Another legislative session is upon us and, as is usual for Florida, water and conservation are set to be hot topics. The biggest issue of contention will be SB 10, a proposal by Senate President Joe Negron. There is also a companion bill in the House, HB 761. The problem is that there are serious potential harmful effects for the preservation of water quality and resources in North Florida.
This bill calls for the state purchasing anywhere between 60,000 and 100,000 acres of farmland to be used for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee at a cost of over $1 billion. The idea behind it is to help alleviate water from flowing into the estuaries, which is believed by some to be the cause of the algae bloom issues that South Florida is facing.
However, many scientists and environmental researchers, including researchers from the University of Florida and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, have come to the conclusion that this idea is just that, an idea. They don’t see any scientific evidence to prove that this idea will work. Studies show that it is vital to clean the water before it enters the Lake. Better cleanup efforts are needed in North and Central Florida to help the entire state.
This proposal calls for buying farm land in South Florida and around Lake Okeechobee. Many are opposed to this plan because it forces hard-working farmers and individual family farms to sell their land. Taking farmland out of production will impact everyone and could cause us to rely more on imports from places like Brazil and China rather than our own homegrown produce.
Not only will their land be seized by the government through eminent domain if they don’t agree to sell, but many family businesses will close and Florida will lose jobs. This also could send the message to outside businesses considering moving to Florida that Florida may not be so business friendly if the state would agree to take private land from private business owners and farmers. That’s not a gamble worth taking.
This proposal also calls for a 50-50 match from the federal government to purchase the land. This is fiscally irresponsible, especially considering that the State is already looking at a potential $1.5 billion budget shortfall this year. To rely on the federal government to help fund this and to burden the taxpayers of Florida for this for the next 10 years is fiscally irresponsible.
In addition, the James Madison Institution recently released a study on SB 10 and the findings were troubling. They estimate that 4,148 jobs will be lost as a result and it will cost Florida’s economy $685 million per year.
Finally, the state portion of the money would come from the Amendment 1 dollars. Yes, the same Amendment 1 that was passed in 2014 by over 70 percent of Floridians for land conservation and preservation. This reservoir project will use over 90 percent of the Amendment 1 dollars and leave North Florida with next to nothing.
North Florida is vital to the entire state when it comes to water quality. Seventy percent of Florida’s river watershed and nearly all of Florida’s springs are located in North and Central Florida. In addition, 100 percent of Florida’s aquifer recharge comes from North Florida and nearly all of that comes from the spring region of the state.
Yes, the Legislature passed a spring restoration bill last year, but a current Legislature cannot tell a future Legislature how to spend money, so in an economic downturn the possibility is real that funding could be cut for the springs. The Amendment 1 dollars should be used on projects across the state including North Florida, not tied up for the next 10 years on a single project near the Senate president’s district.
As an executive steering committee member of Stand Up for North Florida, I urge you to please call your legislators and help end this job killing, fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation.
This op-ed originally appeared at: http://www.gainesville.com/opinion/20170301/david-biddle-land-buy-would-be-job-killer