Everglades bill filed, described as starting point by both sides in dispute

A bill was filed Monday that has been described by both sides in the dispute over Everglades water quality as merely a starting point for the upcoming debate in the Legislature.

Robert E. Coker, left, of U. S. Sugar Corp. and Gaston Cantens of Florida Crystals Corp. discuss Everglades water quality and possible legislation with reporters. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

With Gov. Rick Scott‘s $880-million Everglades restoration plan being approved in 2012 by theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency, both the sugar industry and environmental groups have said they expect the Everglades Forever Act to be revisited by the Legislature.

SB 758 by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, incorporates Gov. Rick Scott‘s 2012 Everglades restoration plan into Florida law and eliminates previous references to restoration phases.

“This legislation is a starting point,” said Brian Hughes, spokesman for sugar farmers. “And we look forward to working with the Legislature to ensure the Everglades restoration process continues to successfully move forward.”

Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, said he thought the legislation was unnecessary because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection could take the action on its own that is called for in the legislation.

“This is draft one — the first draft” of legislation, Eikenberg said.

Sugar industry representatives and environmentalists have supported the governor’s Everglades restoration plan, which calls for spending $880 million over 12 years to build reservoirs and treatment marshes to filter water runoff. Some environmental groups, though, say sugar farmers should shoulder more of the cost with some taxes on sugar farms set to expire.

During a House committee hearing two weeks ago, there was finger-pointing over whether sugar farms were doing enough to clean up water leaving their farms. On Friday, industry representatives told reporters they’re not getting enough credit for their use of best-management practices to reduce phosphorus pollution.

“No one ever recognizes the success Everglades restoration truly has been,” said Gaston Cantens, vice president of Florida Crystals Corp.

“We agreed to pay our fair share, and we’re continuing to agree to pay our fair share,” said Robert Coker, senior vice president of public affairs at U.S. Sugar Corp. “But it seems very hypocritical when someone says, ‘You should be doing more.’ ”

Eikenberg said Monday that state taxpayers shouldn’t have to carry the full cost of the governor’s restoration plan.

“Why are we continuing to spend $880 million to clean up polluted water?” Eikenberg said. “Clearly it (the sugar industry cleanup effort) is not enough if we have to spend $880 million.”

Reporter Bruce Ritchie can be reached at britchie@thefloridacurrent.com.

Original Article: http://www.thefloridacurrent.com/article.cfm?id=31500280

Categories Environmental Issues, News and Media | Tags: | Published in February, 2013 |

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