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Politics

Joe Negron Underscores His Lagoon and Lake 'O' Committee Priorities

August 25, 2013 - 6:00pm

Following an eight-hour Senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin (IRLLOB) meeting last week in Stuart, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced four "action items" -- short-term solutions to reduce or eliminate ongoing releases from Lake Okeechobee -- that he and his committee will begin to explore immediately.

The committee of eight senators has a Nov. 4 deadline. By then it will have prepared a report for the Senate committees on Appropriations, Environmental Preservation and Conservation, and Agriculture.

The four priorities:

First, the 2008 risk assessment, used by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine the release schedules, needs to be reviewed. We need to take a look, re-evaluate, regroup, make sure the assessment is based on the latest evidence, balancing the risk of overflow against the certainty of what has happened in our communities, said Chairman Negron.

Second, Im committed 100 percent to looking at where we can store water before it comes in to our community. Water storage is job No. 1; we arent waiting months or years. Lets see where we can store it and how much it will cost, continued Chair Negron.

Third, we will legally evaluate how the declaration of a state of emergency would impact Floridas ability to work with the federal government to address the ongoing releases, said Negron.

And fourth, at the suggestion of our vice chair, Senator Montford, we recognize the tremendous impact of septic tanks. We agree we all have a responsibility to the environment, and we will investigate how the problem can be addressed, if, and only if, we can do so in a manner that is completely consistent with the rights of private property owners.

Negron announced the above action items following six hours of input from panels of experts in science, engineering, agriculture, and water management, local elected officials and members of the public.

The problems caused by ongoing releases from Lake Okeechobee have a ripple effect on the environment, our economy, and the health of our friends and neighbors including those to the north, south, and west of the lake, said Negron.

To address the various aspects of this serious problem, we assembled several panels of experts in science, engineering, agriculture, and water management, and reserved more than one-third of the days meeting for input from members of the public. By giving all stakeholders a seat at the table," he explained, "our Select Committee can better determine what can be done at the state level to improve the current situation.

Senate President Don Gaetz charged the Select Committee on IRLLOB with investigating policies, spending, and any other governmental activities affecting water management in the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin.

We know there are short-term actions available, and we now have several substantive proposals to consider, said Negron.

Our economy and way of life are dependent on the waters surrounding our coastal communities, said Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who serves on the committee. I commend Chair Negron ... Im also grateful to many of our constituents who traveled from Floridas west coast to share their concerns and comments with the Select Committee.

The Select Committee workshop included testimony from -- among others -- U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Palm Beach Gardens; Secretary Herschel Vinyard of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; Ernie Barnett, interim executive director, South Florida Water Management District; and Col. Alan Dodd, district commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In addition, senators heard testimony from a panel of experts who provided technical and scientific details on the current situation. They included Tom Van Lent, Ph.D., senior scientist, The Everglades Foundation; Brian Lapointe, Ph.D., research professor, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute of Florida Atlantic University; and Drew Bartlett, director, Division of Environmental Research and Restoration, Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Additionally, Roland Ottolini, director, Lee County Division of Natural Resources, provided her expert perspective on water policy issues affecting Floridians on the west coast.

Two separate afternoon round-tables included testimony from a variety of stakeholders in the local community. The first round table included Kevin Henderson, Evergreen Engineering; Mark Perry, executive director, Florida Oceanographic Society; Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, town of Sewall's Point; and Eric Draper, executive director, Audubon Florida.

The second round table included Tom MacVicar, president, MacVicar Consulting; Bubba Wade Jr., senior vice president of corporate strategy and business development, United States Sugar Corp.; Fred Fanizzi, general manager, Quail Creek Plantation; and, David Hille, chairman, Cabbage Inc.

Members of the Florida House of Representatives, as well as a number of local elected officials from both coasts, were also recognized to discuss short-term solutions. The remaining time was dedicated to comments from members of the public.

Details concerning the next meeting of the Senate Select Committee on IRLLOB will be announced shortly, according to Negron's office. The Senate will begin regularly scheduled committee weeks in September.

For more information on the Senate Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, visit the Select Committee website at http://www.flsenate.gov/topics/irllob.

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