March 27, 2017
Feds say ‘stay the course’ with Everglades, rejecting Joe Negron’s land buy
Joe Negron’s controversial plan to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges is not going over well with federal officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Last week, many of those involved in Everglades restoration called for Florida to stay the course on federal restoration projects; many were critical of the Senate President’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake O.
At least two of them suggested using taxpayer money to buy land is not a priority.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Negron’s plan would probably not get federal support “anytime soon.” Buying up land could devastate farming communities, the Florida senator added, possibly turning them into “ghost towns.”
“It’s not that I’m for or against it, it’s that there’s no federal money for it,” Rubio said to a conservative blogger Wednesday. “We’re going to end up with nothing. And that’s been my argument from the beginning, and that’s my message to him, and he understood it.”
Congressman Tom Rooney, himself a longtime representative Treasure Coast representative, told USA TODAY he resists Negron’s plan, which is opposed by Florida Sugarcane Farmers, a group of Everglades Agricultural Area landowners refusing to sell approximately 60,000 acres in the scheme.
“Costly land buys from unwilling sellers have been unsuccessful,” said Rooney, who prefers the government fund projects with proven success.
As for a proposed task force to consider the feasibility of Negron’s plan, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney also believes that a non-starter, at least right now.
Rooney, whose 19th Congressional District includes much of the Everglades, declined to sign a letter urging Donald Trump to act quickly on Everglades restoration.
What the Naples Republican most disagreed about the bipartisan letter — signed by Reps. Brian Mast, Charlie Crist and others in Florida’s Legislative Delegation — was a call for the president to appoint a federal Everglades task force to make the plan a priority.
Although Rooney is a member of the bipartisan Congressional Everglades Caucus, which works to educate Congress and staff on issues affecting the Everglades, he believes another governmental task force would distract from the current federal plans for wetlands restoration.
“I certainly applaud and am thankful for the work that Brian Mast and Gov. Crist are doing to help advance the ball, getting funding for the Everglades project. There’s no doubt about that,” Rooney told FloridaPolitics.com. “But I didn’t sign on to the letter, and I told the same thing to Brian, because the last thing I think we need in government is more task forces, advisory commissions and things like that.
“I actually think that could be an excuse for the feds not doing what I’ve been pushing them to do,” Rooney added, “to come up with the money to fund the projects that have been authorized.”
Another call to stick with the current federal plan comes from the Army Corps of Engineers, which partners with the state of Florida to protect and preserve water resources in the Everglades, central and southern Florida.
Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Corps’ Jacksonville district, points to successes in the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER) program, which includes the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP). SEFR represents the world’s largest ecosystem restoration program.
“I want to be clear that the South Florida Everglades restoration Integrated Delivery Schedule is the optimal sequence of projects moving forward,” Kirk said in a conference call last week, a declaration clearly countermanding Negron’s proposal and rejects buying more land for a reservoir.
A federal lawmaker who supports Negon’s proposal is Palm City Republican Brian Mast.
“One of the most important things that we can do to save our coastal waters and our coastal estuaries is making sure we find ways to move the water south,” said Mast, who represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District. “That’s why I support SB 10 and it’s why the first action I took when I got to Congress was securing a spot as Vice Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In this role, I am pushing to secure the federal support and funding needed to restore our environment and protect the economy.”