Gov. DeSantis makes right call on Everglades bill | Editorial
Also, pluses for the environment, animals and nonprofits — and look at Pasco!
A airboat is seen hovering over Everglades wetland in Everglades National Park Florida last year.
A airboat is seen hovering over Everglades wetland in Everglades National Park Florida last year. [  CHANDAN KHANNA | TNS (2021) ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jun. 11, 2022

Governor’s worthy veto. The Everglades bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed this week was as bad for the restoration effort as the legislative process itself. The bill, SB 2508, would have allowed investor-owned utilities to fast-track the permitting process, which could lead to the destruction of wetlands, and interfered with an ongoing plan to reduce polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee while recharging the basin’s southerly flow. Though an earlier version was worse, environmentalists said even the amended legislation primarily benefited the agricultural industry. In his veto letter, the governor rightly faulted the bill for creating “redundant regulatory hurdles” that could have put restoration projects at risk. And the bill, supported by outgoing Senate President Wilton Simpson, was introduced halfway into the regular session, and heard by just one committee — hardly the public vetting that such serious legislation deserves. The governor’s veto was a rejection of bad policy and the backroom political process. That doesn’t happen every day. But we’re glad it happened here.

Pasco’s growing up. Enough about the area’s beaches and downtowns — look at Pasco. The county commission there approved a $55.8 million incentive package this week for the new Pasco Town Center project, which, as envisioned, will include 4 million square feet of industrial development, 725,000 square feet of offices, 400,000 square feet of retail, 3,500 housing units and 300 hotel beds on a 965-acre parcel at the southeast corner of Interstate 75 and State Road 52. Most of the incentive package would come in the form of property tax rebates to the developer, Dallas-based PTC Boyette LLC. That is a valuable inducement for PTC Boyette to build a quality development with all the essential infrastructure over the rebate’s 40-year lifeline. The project is adjacent to the connected city corridor, a 7,800-acre swath stretching from Wesley Chapel into eastern Pasco, whose draw includes planned high-speed internet to attract businesses there. Coming as Pasco’s newest school prepares to build a new wing to handle growing enrollment, the news marks the latest in Pasco’s coming of age.

Pinellas’ pet policy. Kudos to the Pinellas County Commission this week for being the latest area government to ban any new stores selling dogs and cats. Tuesday’s vote balanced animal welfare with private business; the commission did not grant advocates’ pleas to shutter the six stores currently operating, adopting an ordinance instead that imposes heightened regulations on retailers, like requiring the posting of medical histories and origins of those pets being sold. This is a solid step toward bringing more accountability to an opaque industry, and it also sends an important message to would-be buyers about responsible pet ownership. Hillsborough County voted in 2020 to ban pet retail sales, and Manatee and Pasco counties did the same. Why even support mass-scale, commercial trafficking? Thousands of dogs and cats are jumping at the chance to be adopted. Area counties feature their adoptable pets online, as does the Humane Society and many rescue groups. Check them out. Save a life.

Sharper United Way. The United Way Suncoast announced a new strategy this week that promises to bring a greater focus on local needs and a bigger bang for the buck. The organization will distribute $18 million over a three-year period to more than 100 programs that work to clear educational and financial barriers for low-income families. The multi-year grants differ from the United Way’s past distribution model, which required nonprofits to apply annually for funding. The goal of a multi-year cycle is to reduce administrative time; community partners can focus more on their mission, and the United Way can assess these programs over a longer tenure. As the organization’s CEO, Jessica Muroff, noted: “The kind of community challenges that we’re tackling aren’t solved in one-year increments.” Of course, with the longer time frame, the United Way will need regular checkups to ensure accountability. But this is a smarter approach that should wring the most out of the United Way Suncoast’s precious resources in the five-county region.

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Protecting old Florida. If drivers think Interstate 4 is a death trap, imagine being a bear. The concrete superspeedway between Tampa and Orlando is a deadly barrier for wildlife crisscrossing the state. But overdue relief is coming. Construction crews are building a major animal crossing under the highway, part of a $71 million redesign of the interchange where I-4 meets State Road 557. While the Florida Department of Transportation has not broken out the cost for the crossing, officials estimate it at about $8 million. That’s money well spent to preserve a wildlife corridor and improve commuter safety on I-4. The underpass crossing is 61 feet wide at its opening and 8 feet high. Fencing around the surrounding highway will herd animals toward the passage. While bears and panthers may use it, officials said deer and bobcats are more common in the area. As development booms from Tampa, Lakeland and Orlando, these conservation lands will be harder to find. Preserving more of these wildlife corridors now is critical.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.