State Senator Rob Bradley’s (R-Fleming Island) amendment to his own Senate Bill 10 – Water Resources passed the Senate Committee on Appropriations today after a more than two-hour hearing.
The amendment had not been filed until late Tuesday afternoon and many of the concerned stakeholders in attendance had not had an opportunity to read the amendment in its entirety prior to the hearing.
“Right now, I’m not really sure how I feel about the amendment,” said Janet Taylor, a spokesperson for #OurLivesMatterToo, a group of Everglades residents, pastors, and community leaders concerned about the people living in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). “The most important part of it is that they’ve taken out the part that buys up our land,” she said.
The bill’s original language had residents of the EAA concerned about the impacts to their economic future should agricultural land be taken out of production for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.
“We’re not expecting that much land is going to be taken out of production at all,” said Bradley. The amendment reduces the amount of land sought for storage in the EAA by increasing the depth of reservoirs on land already in state ownership, a move which also reduces the cost of the overall project.
The question as to whether land could be acquired by eminent domain for the water storage project envisioned by SB 10 was clarified by an amendment to the amendment, offered by Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton). Galvano said his amendment makes it “crystal clear” that no state agency is authorized to utilize eminent domain in acquiring land under the bill. His amendment was adopted without objection.
Members of the Committee on Appropriations had a number of questions pertaining to the amendment’s proposed employment training program for residents of the EAA, a move that Senator Oscar Braynon II (D-Miami Gardens) said is long overdue. “What I’ve always said is that this community was suffering, whether this bill happened or it didn’t.”
The employment training program, proposed to be run by the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, would train residents for non-agricultural employment, and provide qualified EAA residents with preference for construction and operations positions for the reservoir project. Senator Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) added that she’d like to see more detail outlined about the training program and its funding as the bill progresses.
Committee members also questioned Bradley about funding for other projects outlined during the presentation on the amendment, such as water projects in other areas of the state and septic-to-sewer conversions. “I misspoke earlier and we clarified that, the septic-to-sewer piece is not written in the strike-all [amendment] in front of you, but it is a part of the GAA [General Appropriations Act],” said Bradley. “What this does is it revises the Water Protection and Sustainability Program trust fund to include water storage facilities in the revolving loan program so the state can start being party, because right now they can’t be, to using some of those revolving fund dollars for some of these regional water storage approaches.”
Senator David Simmons (R-Seminole County) introduced a late amendment with language similar to his Senate Bill 816, aimed at speeding up the repair of the Herbert Hoover Dike. He pled with the committee for an impassioned 30 minutes about the necessity of prioritizing the repair of the dike. “I could go on and on,” said Simmons but, ultimately, he withdrew his amendment. “As we do in the Senate, I’m going to withdraw my amendment but I’ll tell you why. It’s just on the condition that we’re going to keep working between now and when this gets on the floor. We’re going to get something that works,” he said.
Bradley’s amendment was adopted with no objections and the amended SB 10 passed 16-2, with many committee members voicing their optimism about the bill’s future.
“This amendment makes significant progress and demonstrates that the Florida Senate has begun taking seriously the concerns of residents from communities south of Lake Okeechobee,” said Judy Sanchez, senior director for corporate communications and public affairs for U.S. Sugar, in a statement released yesterday evening. “We agree with Senator Negron that science should continue to guide this bill, and we look forward to providing additional input on developing science-based solutions that actually will reduce the harmful discharges and build real solutions that work for all of our communities.”