Funding for Everglades restoration and land acquisition projects have been shortchanged according to Florida environmentalists. They filed a lawsuit last June against the Florida Legislature over their budget’s use of money that was set aside for conservation by Amendment 1, saying that funds were diverted to uses not allowable for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Then, when Gov. Scott revealed his 2016 budget in November many felt that the Florida Everglades restoration was inadequately funded by limiting land acquisition. Which is why the Florida House of Representatives announcement of the Legacy Florida bill was warmly welcomed by environmentalists.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, is a plan to pay for projects to help restore the Everglades by establishing a dedicated funding source. It would dedicate 25 percent or $200 million annually, whichever is smallest from Amendment 1 environmental dollars toward Legacy Florida and the projects that restore the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. It would also require that the State give preference to projects that reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee rivers.
“The Everglades is at the heart of our natural resources, and I believe consistent funding will help preserve and protect this national treasure,” said Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli in a statement. Rep. Harrell, said “the future of our way of life is linked directly to the health of our rivers…Legacy Florida will provide the resources to make it possible for our children and grandchildren to enjoy these natural treasures.”
Several environmental groups have said they are supportive of the proposed legislation. Eric Draper, of Audubon Florida, said in a statement that “Dedicated funding will ensure steady progress on the projects needed to provide clean water to the Everglades and estuaries. We applaud this legislation and its commitment of state funds to ecosystem restoration. Floridians should welcome this as a major step forward toward implementing plans to meet water quality goals and deliver freshwater flows.”