Addressing an online crowd at the Florida Chamber’s transportation and infrastructure summit yesterday, Senate President Wilton Simpson labeled the Everglades Reservoir project a “mistake” and confirmed he plans to focus water storage efforts north of Lake Okeechobee.
The remarks singled out Senate Bill 10, a signature water storage project of then-Senate President Joe Negron, passed unanimously in 2017 by the Florida Senate.
“At the time I thought it was a mistake because all the problems are actually in the northern Everglades,” Simpson told the online audience. “If you solve the northern Everglades problem, you substantially solve your problems.”
The remarks confirm the worst fears of the Everglades Trust, the political action arm of the Everglades Foundation, which spent about $2 million last election cycle trying to take out Simpson’s senate leadership team. Simpson and his political allies were forced to match the spending, but it worked – the Everglades Trust and its affiliates lost every contested race they engaged in last cycle.
Now, some political operatives are suggesting that Simpson’s policy position on water storage is rooted in political payback.
“The Everglades Foundation took a giant swing for the fences this cycle by attacking the Senate President personally and the candidates he backed, but ended up striking out,” said one prominent Republican campaign consultant who declined to be identified. “When you spend more than $2 million attacking the incoming Senate President and fail miserably, you can expect to be laughed out of the room when you’re looking to pass your legislative agenda.”
The mission of the Everglades Trust, like that of the Everglades Foundation, is to restore the Everglades to its original condition before humans started farming the area. In remarks to Politico Florida yesterday (paywall link), the Trust confirmed their opposition to Simpson’s views on northern storage plans, not because it’s not environmentally sound, but because it doesn’t fit their mission to eradicate farmland south if the lake:
Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of the Everglades Trust, said water storage north of the lake benefits developers, the sugar industry, and farmers.
“If you care about Everglades restoration, your focus — is where it is right now and needs to stay — is on storage, treatment and conveyance south of the lake,” she said.
But Simpson, a farmer himself, singled out the importance of agriculture to Florida’s economy.
“Agriculture in the last eight months has been the leading driver of the economy in Florida,” Simpson said. “In good times, it’s tourism…when recessions come, and we just came through a COVID-induced recession, then agriculture becomes the number one driver of the economy.”
He also points back eight years, when he passed the $880 million series of water storage projects known as the Everglades Restoration Act. The projects included new reservoirs around the lake and for shoring up the Herbert Hoover Dike which allows Lake Okeechobee to hold more water.
But even those projects included in the Everglades Restoration Act were part of a bipartisan plan 20 years in the making, known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). According to a 2000 story in the Palm Beach Post, the legislation was supported by a “broad coalition that united behind the bill – environmentalists, the region’s powerful sugar industry, federal regulators and politicians of both parties.”
Simpson’s remarks appear to be less political payback and more of a return to that broadly supported roadmap agreed upon two decades ago.
View his full remarks at the summit below: