(By Kim Ryan) A new bill, which came out of nowhere, emerged from the Florida Senate on Friday February 4th. It caused an uproar among many local groups and individuals concerned about water quality. Here’s where the issue stands today.
Many of those organizations are speaking out against the bill by press release, Facebook videos, letters to Tallahassee, and any other means at their disposal to rally Floridians to join them in contacting their representatives to oppose the bill.
The bill (2508) was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 16-4 and will be voted on by the full Senate this Thursday.
Eve Samples, Executive Director of Friends of the Everglades explained, in a video, the pitfalls of the bill, saying it would lead to the potential for more toxic algae blooms. “This bill will totally manipulate the new Lake Okeechobee plan. It will essentially enshrine into state law the water supply protection that currently exists for the Everglades Agricultural Area, stockpiling water in the lake for sugarcane irrigation.”
Additionally, according to an FOE press release, the bill would allow expedited “dredge and fill” wetland permits if they serve a “public purpose,” and would spread thin state funding for critical Everglades restoration projects.
On February 9th when the bill was being debated in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, public comment included familiar local voices in opposition. The speakers included Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith Mayor, South Florida Water Management District Chairman Chauncey Goss, Captains for Clean Water representatives and others. The speakers asked committee members not to approve that iteration of the bill, which they did, in the 16-4 vote.
Mayor Smith stated her concern was “that SB2508 in its current form may undo the collaborative work over the past 3 years and create a potential loophole around the selected alternative of LOSOM or have other unintended consequences.”
Eric Eikenberg (Chief Executive Officer of the Everglades Foundation) warned “ if you move forward it (the bill) eliminates all the funding for that project,” referring to the EAA reservoir.
Senator Kathleen Passidomo from Naples assured Eikenberg that the bill doesn’t eliminate funding, it adds additional projects and vowed that “we’re going to get this right, it’s important.” Eikenberg said, “This bill would tie the hands of the South Florida Water Management District. “It says to them if you do not convince the Army Corps of Engineers to put a security blanket back in LOSAM for the sugar industry you will not receive money for Everglades restoration. It’s handcuffing the district.”
Goss also expressed his concerns and said the Water Management District was never even consulted on the bill. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg said, “It’s almost unfathomable that we would move forward a piece of legislation without talking to the one group that it predominantly affects, the water management district.”
After the meeting, Daniel Andrews from Captains for Clean Water explained in a Facebook video that the way the bill is filed attaches it to Everglades Restoration money. He called it a “poison pill,” tying the policy to the appropriations of the restoration funds making it “veto proof.”
After the Senate committee approved the bill, members of the SFWMD governing board met and one of the topics discussed was how disheartened some were by the treatment many received at the Senate hearing. Scott Wagner Vice Chairman said, “Quite frankly I felt belittled and insulted. In my world the onus is not on the citizens to explain the bill to the senate, it’s on the senate to explain the bill to concerned citizens.”
Watch the Senate discussion on the issue HERE. Goss speaks to the committee at approximately 2 hours 33 minutes in. He’s berated by two Senate members for not having specific changes to the bill he received only days earlier.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch spoke passionately about honoring and respecting agriculture’s history but stated “agriculture can not say we are owed what we had in 1948. This is not over yet. Yes, we all need water, but the water in the state of Florida belongs to everyone, not just a group that was in power in 1948.”
SB 2508 is set for a Senate floor vote Thursday. Friends of the Everglades wants Florida residents to contact their lawmakers by sending them a letter asking them to oppose this bill. GO HERE.
Lee County Board Chairman Kevin Ruane, who was in Tallahassee last week trying to get the bill amended, is expected to bring the issue up today at the County Board meeting. He’ll ask the county board to send a message to Tallahassee opposing the bill. Ruane was unsuccessful in his attempt to get the bill amended.
The Sanibel City Council sent a letter to Senator Albritton in opposition to the bill which you can read HERE.