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Gov. Rick Scott highlights $2.4 million in environmental funding for Lee County

By Staff | Jul 15, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott was at Pineland Marina on Pine Island Tuesday to highlight funding to protect Florida’s environment included in this year’s budget which includes $2.4 million to support local environmental and agricultural projects in Lee County. More than $1.7 million going to projects that will help protect and improve water resources within the county, officials said in a statement released by the Governor’s Office Tuesday afternoon.

“Florida’s natural resources are some of the most unique and beautiful in the entire world and also help provide a foundation for our growing economy and record-breaking tourism industry,” Scott said. “From our hundreds of miles of coastline, pristine waterways and our award-winning state parks, we will continue to invest in our natural resources so our future generations can enjoy our beautiful state.”

According to the release, the budget “invests $3.5 billion in funding for natural and agricultural resources. This includes more than $500 million for projects to improve the quality and quantity of our water including $106 million for Everglades restoration and a record $45 million for springs protection.”

“I want to thank Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature for recognizing the importance of protecting and restoring our natural resources,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson in the statement. “The ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget includes funding for a number of projects, including the C-43 reservoir, that is crucial to protecting our water quality, ensuring our communities have a clean and safe supply of water, and making sure our state stays the most beautiful in the nation.”

Mitch Hutchcraft, Governing Board member of the South Florida Water Management District voiced support for the local project funding.

“Support for water projects in Lee County enhances our work to improve the entire Caloosahatchee watershed,” he said.

The statement quotes three local reps, who took similar views in praising both the legislative budget and Scott’s support.

“We are happy that Governor Scott prioritized $106 million in funding to preserve the natural treasures found in the Everglades so Florida can continue to be a top destination to live, work, and raise a family,” said Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-District 78, in the statement. “The ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget capitalizes on the momentum of the last four years, and south Florida families will see that Everglades restoration will be a priority for many years to come.”

“Florida’s geography and economy are defined by our natural resources,” said Rep. Matt Caldwell, Rep. District 79. “By investing $3.5 billion, Governor Scott’s ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget continues his progress to make Florida the best place to live, work, and raise a family. We applaud Governor Scott for his dedication to not only investing in the health of Florida’s resources, but supporting the health of Florida’s economy.”

“We are happy to partner with Governor Scott to keep Florida beautiful and attract visitors who appreciate Florida’s striking geography,” Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R- District 76, is quoted as saying. “It is important to realize Florida’s geography has attracted families for decades and the ‘KEEP FLORIDA WORKING’ budget invests in not only the environment, but also Florida’s economy.”

Conservationists, meanwhile have harshly criticized the total $79 billion budget, saying it not only largely ignores conservation and water quality but fails to follow the mandates of the voter-approved Amendment 1.

Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit maintaining that more than $300 million that the Legislature budgeted this year does not follow the guidelines of the The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment , which was approved by 75 percent of the voters. The lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida maintains that elected officials ignored a “constitutional mandate to appropriate the monies defined in Amendment 1 to the acquisition, improvement, and maintenance of conservation and recreation lands. Instead of complying with the mandate of Amendment 1 and in defiance of its constitutional obligations created by that Amendment, the Legislature misappropriated over $300 million of Amendment 1 funds, devoting those funds to uses not allowable for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. At the same time, the Legislature approved tax cuts in excess of $400 million,” the filing states.

“The constitutional amendment is clear,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest in a prepared statement announcing the filing of the suit last month. “A third of the tax on real estate deals is to be used to prevent every last inch of Florida land from getting chewed up by development. But most lawmakers are simply not listening. That’s why we have to go to court.”

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment finding that the Legislature has violated the Florida Constitution by misappropriating Amendment 1 funds, the filing states.