to extend the latest federal deadline for restoration to 2022 — another two years. For those with long memories, the initial plan for completing Everglades restoration was 2006, under a federal court settlement reached in 1992.

Fla GOP’s $3.5 million cash collection includes timely Jax dog track donation

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The Florida Republican Party pulled in $3.5 million in the three months ending June 30, more than three times that collected by state Democrats during the span, new finance records show.

Health care companies, a private prison firm, and utilities were among the GOP’s biggest givers — cash that tracked some of the biggest issues of the 2011 legislative session, ongoing for most of the reporting period.

Still, a relatively modest $5,000 contribution from Jacksonville Greyhound Racing is noteworthy because of its timing. The check was posted by the party on May 6 — the same day the Orange Park dog track played a central role in the chaotic closing hours of the Legislature.

A duel between the House and Senate over a tax break for the track — a political favorite of Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine — forced the session to spill into overtime.

 The House insisted on removing the tax break from what was considered must-pass legislation, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, later said he was “embarrassed” by the stand-off between the two chambers, which also drew veiled questions about the U.S. Senate contender’s leadership skills.

Other GOP contributions were more conventional — and cash-laden. U.S. Sugar Corp., donated $225,000, Nextera Energy, the parent company of Juno Beach-base Florida Power & Light, gave $250,000, and the Boca Raton-based Geo Group, which hopes to gain a big portion of the state’s plan to privatize prisons across 18 counties, including Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast, gave $100,000 to the Florida GOP.

House Republicans revive enviros’ dreaded “burden of proof” and send to Scott

Thursday, May 5th, 2011 by John Kennedy

The House added a controversial environmental permit provision to an otherwise, routine rulemaking bill Thursday — reversing a stance adopted only days ago by ruling Republicans.

The House voted 76-39 to add a disputed “burden of proof” standard that critics say effectively will block many citizens and organizations from challenging licenses or permits issued to developers, mining firms or others looking to build in environmentally sensitive areas.

The rulemaking legislation (CS/HB 993) now containing the tougher challenge standard heads to Gov. Rick Scott, who is likely to sign it into law.

House Republicans said lifting the ability for far-flung opponents to weigh-in with lawsuits or other challenges to development permits was hurting the state’s economy.

“Advocates have brought a project to a grinding halt, only because they challenge the permit,” said Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City.

“Now,” Patronis urged House members, “take a chance to take your state back.”

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, successfully got lawmakers last week to strip the “burden of proof” measure from a bill (CS/HB 991) that would prohibit local governments from requiring that state and federal permits be approved before granting local development projects.

Conservationists had derided the measure — approved in seven minutes late Friday night by the House — as among the worst environmental bills in years.

But critics also have said the local government legislation faced long odds in the Senate, where there’s been some resistence to a wide-ranging overhaul of environmental permitting. But with the Senate already embracing the tougher proof standard, the House joined in Thursday and included it in the rulemaking bill.

Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, predicted that tightening the legal grounds for challenging land-use permits would not withstand court challenges.

“This is the wrong thing for us to be doing,” Kriseman said.

 

Budget negotiators OK water management district tax cuts sought by Scott

Sunday, May 1st, 2011 by John Kennedy

House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Sunday night to give Gov. Rick Scott one of his tax-cutting proposals — a roughly 25 percent reduction in water management district property taxes.

House budget chief Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, advanced the offer — which was similar to an even deeper property tax cut and takeover of water management district budgets that had been pushed by her Senate counterpart, J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Florida’s five water management districts collect over $1 billion in property taxes, with the South Florida Water Management District collecting $411 million, alone. But SFWMD’s collections would be capped at $285 million under the deal reached Sunday, roughly a $126 million reduction in the district’s dollars.

Alexander, a citrus grower whose district includes Okeechobee and Glades counties,  has been pushing to more tightly restrict water management district spending for months.  He’s said districts have been sitting on reserves that could be used to cover existing costs and make room for the property tax break.

The South Florida district has $346 million in reserves, according to Alexander.

Environmentalists have said they feared the tax-cut package could threaten Everglades restoration, whose final dollar level is still being negotiated. The Senate has proposed $20 million, and the House $25 million to continue the ambitious state-federal Everglades project.

The water districts tax cut drew resistence earlier this spring from the state House Select Committee on Water Policy, whose chairman, Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, is a former South Florida district governing board member.

She questioned whether the agency could carry out its flood control and maintenance responsibilities with a steep reduction in revenues. Because of slumping property-tax values across the region, tax revenue collected by the district has already dropped about $150 million, from $549 million in 2007-08.

Drainage district bill needed to launch project, clears House

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 by John Kennedy

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.

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Everglades contractors push Scott for more cash

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011 by John Kennedy

South Florida contractors were among those appealing Tuesday to Gov. Rick Scott’s job-creation push, urging him to seek more funding for Everglades restoration for economic, as well as environmental, purposes.

In his budget proposal, Scott has recommended cutting state restoration money from $50 million to $17 million. He also has called for 25 percent property tax cuts from the state’s water management districts, which environmentalists say also could reduce dollars for Everglades work.

House and Senate budgets advancing also tighten-up environmental spending, as lawmakers look to close a spending gap nearing $3.8 billion.

“Continued state funding of Everglades restoration will help ensure that the federal government stands by its commitment to fund these important projects and will allow construction to move forward,” the ten contractors wrote Scott. “The Everglades stand at a crossroads.”

Contractors included engineers, environmental consultants, and road graders from South Florida to Jacksonville and Mississippi.

AIF pushes back, slowly, on Glades study

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by John Kennedy

One of Florida’s biggest business lobbies fired back Wednesday at the Everglades Foundation — disputing a four-month-old report by the environmental group which touted the economic benefits of restoring its namesake, fabled swamp.

“This report is nothing more than wishful thinking with no credible basis for the claims made by the foundation,” said Barney Bishop, president and CEO of AIF. “It is impossible to support the foundation’s assertion that the state will see $4 for every $1 invested in Everglades restoration. Further, it is impossible to even prove the economic benefits will ever cover the costs of the federal Everglades Restoration Plan.”

The foundation in October released a report by Mather Economics which said construction, hydrology and other environmental work tied to the Everglades project was creating jobs and would continue to add value to the South Florida region for years to come.

The foundation aired a similar theme Monday when it released results of a statewide poll showing most Floridians want Everglades restoration to continue, despite Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendation to reduce this year’s funding form $50 million to $17 million.

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Survey: Floridians want dollars for Everglades

Monday, February 28th, 2011 by John Kennedy

With environmental spending under fire in Tallahassee and Washington, a survey Monday showed two-thirds of Floridians support Everglades restoration, with a majority also opposed to reducing dollars flowing to the effort.

The Everglades Foundation released the survey, saying it supports the organization’s push for state lawmakers to steer clear of Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to reduce restoration funding from $50 million to $17 million. Scott also wants water managers, including the South Florida Water Management District, to reduce property taxes by 25 percent, which environmentalists say could further drain dollars needed for Everglades work.

“Our message to the governor is that he can partner with the conservation community to create jobs and protect our water supply at the same time,” said Kirk Fordham, the foundation’s chief executive officer. “If we want to grow that supply of fresh water, the only solution out there is Everglades restoration.”

President Obama’s budget blueprint increases spending on restoration. But the Republican-led U.S. House has proposed sharp cuts in environmental programs and funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for much of the Everglades work.

The Everglades survey was conducted by the Tarrance Group, which does polling for Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, other Republican senators, and GOP members of the Florida congressional delegation.

The survey showed that 84 percent of voters rank maintaining Florida’s fresh water drinking supply as “very important.”  Seventy-nine percent agreed that to attract new business and industries to the state, access to a stable water supply is necessary.

The survey of 607 voters was taken Feb. 13-14. It has a 4.1 percent margin-of-error.

Gambling in the Glades?

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 by Jennifer Sorentrue

Fresh off vacation, Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Burt Aaronson said a casino might be just the boost the embattled Glades region needs.

“It is something to think about,” he said.

Aaronson, a cruise maven and tourism booster, also said the county should do more to help bring slots to the Palm Beach Kennel Club. The club, he said, has been at a “disadvantage” since state lawmakers allowed Broward’s parimutuel facilities to have slots. (more…)

Pythons coming soon to a bridge near you?

Monday, July 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

python1Florida counties are suggesting something that sounds like a scarlet letter to warn innocents away from households with scary serpents.

It’s the latest twist in the tale of the python-induced paranoia that’s wound up with bounty hunters seeking the critters in throughout Palm Beach County on lands abutting the Everglades.

The July 1 death of a two-year-old girl who was strangled by a pet python in Central Florida set off demands for an open-season on the snakes, which have overrun the national park. Gov. Charlie Crist gladly complied and ordered the bounty hunt for the pests last week. (U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, has had the Burmese python infestation in his sights for some time).nelson-python

Now, the Florida Association of Counties wants state wildlife officials to give them more control over dangerous animals. The association sent a letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission last week asking them to let counties notify neighbors where perilous pythons and other classified creatures reside.

Perhaps the counties have something like the sex offender registry on the Internet where neighbors can see where perpetrators live.

Will the pythons be forced to take up residence under bridges like sex offenders banned from living near schools, parks or other places where children congregate?

Game on: Crist orders python purge

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A python posse armed with clubs and machetes will start combing the Everglades for the supersized serpents this weekend.

Gov. Charlie Crist ordered the python bounty hunt Wednesday at the urging of two Florida congressmen who were in an uproar after one of the exotic snakes strangled a 2-year-old girl July 1 near Ocala.

That python was a pet and didn’t live in the Everglades. But the case called new attention to the plague of the oversized reptiles that have spread throughout South Florida’s marshes, gobbling wading birds and posing a danger to native wildlife.

Estimates of the python population in the Everglades range between 10,000 and 150,000. They can reach up to 20 feet in length and have long, curved teeth, along with the ability to squeeze their prey to death.

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Snakes alive! Rooney joins python posse push

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney has filed a bill to blacklist Burmese pythons and other unwelcome animal immigrants from entering the country.

The Tequesta Republican has joined the movement, led by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, to rid the River of Grass of the perilous pests after a pet python strangled to death a two-year-old Florida girl.

python1About 150,000 pythons, not native to Florida, have taken up residence in the Everglades, threatening other endangered wildlife there, including Florida panthers and wood storks.

Rooney’s backing two bills to crack down on bringing invasive animals into the country.

One McCarthy-esque proposal would create a black list of nonnative species would create a black list of nonnative species barred from being brought into the United States and a green list of creatures that would be welcome.
The other would add Burmese pythons to the list of dangerous animals, similar to a measure Nelson filed several months ago.

Rooney’s hunting proposal is similar to a Nelson made today asking U.S. Department of the Interior Ken Salazar to approve a python-killing season in the ‘Glades to rid the national treasure of the invaders.

Read Rooney’s press release here.

Nelson: Kill those snakes in the grass!

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 by Dara Kam

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is asking federal officials for a posse.

A python posse, that is.

Nelson sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking him to approve a python-kill because the slithering beasts are taking over the River of Grass.

nelson-pythonNelson earlier this year introduced a bill to ban imports of Burmese pythons and classifying them as “injurious animals.”

Two weeks ago, a pet python strangled to death a two-year-old Florida girl, creating an uproar about the invasive predators.

Police remove a Burmese python from a home in Oxford, Fla. on July 1 after it killed a young girl.

Police remove a Burmese python from a home in Oxford, Fla. on July 1 after it killed a young girl.

Officials “need to get a grip on pythons invading America’s Everglades,” Nelson wrote.

“They are threatening endangered wildlife there – and, Lord forbid, a visitor in the Everglades ever encounters one,” he wrote.

Nelson’s proposing an organized hunt to diminish the ever-growing python population in the ‘Glades. The posse could consist of park rangers or deputies and volunteers, Nelson suggested.

Read Nelson’s letter after the jump.

Photos Fatal python attack

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Fatal python attack shows threat from invasive species

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009 by Palm Beach Post Staff

A pet Burmese python broke out of a glass cage last week and strangled to death a 2-year-old girl in her Florida bedroom.

The tragedy was the latest and most graphic example of a problem that has plagued the state for more than a decade: a nonnative species that is wreaking havoc in the Everglades, threatening the environment, native wildlife and people.

Police remove a Burmese python from a home in Oxford, Fla. on July 1 after it killed a young girl.

Police remove a Burmese python from a home in Oxford, Fla. on July 1 after it killed a young girl.

“It’s just a matter of time before one of these snakes gets to a visitor in the Florida Everglades,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

Nelson has introduced a bill to ban imports of the snakes, after years of trying to persuade federal wildlife officials to restrict their entry into the country. (more…)

Former Herald reporter starts state politics blog

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 by Dara Kam

fineout.jpgFormer Miami Herald reporter Gary Fineout launched a new blog today, The Fine Print, which he says will offer “plain-spoken analysis” of state politics and policy.
In his first post, he dissects Gov. Charlie Crist’s budget proposal, pointing out this “sweetener for U.S. Sugar deal.”

Crist has included $5 million in his economic development funding recommendations to be used for “areas impacted by the South Florida Water Management District’s acquisition of land from the U.S. Sugar Corporation. Impacted areas include Hendry and Glades County and the communities of Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee.

Invested in Sugar’s unemployment

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Despite his opposition to Gov. Charlie Crist’s deal to buy U.S. Sugar, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, could benefit if the deal goes through and causes the estimated 10,000 job losses.
bennett_mug.jpg“I own the unemployment office so I’m probably going to be in good shape,” Bennett joked during the Senate Community Affairs Committee meeting today.
Bennett said after the meeting that he has owned the building that houses the unemployment office for 15 years.

(more…)

Obstacles cloud U.S. Sugar land deal

Sunday, December 14th, 2008 by Dara Kam

081214_flowway.jpg
The Post’s Paul Quinlan tees up the Tuesday deadline for the South Florida Water Management District to decide whether to pay $1.34 billion for 180,000 acres in the Everglades.

But critics, including (former Gov. Bob) Graham, question whether the state is paying too much – potentially burying itself in debt and rendering the billion-dollar deal yet another in a long line of stalled restoration efforts.

Among the problems Graham cites: No federal help, despite an 8-year-old agreement to split Everglades restoration costs evenly between the state and the feds. Appraisals that suggest the state is overpaying by as much as $400 million. Terms that allow U.S. Sugar to lease back the land at a quarter of the going rate.

Also today, the Post’s editorial board gives a run down of all the players in the deal and concludes that water district managers should call U.S. Sugar’s bluff and walk away from the offer.

Tuesday’s arbitrary deadline is itself a deal-breaker. Is U.S. Sugar really prepared to shun the water district, with its billion-dollar financing capability, if the board defers? Or is the company afraid that more time means more scrutiny of U.S. Sugar’s finances, which could drive down the price?

Also, be sure to click on the picture above and check out staff artist Brendan King’s map that overlays the proposed ‘flow way’ on the land parcels owned by U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals.

Job angst in the Everglades directed at Crist

Saturday, December 6th, 2008 by Dara Kam

The Post’s Paul Quinlan writes today that anxiety is increasing in the Everglades over what will happen to 1,700 local jobs if the state buys up the U.S. Sugar cane fields.

“Charlie Crist’s determination to get this deal done no matter what the cost includes the cost of losing jobs in the Glades community,” said Clewiston Mayor Mali Chamness. “Even though he says he’s committed to job preservation, I have not seen any evidence of that.”

State Sen. J.D. Alexander tells Quinlan, “Quite frankly, until the governor tells the people of Florida what he’s thinking about, it doesn’t mean near as much.”

“I’d walk on glass not to lose jobs,” said Alexander, R-Lake Wales.

Hostile bid for U.S. Sugar threatens Crist’s Glades plan

Thursday, November 20th, 2008 by Dara Kam

Story today from the Post’s Susan Salibury:

A Tennessee-based farming company today announced a hostile bid to buy out U.S. Sugar Corp., potentially throwing an enormous wrench into the state’s plans to purchase the sugar giant’s farming empire to save the Everglades.

The private buyout offer comes just weeks before Gov. Charlie Crist’s water managers may be about to vote on a contract with U.S. Sugar. But it also arrives at a moment when the state’s deal is facing considerable flux: For example, water managers aren’t sure how much of the land they would actually need to restore the Everglades.

Meanwhile, a recently released analysis by a New York-based financial expert suggests that the state’s suggested price may be $400 million too high. And U.S. Sugar executives have announced a venture to build one of the world’s largest ethanol plants in Clewiston, even after selling all its farmland to the state.

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