Politics

Requests pour in for water projects in Florida

Water-related projects totaling nearly $1.2 billion have been proposed as state lawmakers decide how to carve up a pot of money that voters want for land and water conservation and management.

The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee has posted on its webpage a summary list of 475 requested water projects from across the state that would far surpass anticipated first-year funding from a constitutional amendment voters approved in November.

The proposals range from $96.8 million for phase two of the Yankee Lake Surface Water Plant in Seminole County to $15,000 for the replacement of sewage flowmeters in Miami-Dade County.

Other requested big-ticket items include $65 million for reclaimed water systems in Broward County; $53 million for a water-management project along the Halifax River and Nova Canal basins in Volusia County; $50 million for wastewater improvements in the Florida Keys; $20 million for regional stormwater work in Wakulla County; and $15 million for the East Milton Water Reclamation and Effluent Disposal Facility in Santa Rosa County.

The House panel is working to define the intent of the ballot initiative, which was known as Amendment 1 and was approved by 75 percent of voters.

“There is going to be somebody, somewhere, that isn’t happy with the way the funds are distributed,” subcommittee Chairman Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, said. “It’s going to happen, because there are so many people and so many perspectives.”

The amendment, which directs 33 percent of the proceeds from a real-estate tax to land and water projects, is expected to provide $757 million for the efforts during the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Currently, about 20 percent of the annual real-estate documentary stamp revenue — $470.8 million in the 2014-2015 fiscal year — is divided up into different trust funds supporting environmental programs, according to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

Environmental groups have presented lawmakers with potential funding outline for next year that would send $150 million to the Everglades and South Florida estuaries and another $150 million to the Florida Forever program for land acquisition, springs and trails. Also, $90 million would go for land management, $50 million for springs, $25 million for rural family lands and $20 million for beach management. The rest would cover debt service.

“It was never the case that we thought that all the money should be used for land acquisition,” said Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, a lobbyist on environmental issues.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said he continues to work on a proposal to create a new trust-fund structure to handle the Amendment 1 funding.

“Any engineer will tell you that a design process that is flawed leads to a flawed structure,” Boyd said. “We don’t want to do that and neither do the people of Florida.”

In the Senate, Environmental Preservation and Conservation Chairman Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, has filed a series of bills (SB 576, SB 578, SB 580, SB582, SB 584, and SB 586) to create a trust fund within the Department of Environmental Protection to handle money from the amendment.

Dean’s committee is scheduled to review the trust-fund proposal Wednesday.

The House and Senate are reviewing policy changes regarding management of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the state’s natural springs and water resources. The House proposal (HB 7003) is viewed as more business-friendly than the Senate measure (SB 918), which was introduced last week.

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