Let's be honest. Rick Scott does hold the cards. He really is the man with "a partner in the White House."
Thank God, then, that Scott is a pragmatic governor who gets the importance of Florida's legacy issues -- the Everglades in particular, and how this fragile, challenging treasure of an ecosystem, so wrought with human scars, affects millions of people.
When Scott said Monday he wants the Legislature to include $200 million in its budget to help fix the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike by 2022, he was moving to keep the communities of the Glades safe from a catastrophic dike break, keep Everglades restoration on course and give the federal government a chance to be a real partner -- perhaps finally a willing one, having secured President Donald Trump's confidence and buy-in generally.
"Repairing the dike is key to enhancing the water quality in South Florida," Scott said.
Yes, it is. This is a good plan.
I thought so when Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood, brought it up before the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee on Feb 9, I think so even more now, after Gov. Scott did his homework in discussion with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A Lake Okeechobee that can accommodate 19 feet of water, plus the 31,000 acres the state already owns south of the lake, its A1 and A2 reservoirs with deep-well capacity, will provide as much storage as we would have gotten in the original SB 10.
"We'll have 564,000 acre feet of storage, same as 60,000 acres at 10 feet (deep)," Simmons said in February.
The Corps has invested $870 million on dike rehabilitation since 2001, primarily to reduce seepage. Yet, the job is considered only half done. Half done in 16 years. Money the Corps budgeted for "seepage control" on the dike for FY 2017 is $49.5 million.
Two hundred million dollars is an energy injection for the Corps -- with the president's personal interest, enough to make sure those in Washington who oversee the Corps' progress pay close attention.
Scott wasn't talking rubbish when he said since taking office, he's worked hard for the environment. The governor did provide record funding for Florida's springs, did pass an historic $880 million Everglades water quality plan, did create a dedicated source of funding to restore the Everglades and Florida’s springs. It's absolutely true that under Scott’s leadership, Florida has invested more than $680 million in Everglades restoration -- that this year, he proposed nearly $4 billion for Florida’s environment, with $360 million for water quality projects. That includes $60 million for the new Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee Clean-Up Initiative and $225 million for Everglades restoration.
No matter how many things you say you don't like about Rick Scott, certainly he deserves your respect and the respect of the Florida Legislature in matters of providing for the environment. While we judge the governor on individual issues -- and there's nothing wrong with that, I judge him by the same measuring stick as we all do -- he sees the Big Picture and governs accordingly. Frankly, at times like this, I'm grateful for his broader perspective.
The governor has also said he supports water storage south of Lake Okeechobee in the A2 Reservoir because it uses state-owned land and doesn't take private property. He is clearly telling the Legislature -- including Senate President Joe Negron who reaches for more, including a bond issue as a way to fund his SB 10 reservoir plan -- it's OK to think outside the box, but make sure your plans stay inside it.
Scott didn't slap the Senate's face with this "news" Monday. He met with seven Senate leaders beforehand, he said, and told them where he stands and what he was going to announce.
Nor did he speak ill of Negron's SB 10. "There is a lot about the bill I like, and I know it is still going through the process. But ultimately, I hope the Legislature sends me a great bill that addresses the Lake Okeechobee problem and benefits our environment and takes into consideration the agriculture community," he told reporters.
"It’s very important to me that while we fund items in this bill, dollars are not taken away from our existing restoration plan, including projects like C43 and C44. Also, it is important to me that whatever is passed does not impact any person’s job. We have dedicated record funding toward Everglades restoration and I am confident we have the funds available to get these projects done without taking on more debt."
Keep Florida Fishing, an advocacy arm of the American Sportfishing Association, praised Scott's funding emphasis on dike repairs. “Florida’s fishing industry has an economic impact of $9.6 billion, supporting more than 128,000 jobs. We need to ensure Florida has clean waters, abundant fisheries and access to both to continue to thrive,” said Kellie Ralston, ASA’s Florida Fishery policy director.
Glades farmers expressed their thanks and relief after Scott's announcement. Said Danielle Alvarez, spokesperson for EAA Farmers, "Like the governor, EAA farmers continue to support the comprehensive, science-based restoration blueprint found in CERP to address environmental preservation north, east, west and south of Lake Okeechobee in a way that protects local agriculture, homegrown food and rural jobs.”
SB 10 bill writers already have done two rewrites of the original bill. These are clever, talented people. My money is on them to come up with a third plan that fits with the broad outline Gov. Scott has provided for southern storage. It didn't sound to me as if the governor wanted to exercise his veto powers on any Everglades issue. But certainly you can see by The Florida Channel recording of his address Monday, his preferences are firm.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: NancyLBSmith