If Senate President Joe Negron thought Wednesday was the day a House version of SB 10 would lift off the launch pad, he must have been beyond grief at day's end.
There's nothing like a voice from the federal side of Florida's Everglades restoration partnership to send all big plans crashing back to earth, even -- perhaps, especially -- Negron's hopes for a $2.4 billion reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.
Freshman U.S. Congressman Francis Rooney appeared Wednesday with state Rep. Matt Caldwell before the House Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee, mostly to offer a history lesson in state policy decisions involving the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.
Rooney, from Naples, is a member of the Everglades Caucus, which is focused on restoration and preservation of the Everglades. No question, water issues is his primary focus in the House. He brought the message of the entire caucus: We must stay unified behind the CERP projects already approved and authorized.
There are 68 CERP projects in some state of completion -- awaiting nothing but money from our federal partner, Rooney said. The feds are supposed to be 50-50 partners. But since 1967, $7 billion has been spent on Everglades restoration -- $5 billion coming from the state, $2 billion from the federal government.
"Everglades restoration and the ecosystem's history are complex issues," said Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, co-sponsor of last year's Legacy Florida and chairman of the Government Accountability Committee. "I believe a rundown of how we got to this point will be helpful to Rep. (Holly) Raschein's subcommittee going forward."
Though Negron's name and his bill were barely mentioned Wednesday, the message was loud and clear: Florida adds a $1.2 billion component to the Central Everglades Restoration Plan and federal money now bound for CERP will drift like confetti to projects in more unified states.
I asked Rooney, did Joe Negron sit down yet with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Washington to see if the federal government would be amenable to a $1.2 billion partnership for another southern reservoir?
This is what he said:
"I have not had an opportunity to meet with President Negron on this issue, but I can assure you that as a congressman, I am narrowly and vigorously focused on securing the federal funding approved but not yet appropriated. This funding is specific to CERP projects that were included in WRDA authorizations of 2007, 2014 and 2016. It is important for all the congressional delegation to remain focused and united on this issue, as there are 49 other states also competing for funds."
What Rooney said is, though he personally hasn't met with Negron, if the Florida Legislature goes off half-cocked wanting money for something else, lawmakers will endanger the shot they have at getting money already promised for authorized CERP projects.
We've been preoccupied with debating a 60,000-acre land buy when really, if the reservoir proponents had done their due diligence long before they proposed SB 10, they would have begun by getting the proper federal approval, including a Project Information Report, a Chief's Report, everything for federal authorization.
As far as I can tell from congress- men and women within the Florida delegation and on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, they don't have it. They do not have the proper federal approval.
And without it, forget the feds picking up half the tab. The whole $2.4 billion likely would be on Florida.
The bottom line is, without federal authorization, there's no guarantee the state will receive cost-share funding -- never mind what a delay a massive new replumbing would mean for long-awaited money to finish authorized CERP components.
Remember, Congressman Bill Schuster, R-Texas, visited the Treasure Coast not long ago. Schuster is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the Corps and is key to approving any new projects. When he was asked whether the feds were on board with Negron's south reservoir plan, the chairman said, be careful what you ask for, you don’t want the federal government as your partner on this. He said a chief’s report would be required, something that takes about three years of analysis. Then it would need to go to Congress for approval.
Including the construction, all this could take decades.
Rooney told Raschein's subcommittee, "The Lake Okeechobee watershed and Everglades have a far-ranging impact to the entire State of Florida and to the country, but particularly in Southeast and Southwest Florida -- where 55 percent of real estate in the state is affected, $2 trillion of economic impact across 164 cities and 16 counties. We must stay focused and united to secure the funding necessary from Washington to complete these projects. The federal government has a lot of catching up to do, in order to meet its obligations.”
Caldwell pledged his support: "I look forward to a continued partnership with the congressman and federal government to complete the projects that we have waited on for too many years.”
On Feb. 3, Rooney spearheaded a letter signed by all members of the Florida congressional delegation -- Democrats and Republicans -- and sent to President Trump. The letter called on the president to support Everglades restoration projects in his fiscal 2018 budget.
Rooney labeled Wednesday's hearing "a continuation of efforts to bring attention to the water quality issues affecting Florida and to build awareness and consensus for funding projects that have already been approved."
I call it a clear indication the lights are growing dimmer on Senate Bill 10 -- as they should.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith