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Bold vision for protecting environmental resources?

February 21, 2019
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

In a big step forward toward his pledge of environmental protection, Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month put his money where his mouth is.

Unveiling his $91.3 billion "Bold Vision for a Brighter Future" budget proposal, Gov. DeSantis earmarked more than $4 billion for his environment, agriculture and natural resources component, including $1.9 billion for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

As previously addressed on these pages, that budget includes $625 million per year for Everglades restoration and protection, a proposed tally of $2.5 billion by the end of his first term.

That includes, according to his office "a record $360 million for Everglades restoration projects, a level of funding which will put Florida on track to complete the C-44 Reservoir and stormwater treatment area, the C-43 Reservoir, and 20 additional projects over the next five years."

The projects would provide "672,000 acre-feet of storage and remove almost 200,000 pounds of total phosphorus annually, a major source of nutrient pollution," significantly reducing "discharges from Lake Okeechobee when combined with updates to the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule," which Gov. DeSantis requested in a letter to President Trump in January almost immediately after taking his oath of office.

While the money proposed for Everglades restoration has received the most attention - as well it would - there are numerous other projects, initiatives and items that, collectively, would have a direct impact on water quality right here in Lee County.

Among the highlights?

- $25 million to address water quality issues, including harmful algal booms, such as red tide, which devastated coastal waters off Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach, and blue- green algae, which wreaked havoc in the Caloosahatchee and Cape Coral canals.

The money would be allocated for technology, research, increased water monitoring programs, the establishment of a monitoring Center for Red Tide Research within the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, algae task force support and more.

- $150 million "for targeted water quality improvements to achieve significant, meaningful and measurable nutrient reductions in key waterbodies across the State of Florida."

That would include grant money for such things as septic conversions and upgrades, wastewater plant improvements, and rural and urban stormwater system upgrades, areas of strong local interest and concern.

Funding within the "protecting our environmental resources" component of Gov. DeSantis' "Bold Vision" budget is not limited to water quality.

He proposes $50 million for beach renourishment "to continue to address Florida's critically eroded shorelines," $6 million for his Resilient Coastlines Program within the new Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection within DEP to help "prepare Florida's communities and habitats for changes resulting from sea level rise by providing funding and technical assistance" and another $2.5 million to clean up coastal reefs.

His budget proposal calls for $100 million for Florida Forever land acquisition and another $54 million for parks improvements; $125 million for the cleanup of varied contaminated sites and $10 million towards clean air initiatives.

His $1.7 billion "investment in agriculture" component includes $20 million for citrus research and $7.4 million for wildfire-fighting equipment and infrastructure improvements.

It's an interesting environmental proposal, one might say a bold vision, indeed.

The legislative session opens March 5.

We await with interest legislative reaction and debate.

-Breeze editorial



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