Scott agrees to Negron's reservoir plan, with conditions
Gov. Rick Scott added some tension to the feud between the House and Senate over priority legislation and on Monday endorsed Senate President Joe Negron's proposal to build a deep-water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee on existing state lands to reduce the need to discharge polluted water in fragile estuaries.
But the governor added a new condition, saying his support was contingent on legislators finding $200 million to loan the federal government to accelerate improvements to the Herbert Hoover Dike.
“I support storage south of the lake in the A2 Reservoir which utilizes state-owned land and does not take people’s private land,'' Scott said at a rare press conference about a pending legislative issue. "This is a big step toward protecting our pristine environment. This additional storage, in conjunction with our currently planned projects around the Lake, will help reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries in South Florida."
Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who has shepherded the bill through the Senate with a 37-3 vote last week, met with Scott early Monday said the announcement was "a huge step forward in bringings this in for a landing."
"The legislative process is about compromise and I look at the governor's statement today as nothing other than a positive development,'' he said. "Everybody doesn't get everything in this process...We now have the governor's endorsement, all we need is our House partners to get on board."
Scott said that he wants the state to lend the federal government $200 million to help accelerate the repairs to the dike by three years. The federal government has committed to repairing the dike by 2025 and, Scott said Monday.
"My goal is for the dike to be completely repaired by 2022, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Trump Administration to complete this, which would substantially reduce future discharges,'' he said.
Bradley said that leaves many unanswered questions, such as where the money will come from and how the state will get paid back.
"Those of us in the Senate want to learn more details about what assurances we will have from the federal government that they would pay us back that $200 million,'' he said. "That is a federal responsibility of course and it's important the federal government maintain its responsibilities. They own the dike, maintain the dike. They built the dike and it is their responsibility."
Scott added what Negron has emphasized, that money for the project not be taken from existing restoration projects, such as the building the C43 and C44 canals.
"Also, it is important to me that whatever is passed does not impact any person’s job,'' he said, and embracing the position of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the governor said "we have dedicated record funding toward Everglades restoration and I am confident we have the funds available to get these projects done without taking on more debt."
When asked if the governor, whose political committee has accepted $425,000 from U.S. Sugar, said he has not spoken to the sugar industry about Negron's retrofitted proposal which many farmers have rejected.
Here's the governor's statement:
Today, Governor Rick Scott urged the Florida Legislature to include $200 million in state funding to its budget to help fix the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike and solve water issues around Lake Okeechobee. Governor Scott also commended Senate President Negron’s focus on storage south of Lake Okeechobee in the A2 Reservoir and asked the Legislature to pass a good bill which address the problems surrounding Lake Okeechobee and benefits Florida’s environment.
Below are the remarks as prepared for delivery that Governor Scott gave today in Tallahassee:
Governor Rick Scott said, “It’s important to me that as the Legislature has progressed on President Negron’s priority Lake Okeechobee bill, I give an update on how I believe we should be funding our environment and conversations I have been having with the Trump Administration.
“Florida is known for our beautiful waterways and pristine coastline. We have to be very aggressive in protecting our environment and every year I have been in office, I have fought to provide resources to protect our lands and waterways. Unfortunately, due to heavy amounts of rain, we had the Lost Summer in 2013 and last year we had the algal blooms in South Florida where I had to declare a state of emergency.
“Our environment and the local economy in South Florida were hit hard. Businesses were hurt, our tourism industry was impacted and we have to continue to do all we can to make sure we keep enhancing the quality of our water. That’s why today I am announcing two items:
“First, I am calling on both the House and the Senate to allocate $200 million in state funds to help fix the federal Herbert Hoover Dike. They are in the middle of their budget negotiations and I urge them to add this in immediately. If we can start working to fix the Dike, we can help solve a lot of the water issues we have seen with Lake Okeechobee. Repairing the Dike is key to enhancing the water quality in South Florida and I am going to be very aggressive at doing whatever we can to protect our environment.
“I have spoken to the Trump Administration about the importance of fixing the federal Dike and I know they are very focused on investing in our environment and infrastructure. As you know, we had a major win from the Trump Administration last week with their commitment of $1.5 billion in LIP funding. This was nearly a billion more than the Obama Administration gave us. With this additional funding, we now have other funds available to spend on key items in our state, like our environment. And most importantly, we now have a federal government that is our partner and actually focused on working with Florida. My goal is for the Dike to be completely repaired by 2022, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Trump Administration to complete this, which would substantially reduce future discharges.
“Second, the quality of our water is one of the biggest issues facing our state and President Negron has been very focused on getting a bill done to help Lake Okeechobee. I have continued to review the legislation and watch it go through the process this session. And today, I met with many Senators on this bill to let them know my thoughts on it. There is a lot about the bill I like, and I know it is still going through the process. But ultimately, I hope the legislature sends me a great bill that addresses the Lake Okeechobee problem and benefits our environment and takes into consideration the agriculture community.
“Specifically, I support storage south of the lake in the A2 Reservoir which utilizes state-owned land and does not take people’s private land. This is a big step toward protecting our pristine environment. This additional storage, in conjunction with our currently planned projects around the Lake, will help reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries in South Florida. It’s very important to me that while we fund items in this bill, dollars are not taken away from our existing restoration plan, including projects like C43 and C44. Also, it is important to me that whatever is passed does not impact any person’s job. We have dedicated record funding toward Everglades restoration and I am confident we have the funds available to get these projects done without taking on more debt.
“I am a businessman who came into government to get things done for Florida families. Protecting our environment isn’t a partisan issue. We have to aggressively fight to protect it. I think about my grandsons who love being outdoors and I want to make sure we leave our future generations a pristine environment.”
Since taking office, Governor Scott has worked to provide record funding for our springs, pass a historic $880 million Everglades water quality plan and create a dedicated source of funding to restore the Everglades and Florida’s springs. Under Governor Scott’s leadership, Florida has invested more than $680 million in Everglades restoration. This year, Governor Scott proposed nearly $4 billion for Florida’s environment, with $360 million for water quality projects. This includes $60 million for the new Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee Clean-Up Initiative and $225 million for Everglades restoration.