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Finish the job

By Staff | Jun 10, 2015

How can you tell a politician is lying? His lips are moving.

It’s a wry joke, usually guaranteed to bring a chuckle.

But this time, few among the 4.2 million Floridians who voted to require that a portion of fees already being collected by the state be used to “acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands” are laughing.

During their regular session, our state legislators ignored provisions delineated in the new constitutional amendment approved by 75 percent of the voters.

Instead of earmarking the funds for the purchase of an estimated 46,800 acres southwest of Lake Okeechobee to mitigate pollution-fraught discharges from Lake O while benefitting Everglades restoration, the politicians in Tallahassee instead talked about diverting the funding to operating expenses.

Specifically, with nearly $750 million in voter approved money on the table, the “water quality” pols we entrust to 1) represent the people who elected them and 2) adhere to the state’s bedrock governing document, its constitution, brought forth a measure to allocate just over $200 million of that.

For “operating and regulatory” expenses for existing agencies.

Not for land acquisition.

Not for restoration.

Not for natural habitat improvement.

But essentially for “management” of existing properties, the cost of which has been funded from other sources and as slick a legislative loophole as we have seen politicians attempt to slide through.

Former Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah, a longtime proponent of conservation who now serves as the coordinator of the Florida Coastal and Oceans Coalition, said it best:

“It is unfortunate that the legislature is looking at siphoning off money that was intended to purchase environmentally sensitive land pursuant to the language of the Florida Constitutional amendment and use that money to pay for regulatory agency operations,” he said. “This is a bait-and-switch type of tactic similar to what they did to the lottery.”


And it is bait-and-switch that, unfortunately, is being supported, or at least condoned, by some of the legislators we elected to represent us here in Southwest Florida.

Let us be clear: Despite a no-go vote proffered by the South Florida Water Management Governing Board, the purchase of the acreage that would allow land to be set aside to build a 26,000 acre reservoir to direct water from Lake Okeechobee south – instead of west to the Caloosahatchee and east to the Indian River – so it could naturally filter and replenish the Everglades, has overwhelming support.

Voters, environmental groups and yes, local officials throughout Southwest Florida hailed the passage of Amendment 1 as it provided a funding source for the so-called EAA/U.S. Sugar land purchase, a project that has been moving forward since 2008 when the “Reviving the River of Grass” deal first was approved under then-governor Charlie Crist.

Purchase of both acreage in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the 26,000-acre Sugar Hill property, which the owners have contractually agreed to sell, has been deemed vital to not only the restoration of the ‘Glades but to the long-term health of southwest Florida’s watershed and our local economy.

Allowing the discharge of polluted, “unfiltered” water to flow into the Caloosahatchee to the detriment of not only the river but gulf shore waters in unconscionable – especially since the money is not only there, but voters specifically agreed that the purchase of land and land restoration was important enough to be imbedded into the state constitution for the next 20 years.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who chaired the Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, is now proposing that $40 million to $50 million be budgeted and then used to provide bond financing of up to $500 million the U.S. Sugar Land is estimated to cost. (More realistic numbers are actually $350 million to $400 million at the $8,000 per acre at which the land has been market valued).

We urge our local delegation to support the proposal, if not one to earmark the entire purchase price in the upcoming budget year.

As clean water advocates across the state urged legislators this past weekend, it’s time to “finish the job.”

The voters have spoken. Their mandate – and their trust – should not, must not, be betrayed.

Spend the Amendment 1 tax dollars as they were intended to be spent.

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Southwest Florida

Legislative Contacts

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, District 30

** Served on the Select Committee

District Office

1926 Victoria Avenue

2nd Floor

Ft. Myers, FL 33901

(239) 338-2570

330 Senate Office Building

404 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100

(850) 487-5030

Senate VOIP: 5030


Sen. Garrett Richter, District 23

** Serves on Commerce and Tourism Committee

3299 E. Tamiami Trail

Suite 203

Naples, FL 34112-4961

(239) 417-6205

404 Senate Office Building

404 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100

(850) 487-5023


President of the Senate, pro tem

Rep. Matt Caldwell, District 79

Building A

15191 Homestead Road

Lehigh Acres, FL 33971-9749

Phone: (239) 694-0161

Capitol Office:

218 House Office Building

402 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

(850) 717-5079


Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen District 78

** “Protecting our waterways” a stated goal

Capitol Office

1302 The Capitol

402 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

Phone: (850) 717-5078

District Office

Suite 208

2120 Main Street

Fort Myers, FL 33901-3010

Phone: (239) 533-2440


Rep. Dane Eagle District 77

** ‘Environmental stewardship’ a stated goal

Capitol Office

1302 The Capitol

402 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

Phone: (850) 717-5077

District Office

Suite 310

1039 Southeast 9th Place

Cape Coral, FL 33990-3131

Phone: (239) 772-1291


Rep. Ray Rodrigues District 76

Capitol Office:

1302 The Capitol

402 South Monroe Street

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300

Phone: (850) 717-5076

District Office:

Suite 218

17595 South Tamiami Trail

Fort Myers, FL 33908-4570

Phone: (239) 433-6501


-Reporter editorial