Isadora Rangel reports for Florida Today – “At this point in the legislative session, only a Hail Mary pass will save a bill to secure permanent funding to preserve Florida’s natural landscape. There’s one person who can throw that pass: Senate President Joe Negron… Senate Bill 370, which would set aside $100 million annually for the Florida Forever land conservation program, cleared the Senate unanimously on Jan. 31. It has been sitting in the House waiting to be heard… A nudge from Negron would be necessary for Speaker Richard Corcoran to call for a vote on the Senate proposal, said state Rep. Matthew Caldwell… Ensuring long-term funding is crucial because Florida’s growth has shown no sign of slowing down. If we don’t buy land for conservation, much of it will be developed. Once that happens, there’s no going back… Florida voters showed they understand that when they overwhelmingly voted for the Water and Land Conservation Constitutional Amendment… Florida Conservation Voters has launched a social media campaign asking Negron to call Corcoran… Senate Bill 370 also would prohibit the state from spending Florida Forever money on routine operating expenses… Negron told TCPalm political reporter Ali Schmitz this week he’d like to see permanent funding for Florida Forever and increased funding in the future, but wouldn’t say if he’d ask Corcoran to hear the bill. It’s unclear why Negron is being so coy. Florida Forever is a popular program… ” Read Hey Joe, how about a Hail Mary to save land conservation legislation?
Steven Lemongello reports for the Orlando Sentinel – “Months after opponents declared it dead, the controversial Lake Pickett South development in east Orange County was revived… by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet. The proposed 2,000-home development had been in limbo since a judge ruled in August that the county broke its own growth rules in approving it… [The Cabinet] reversed the judge’s decision, ruling the county was within its rights to interpret its own growth plan the way it sees fit… [They] unanimously found that Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk should have deferred to the county on several findings in her ruling, including whether the project could be considered an urban development in a rural area and whether homes could be more closely clustered to avoid encroaching on environmentally sensitive areas. State Deputy General Counsel John MacIver told Scott and the Cabinet that as long as an issue was ‘within the realm of possible and reasonable interpretations, and fairly debatable,’ then they – and the administrative law judge – had no legal choice but to defer to the County Commission’s original 4-3 vote to approve the project in 2016… ‘That’s the problem with these,’ Bondi responded. ‘We’re so limited as to what we can legally consider.’” Read Scott, Cabinet revive Lake Pickett South project in east Orange
Sean Kinane reports for WMNF – “Environmentalists are hoping to save a wilderness preserve in Pasco County from being bisected by a new road; and now that the county’s budget has come out, supporters of the Serenova preserve say they plan to ask the feds to deny permitting because the cost estimate for the Ridge Road Extension has nearly doubled. WMNF interviewed Dan Rametta, with the Sierra Club’s Save Our Serenova coalition.” Read Environmentalists cite a new reason feds should reject road through Serenova: $150 million price tag
The News Service of Florida reports – “Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet agreed Wednesday to spend $660,060 to conserve 772 acres of ranchland in Madison County that four centuries ago included a Spanish mission… The deal, which involves purchasing a conservation easement, would allow the Koblegard family to continue operating a cow and calf ranch ranch on land it has owned for more than 80 years… [T]he property sits between two Florida Forever projects --- Hixtown Swamp and San Pedro Bay --- and includes Sampala Lake, a 115-acre spring fed lake. The lake is also a headwater of the Econfina River. Money for the deal comes from the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. Conservation easements restrict future development while allowing existing landowners to continue using the property for such things as agriculture.” Read Scott, Cabinet approve conserving former mission site
Steve Patterson reports for The Florida Times Union – “An effort to move important wetland protections from the federal government to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is worrying environmental activists… The permitting change has been pitched as a step to increase efficiency… But critics argue the state would give up valuable background by handing reviews solo… ‘…EPA works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it works with agencies that have expertise in oceanic issues, experts in national wildlife refuges and national parks,’ Cullen (of Sierra Club) said. ‘All of those resources are available to the EPA. How that’s going to work at the state level is still unknown to us.’… The Legislature took a step toward taking on federal permitting in 2005, but a DEP report later that year concluded changes in both federal and state law would be needed to do what lawmakers wanted.” Read Land swap: Shift in wetlands permitting proposed, worrying activists
Kate Bradshaw writes for Creative Loafing – “[Proposal 91 is] a constitutional amendment that would create a permanent ban on oil drilling in state waters. Currently on the books is a 20-year moratorium the legislature could easily vote to lift. The amendment would safeguard against that… Glickman reasons that if Governor Scott is genuinely against offshore drilling, he would push for the constitutional amendment to pass the CRC… ‘If it gets on the ballot, yay. If it doesn’t, it’s Rick Scott’s fault,’ Glickman said. ‘If he wants this protection for Florida’s coast, he’ll tell his people and they’ll put it on…’” Read How Florida might finally get a permanent offshore drilling ban on the books
Tyler Treadway reports for the TC Palm – “Some environmental groups, including some that have opposed plans developed by the South Florida Water Management District for a reservoir to cut Lake Okeechobee discharges, will ask the district’s board… to approve the project. A letter supporting the project’s design is signed by representatives of about 20 organizations, said Rae Ann Wessel of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, one of the authors. ‘We know the project isn’t perfect,’ Wessel said, ‘but it’s the only project coming down the pike that gets water out of Lake Okeechobee instead of sending it to the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie River…’ Organizations signing the letter include the Everglades Foundation, Audubon Florida,… [and] the Conservancy of Southwest Florida… The Foundation’s ‘pivot,’ Eikenberg said, was prompted by a 12-page order DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein issued… stating… if the project doesn’t meet… federally mandated pollution limits on water going to the Everglades, ‘additional actions… must be taken.’… Two groups that didn’t sign the letter worry DEP’s ‘additional actions’ could include cutting the amount of excess Lake O water sent to the reservoir… ‘The Florida DEP’s pledge to hold this project to water quality standards doesn’t create assurances, it creates loopholes,’ said Cris Costello, organizing manager at the Florida Sierra Club.” Read Lake Okeechobee reservoir to cut discharges now supported by some environmental groups
Lawrence Mower, Elizabeth Koh, Emily L. Mahoney, and Steve Bousquet report for the Tampa Bay Times – “Florida’s regular 60-day legislative session will end Friday with no budget agreement, ensuring that legislators will have to return next week or later to pass a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.” Read Florida lawmakers miss budget deadline, extending legislative session
From Our Readers
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Upcoming Environmental Events
March 13 – April 17 – Solar United Neighbors is hosting several solar co-op information sessions around Florida throughout the next few months. Attendees will learn about solar equipment, financing, and the benefits of joining a solar co-op. For a complete list of sessions, click here.
March 13, 7:00 pm – Attend Get the Green Out: Algal Bloom Presentation in Orange Park. St. Johns Riverkeeper will explain what causes blue-green algal blooms and why they may be toxic for you and the St. Johns River. Then, learn how you can take action to reduce algal bloom occurrences. For more information and to register, click here.
March 14-16, 8:30 am – Attend The Endangered Apalachicola Conference in Tallahassee. The Apalachicola ecosystem has incredible biodiversity and once provided for a booming oyster industry. Unfortunately, this ecosystem is now struggling to survive due to a lack of fresh water. The problem is so dire, Florida is suing Georgia over its water use! The Florida Conservation Coalition invites you to come learn more about this endangered ecosystem. After Thursday’s overview of challenges facing the Apalachicola, FCC Chair and former Florida Governor, Bob Graham, will host a special keynote dinner. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.
March 14, 12:45 pm – Attend the Villages Environmental Discussion Group at the Belvedere Library (325 Belvedere Blvd.) in The Villages. Speakers include Chris Mericle, talking about citizen protests against phosphate mining in Union and Bradford Counties, and Hunter Miller, discussing current threats to our oceans and action steps the group can take. For more information and to RSVP, contact Mary Hampton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 17, 9:00 am – Participate in St. Johns River Clean Up & Celebration: Goodbys Creek Paddle & Clean Up in Jacksonville. For more information, click here.
March 26, 6:00 pm – Attend a talk by Maya van Rossum, Delaware Riverkeeper, on The Green Amendment: Our Right to a Healthy Environment at the Working Food Community Center (219 NW 10th Avenue) in Gainesville. Doors open at 5:30 PM.
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About the FCC: The Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC) is composed of over 80 conservation-minded organizations and over two thousand individuals devoted to protecting and conserving Florida’s land, fish and wildlife, and water resources.
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