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Everglades restoration’

Senate budget chief: Everglades money coming

Thursday, February 9th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Everglades lovers should probably chill out over the lack of funding for river of grass clean-up in the Senate budget.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander said this morning he’s “seriously considering” matching the House’s $35 million line-item for Everglades restoration. Gov. Rick Scott tucked away $40 million for the clean-up, and the money will almost certainly show up late in negotiations between the two chambers over their spending plans.

“We’re looking at it. We’re trying to figure out if we can afford it this year,” Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said, adding that he’s supported that and the Florida Forever land-buying program for his 14 years in the legislature soon coming to an end. “So it’s something I’d love to see us be able to do.
I would hope we’d be able to eventually get there…If we can do something it won’t be a lot, but we’d certainly like to provide some funding for preservation of Florida’s ecological needs.”

Alexander said he doesn’t foresee much trouble reconciling the two spending plans. The Senate’s proposal includes deeper health and human services, more spending on schools and road projects and dips into state universities’ reserves.

“There aren’t a lot of differences. It should be fairly easy to get to something we both can agree to,” Alexander said.

No money for Everglades clean-up in Senate budget – yet

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate hasn’t included any money for Everglades restoration in its spending plan, but the money may soon flow to the “River of Grass.”

Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Democrat, questioned Senate General Government Appropriations Committee Chairman Alan Hays about the absence of the money during a meeting late Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s definitely in play,” Hays, R-Umatilla, assured him. “It’s an open issue.”

Gov. Rick Scott included $40 million for Everglades restoration in his budget proposal, and the House wants to spend $30 million on clean-up and another $5 million for northern Everglades projects.

The Senate’s plan prompted an outcry from Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham, who urged the Senate to go along with Scott’s $40 million allocation.

“We are disappointed that the Florida Senate has decided to risk the future of Florida’s water supply by refusing to provide any funding for Everglades restoration,” Fordham said in a press release. “This is not the time to delay the vital work that needs to be done. More than 7 million Floridians depend on the Everglades for fresh water. Any delay threatens the welfare of 1 in 3 Floridians and the economic well-being of our state.”

Graham blasts water ‘privatization’

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham cautioned lawmakers and environmentalists this morning that “privatizing” state waters would cause “considerable damage” to the Everglades and cause Floridians to lose control of thousands of acres of wetlands.

“There’s no project in Florida that would be more adversely affected,” said Graham, who was a member of the legislature more than four decades ago and then governor when some of the state’s water and conservation policies were first created.

Graham was in town as environmentalists, government officials – including U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Gov. Rick Scott – and others gathered nearby for a day-long Everglades Water Supply Summit.

Speaking to the Florida Legislative Everglades Caucus, Graham called on them to reject two water measures he called “not just the camel’s nose but the camel’s neck and shoulders under the tent of privatization of water.

The first (HB 639) would allow utilities to have permanent ownership of water they have used and treated. The other (HB 1103) would change the definition of the “high water line” that determines where private property ends and state-owned waters begin. Critics, including Graham, say the measure would cause the state to lose hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands after years of litigation determining what the water line means.

“When we privatize ownership of Florida’s water resources, it takes water away from the Everglades. It’s just pure and simple. You can spend a bunch of money trying to get water into the Everglades but if somebody owns it, you’ll never get it there,” said Audubon of Florida executive director Eric Draper.

Graham also urged lawmakers to undo a move that gave the legislature more control over the state’s five water management districts, to boost money to the state’s land conservation program Florida Forever.

But the biggest threat to the River of Grass would be an end to the cooperation between state and federal officials to restore the state’s ecological treasure, the former governor advised. The protracted Everglades restoration projects have caused fear that the effort is unraveling.

“The thing that would be the most fatal to Everglades restoration is if this marriage between the state of Florida and the federal government were to be broken. Neither partner alone either has the financial or legal capabilities of carrying this off,” Graham said.

A poll released this morning found that 64 percent of voters surveyed favored increased spending on Everglades restoration, up from 51 percent who supported increased funding in a February 2011 survey.

Everglades Foundation to host Tallahassee summit

Monday, December 12th, 2011 by John Kennedy

With Gov. Rick Scott emerging for many environmentalists as a surprising defender of Everglades restoration, one of the issue’s biggest advocates is taking its case to the state Capitol next month.

The Everglades Foundation announced Monday that it will host a two-day water supply summit in Tallahassee, Jan. 17-18, hosted by NBC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd.

 The state capital summit comes on the heels of last year’s America’s Everglades Summit in Washington, D.C. That huddle featured state and federal leaders, supporters of the Everglades, and had former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw hosting a discussion on the challenges facing Everglades restoration.

 ”Anytime you can bring together people who care deeply about Florida’s economy, the Everglades and the future of our water supply, you create an opportunity to find answers that will work,” said Paul Tudor Jones, the hedge fund millionaire and Everglades Foundation chairman.

Scott proposed spending $40 million for Everglades clean-up work in the budget proposal released last week.  The money would be steered toward the effort Scott unveiled in October plans to build reservoirs, unblock flow ways, control seepage and expand man-made wetlands by 2022.

The governor’s proposal stretches the already stalled clean-up plan another two years. But it was designed to answer federal environmental officials critical of the state’s slow action on the project, which once was scheduled to be completed by 2006.

Graham leads new Conservation Coalition seeking to revive state programs

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 by John Kennedy

Former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham led a gathering of activists Wednesday calling for Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders to preserve the state’s water resources, while renewing its longstanding commitment to the environment.

“We need strong gubernatorial leadership to reverse the damage that’s been done,” Graham told a rally at the state Capitol.

Graham debuted Wednesday as leader of the Florida Conservation Coalition, which includes Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida, the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Trust for Public Land and League of Women Voters. The coalition plans to lobby Scott and the Republican-led Legislature to restore funding to water quality programs, the Florida Forever land-buying program, and Everglades restoration, which supporters say have been staggered by budget cuts since 2007.

Graham was joined by state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, Nathaniel Reed of 1000 Friends of Florida and representatives of environmental groups, which generally praised Scott’s environmental stance, but blasting legislative moves which reduced oversight and dollars for green programs.

Advocates derided the Legislature for approving a $210 million cut in water management district property taxes, which has led to wholescale staff layoffs and program reductions, the most profound occuring at the South Florida Water Management District. Graham said taxes were “reduced by the amount of two pizzas a year,” but that the cuts did wide-ranging harm to existing programs and services.

Environmentalists, though, withheld direct criticism of Scott, who campaigned for the reduction and embraced the  cuts. Instead, Graham, apparently buoyed by recent Scott comments which underscored the need for effective environmental policy and Everglades restoration, urged conservationists to “join Scott’s army.”

Graham also warned the coalition planned to hold lawmakers accountable for actions which hurt Florida’s environment.

“We want to alert the voters in 2012 who was responsible for what happened in 2011,” Graham said.

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.

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