The Florida House of Representatives is reviewing a bill to spend over a Billion

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Tim Suereth
timsuereth.com

The Florida House of Representatives is reviewing a bill this week (HB761 – http://bit.ly/2pX9JJN) that could create a south Florida water retention reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee in a joint state and federal project “to provide adequate water storage and conveyance south of the lake to reduce the volume of regulatory discharges of water from the lake to the east and west.”

House Bill 761 currently calls for the purchase of 60,000 acres of south Florida farmland to “construct one or two above-ground reservoirs that have a total water storage capacity of approximately 360,000 acre-feet and are located in the Everglades Agricultural Area.” The bill states that the price of each acre will be at least $7,400 per acre, but that number could go much higher after an appraisal report is commissioned for the proposed farmland purchase.

Tim Suereth
timsuereth.com

HB761 is the companion version of Senate Bill 10 (http://bit.ly/2pe4EyO) that was recently passed by the Florida Senate. SB10 began as a $2.4 billion state and federal project to acquire 60,000 acres of farmland, by force – through eminent domain. The approved version of SB10 removed the eminent domain feature and also reduced the budget for the bill. The new bill now calls for $1.5 billion, split between the state and federal taxpayers, and it would use 14,000 acres the state already owns in south Florida. It also provides funding to purchase an additional 10,000 acres that must now be negotiated with the owners instead of taking the properties by force as the original bill demanded. It is likely that House Bill 761 will also reduce the scope of the project and change it to resemble the already approved Senate Bill 10.

The major issues that remain a problem for many activist organizations around the sunshine state regarding the bills is the timing of the project, which interferes with the ongoing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), an $18 billion dollar federal project to restore the Everglades, that already incorporates a southern water reservoir in their Everglades restoration efforts.

Another issue with HB761 is line 205 of the House bill, which reads, “The board or the district, if applicable, may dispose of or exchange any land or lease interest in the land that is acquired pursuant to this paragraph in order to achieve optimal siting for the reservoir project or to dispose of land that is not necessary for the reservoir project. Any such exchange or disposition may not be in violation of the agreement.” To many farmers, this passage means that the legislators don’t have a solid plan for the project and they also wonder if this boondoggle is just a way to acquire valuable land that the state will eventually sell off to real estate developers.

Tim Suereth
timsuereth.com

Florida farmer John Bander, stated, “I think it’s wrong for these legislators to spend this kind of money of a project that is already underway by the feds. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan will begin building the reservoirs in 2021, why not wait for them to do it instead of taxing all Floridians to do it right now.”

The question that remains for many Floridians is – What happens if Congress refuses to fund the federal portion of the Florida proposal? Would Florida taxpayers be on the hook for the whole amount?