State Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), State Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) and Appropriations Chair State Senator Jack Latvala (R- Clearwater) unveiled an amendment this afternoon making significant changes to Senate Bill 10 – Water Resources.
The 31-page amendment, if adopted, will replace the bulk of the 14-page bill. The Senate Committee on Appropriations will consider the amendment tomorrow at 2 p.m.
In a press conference today, Negron said that the plan outlined in the amendment will accomplish his goal of storing 240,000-360,000 acre-feet of water south of Lake Okeechobee but will reduce the project’s footprint in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) by increasing the proposed reservoir’s depth to 14 feet. And, it will reduce the water storage project’s cost by $900 million.
The initial projected cost of SB 10 was $2.4 billion, the amendment reduces that cost to $1.5 billion, with the 50 percent state match now $750 million. The decrease in cost, according to Negron, means that the state would not need to bond in the first year but could use $64 million in Amendment One funds and set aside $100 million per year after that from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
“I promised my constituents that we would dramatically expand southern storage by leveraging existing water infrastructure, and utilizing a combination of state, local, and private land, in a manner that respects the interests of the agricultural community and private land owners,” said Negron in a press release.
Other changes or clarifications offered by the amendment include focusing on using land already owned by the state, land swaps, termination of leases on state-owned farmland, and a prohibition on using eminent domain to take private land for the reservoir.
The amendment also offers incentives to EAA stakeholders and others: Local governments can access a revolving loan fund for the development and construction of water storage facilities, it terminates a program that uses prison inmate labor for agricultural work in the EAA, and it calls for the establishment of an employment training program for the region. The training would be designed to match up with new opportunities at the Airglades Airport in Hendry County and an inland Port in Palm Beach County – projects currently seeking state economic development assistance.
“We have incorporated the feedback gained from months of conversations with the agricultural community, scientists, business owners, community advocates, and others to develop a meaningful solution to address the plague of harmful, polluted discharges, while at the same time taking steps to improve the economic circumstances of our fellow citizens who live in communities south of the lake,” said Bradley.
The amendment also authorizes the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to work with Palm Beach Aggregates, LLC to determine if the state should acquire or partner with the company on the C-51 reservoir project which has been in planning as an alternative water supply project since 2006 and will be able to store 60,000 acre-feet of water.
Leases would be terminated on state land that is currently used by Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE) employing prison inmate labor for agricultural work. That land would then be available for land swaps or storage.
In January, Pete Antonacci, SFWMD executive director, noted that the state could minimize the amount of private land needed for storage south of the lake by using land already owned by the state.
In the amendment, the SFWMD is tasked with identifying lessors of 3,200 acres owned by the state west of the A-2 parcel and east of the Miami Canal and private property owners of 500 acres of surrounding land. The lessors and owners would be notified of the state’s interest in land swaps, purchases and voluntary early lease terminations so that the acreage needed for the 100-120 billion gallons of storage can be assembled.
Negron said the size and configuration of the project would be determined by the science, but that substantially less than the 60,000 acres in the original bill would be needed.
The amended bill also addresses Lake Okeechobee storage capacity by instructing the SFWMD to request the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reevaluate the lake’s holding capacity “as expeditiously as possible, taking into consideration the repairs made to the Herbert Hoover Dike…to reduce the high-volume freshwater discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.”