TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — An Everglades bill that was expected to cause controversy but ended up drawing little more than broad agreement unanimously passed the Senate on Thursday and headed to Gov. Rick Scott.
The bill (HB 7065) updates the state’s plan for restoring the “River of Grass” and helps provide financial support for the $880 million project.
The legislation extends a $25-per-acre tax on farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area, near the northern edge of the marsh, until 2026; it would have expired in 2017.
The tax would fall to $10 an acre in 2036, and the measure would clearly connect the revenue from the tax to restoring the Everglades.
Scott, who had worked to negotiate the new plan for restoration, put out a statement Thursday indicating he will sign the legislation.
“This is an historic investment in Florida’s Everglades — and I want to thank the Legislature, and particularly the House and Senate leadership, for seeing the value of Florida’s natural treasures to our communities,” he said.
Battles over how to repair the massive marsh have not always gone so smoothly, with environmentalists often clashing with agricultural interests and sugar farmers sometimes disagreeing among themselves. But a compromise hammered by legislators this year, including efforts by freshman Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, defused the controversy and made the passage of the bill almost an afterthought.
Simpson focused on the Everglades in brief remarks to the Senate on the bill. “I think this is clearly the eighth wonder of the world,” he said.
Supporters hope that the compromise will also potentially bring to a close the effort to undo decades of damage to the Everglades caused by generations of work aimed at turning the area into a haven for development and agriculture.
“Sugar farmers are proud to have worked closely with environmental groups and policy makers to help craft a bill that will conclude decades of drawn out litigation that have been a barrier to restoration,” Florida Crystals Vice President Gaston Cantens said in a press release. “This bill is a pact that will put into statute the consensus between all groups, which means we can now move forward together with certainty to build the final projects for Everglades restoration.”
The Everglades Foundation, a conservation group, also applauded the legislation.
“In the meantime, we remain hopeful that the Florida Legislature will pass the state’s budget with the $70 million for Everglades restoration as committed by Chairmen Joe Negron and Seth McKeel during recent budget negotiations,” said Eric Eikenberg, the organization’s CEO.
“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”