TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Two Panhandle lawmakers and a county commissioner objected Thursday to a $2.4 billion proposal by incoming Senate President Joe Negron to buy 60,000 acres of farmland south of Lake Okeechobee to help reduce toxic algae blooms in Southeast Florida waterways.
In a joint release, state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, state Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, and Santa Rosa County Commissioner Bob Cole announced plans to build a coalition against what they see as a potential shift of money away from protecting waters in North Florida.
"Water issues are critical to Florida's future," Evers said in a prepared statement. "We need plans that address our entire state's water issue and not just one area. Sen. Negron's proposal is shortsighted; it will cost billions of dollars, take decades, and still not fix South Florida's problem. It will, however, put the rest of the state's conservation dollars at risk."
Evers, who will not be in the Senate next year, is running for Congress. Hill is seeking to replace him in the Senate.
In the announcement, they called on "all elected officials and business leaders in North Florida to stand up for North Florida's water and North Florida taxpayers."
The proposal, announced Tuesday by Negron, R-Stuart, would buy sugar-industry land as part of an effort to store and clean water and reduce releases from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.
The plan would require a 50-50 funding match between the state and federal government to buy the land, with the state's portion involving the bonding of $100 million annually from documentary-stamp tax revenue in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 to set aside money in the trust fund for 20 years to finance the purchase and preservation of state lands.
The proposal is intended to reduce the toxic algae blooms that have appeared in waterways in Negron's East Coast district as a result of the releases from the lake.
In making his announcement, Negron acknowledged that the money would have to come from other parts of the state budget.
Florida Crystals Corp., which is the largest land owner in the parcels targeted by Negron, along with the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, said in a release they are reviewing the proposal.
A concern for the growers is that more than 100,000 acres have already been removed from farming during the past two decades.
"Taking another 60,000 acres of productive and sustainable farmland out of the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) will without a doubt close down our sugar mill and put us out of business," Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, said in a release. "Sen. Negron's plan means losing a thousand or more jobs in the Glades communities, not to mention the impact to businesses in the community that provide services to us."
The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.
for more features.