TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans Tuesday to spend $3.5 billion in his second term on environmental projects such as restoring the Everglades and addressing water quality problems.
“This may be a bigger, more comprehensive executive order than we did four years ago. But I think that’s the right thing to do,” DeSantis, who was reelected in November, said while at Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grille in Bonita Springs. “You can make progress, you can do good things, and you just got to keep pressing forward.”
The $3.5 billion, which would need legislative approval, would be spread over four years. The bulk would go to Everglades and water quality projects.
DeSantis issued an executive order that called for “meaningful” funding for the Florida Forever land-acquisition program and continued support for the Resilient Florida Program, which is designed to help protect communities from sea-level rise and other effects of climate change. He also called for speeding work on a wildlife corridor project and protecting coral reefs.
“We are also going to establish a coral reef restoration and recovery initiative to increase coral deployment, to enhance coastal flood and storm surge protections,” DeSantis said. “That is something that is very, very important, and we are going to continue to make progress there.”
In addition, DeSantis directed the state Department of Environmental Protection to identify and prioritize projects to clean the Indian River Lagoon, with the Legislature asked to provide $100 million a year for the work.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recorded 800 manatee deaths in Florida waters last year, after 1,101 died in 2021. Many of the deaths occurred in the lagoon, where poor water quality and algae blooms have depleted seagrass beds that provide a key food source for manatees. For example, 346 manatees died last year in Brevard County, where manatees often congregate in the lagoon.
Shortly after first taking office in 2019, DeSantis issued an executive order that called for spending $2.5 billion over four years for Everglades restoration and water resource protection. After the budget for the current year was signed in June, the governor’s office said the state had topped the spending goal by $800 million.
Everglades Trust CEO Anna Upton issued a statement Tuesday calling the new plans “unquestionably historic.”
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has made a priority of the wildlife corridor, which is planned as a network of about 17 million acres of green space running up the center of the state.
“I believe that 50 years from now our children and grandchildren will say that the greatest thing the Florida Legislature did in the 2020s was the creation of the wildlife corridor and the preservation of millions of acres of farmland and ranch land for conservation,” Passidomo told reporters in November. “It will be our Central Park.”
As with spending over the past four years, a large chunk of the proposed money is expected to flow from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Voters in 2014 passed a constitutional amendment that requires setting aside one-third of the revenue from documentary-stamp taxes for land conservation. That money, which is generated through real estate transactions, goes into the fund.
During the current fiscal year, $1.26 billion went into the fund. Lawmakers have designated portions of the money to various work across the state, with at least $200 million a year for Everglades restoration projects, $64 million to an Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir project, $50 million for a Lake Okeechobee watershed restoration project, $50 million for natural springs and $5 million for Lake Apopka.
Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, and Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, have proposed legislation (SB 54 and HB 135) that would designate $20 million a year for the restoration of the Florida Keys and ecosystems that include coral reefs.
By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida