BOYNTON BEACH — A bipartisan group of five state lawmakers announced Monday the formation of a new legislative caucus devoted to Everglades restoration efforts.
The politicians — three Democrats and two Republicans — said issues surrounding the ecosystem rise above party politics and merit a special group within the Legislature to keep a focus on restoration measures as budget constraints threaten to push the efforts out of the limelight.
"No one is happy with the pace at which the Everglades are being restored," said Rep. Steve Perman, D-Boca Raton, who is organizing the caucus with Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera. They were joined by Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs, D-Delray Beach; Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart; and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach. They said others will join the group later.
The lawmakers said the caucus will keep pressure not only on fellow lawmakers but also on the federal government, which shares responsibility for the restoration.
"The state of Florida has really come to the table in many ways, but our federal partners have fallen short," Altman said.
An initial meeting of the caucus will be held at the start of the legislative session, the organizers said. The meeting will include representatives of various environmental groups, some of whom were on hand for the announcement at a Boynton Beach farm.
The lawmakers noted that the Everglades are not only a vital source of drinking water for 7 million South Florida residents, but also a one-of-a-kind ecological jewel that draws tourists.
The Everglades have been dying for decades from the intrusion of farms and development, cut by dikes, dams and canals, effectively draining much of the swamp and polluting it with fertilizers and urban runoff. The state and federal governments' efforts to restore the wetlands have been stymied for years by funding shortfalls, legal challenges and political bickering.