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Gov. Scott visits Pine Island to tout environmental spending for Lee County

By Staff | Jul 15, 2015

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane and Florida Governor Rick Scott met Tuesday on Pine Island.

Gov. Rick Scott stopped at Pineland Marina Tuesday to tout more than $2.4 million in environmental funding for Lee County before a small group of supporters.

“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 Scott, the $79 billion “Keep Florida Working” budget provides $3.5 billion in funding for natural and agricultural resources That includes more than $500 million for water quality projects, including $106 million for Everglades restoration and a record $45 million for springs protection.

“This budget also invests $2.4 million to support local environmental and agricultural projects in Lee County, with more than $1.7 million going to projects that will help protect and improve water resources within the county,” the governor said.

“We’re doing the right thing and we need the Federal government to do their part. But sending excess Okeechobee water south is crucial to the restoration of the Everglades. The Federal government has not stepped up to fund much needed repairs by the Army Corp of Engineers to repair the dikes systems of Lake Okeechobee.”

Pineland manager Jeff Wilson introduces the Governor. ??

He thanked two local representatives.

“This is a great year. I want to thank state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-Dist 78) and Representative Ray Rodriguez (R-District 76) for putting through a great budget this year,” Scott said.

The two spoke in favor of the budget provisions.

“The governor prioritized $106 million in funding to preserve the Everglades,” Fitzenhagen said. “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. I’d always like to see more, but at least we’re going in a positive direction.”

“This brings together a partnership that keeps Florida beautiful to attract more visitors,” Rodriguez said. “Our economy is based on people coming to Florida and more people coming means a stronger economy.”

Governor Rick Scott addresses the press.

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

After its passage, environmental groups almost immediately 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 last year.

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.”

Supporters of clean water and “Don't Dump the Plan” demonstrate.

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

The governor’s appearance Tuesday was closed to the general public. About 30 minutes before Scott’s arrival all but press were asked to leave the property.

A small group of protestors stood on Waterfront Drive with signs, some in support of clean water projects, most in support of the Pine Island Plan, an island conservation-related initiative.

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane joined Governor Scott to announce the funding of eight local projects within the Caloosahatchee watershed aimed at protecting and improving local water resources.

Attending the announcement at the invitation of the Governor, the Mayor took note that watershed runoff accounts for more than 50-percent of the water volume that we receive annually and therefore is one of our greatest challenges to restoring the quality of flows to the Caloosahatchee Estuary.

“Our unprecedented collaborative efforts of all working together, State, local and regional governments has resulted in the funding of these important local projects.”

The $1.7 million in funding from the State of Florida for these projects will require a dollar to dollar match from Lee County.