House should not wa­ter down reser­voir plan

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - VOICES & OPINION -

The Flori­daHouse will hold its first com­mit­tee voteMon­day on the most im­por­tant en­vi­ron­ment bill of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Ide­ally, theHouse will make no changes to the Se­nate bill.

SB10­would cre­ate a reser­voir south of LakeO­kee­chobee that­would di­vert ex­cess lake­wa­ter from­coastal es­tu­ar­ies and di­rect it where the­wa­ter could help to re­plen­ish the Ever­glades. Along with that twofold en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit­would come the eco­nomic ben­e­fit of help­ing in­dus­tries— boat­ing, sport fishing, real es­tate— that de­pend on clean es­tu­ar­ies and a healthy Ever­glades.

One of those es­tu­ar­ies is in­Martin County, which Se­nate Pres­i­dent JoeNe­gron, R-Stu­art, rep­re­sents. Ne­gron has made this bill his pri­or­ity, and al­ready has al­lowed changes to ad­dress crit­i­cisms.

The leg­is­la­tion nowre­duces the amount of pri­vate sug­ar­cane land the state­would buy for the reser­voir. The leg­is­la­tion de­lays the bond fi­nanc­ing to whichHouse Speaker Richard Cor­co­ran, R-LandO’ Lakes, had ob­jected. The cost is down from $2.4 bil­lion to $1.5 bil­lion, with the state to seek half fromthe fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Last­week, the Se­nate passed the leg­is­la­tion 36-3. Count­ing three com­mit­tee ap­pear­ances, Se­nate Bill 10 got just six dis­sent­ing votes on itsway to ap­proval.

Fromthe start, Cor­co­ran has al­lowed the Se­nate to take the lead on this is­sue. As of Thurs­day, it seemed un­likely theHouse would do more than make mi­nor re­vi­sions to SB10— if that. The po­ten­tial prob­lem is that this is an es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult year to pre­dict what the Leg­is­la­ture might do.

Never in re­cent me­mory have mem­bers of the dom­i­nant party— Repub­li­cans— been so di­vided. As a re­sult, never in re­cent me­mory— with barely twoweeks left in the ses­sion— have so many big is­sues been in flux.

TheHouse and Se­nate re­main bil­lions apart on the bud­get, rais­ing doubt that the ses­sion­will end on time. Gov. Rick Scott and Cor­co­ran haven’t budged on their wishes for the state’s job re­cruit­ment and tourism pro­mo­tion agen­cies. Cor­co­ran wants to elim­i­nate the former and cut money to the lat­ter. Scottwants big­ger bud­gets for both and thisweek asked for even more. Med­i­cal mar­i­juana and gam­bling are un­re­solved. TheHouse and Se­nate dis­agree over pay­ing pri­vate com­pa­nies to build and op­er­ate char­ter schools that take stu­dents out of poor-per­form­ing pub­lic schools. That money—$200 mil­lion— is a Cor­co­ran pri­or­ity.

As a re­sult, there is­more po­ten­tial than usual for last-minute deals be­tweenHouse and Se­nate lead­ers. Ne­gron and Cor­co­ran would de­cide what is­sues they con­sider most im­por­tant and which ones are­worth trad­ing. If theHouse sim­ply ap­proves SB10 un­changed, that­would be one less de­tail to worry about.

Thisweek, Scott pro­posed that the state loan the fed­eral gov­ern­ment $200 mil­lion for re­pairs to theHer­bert HooverDike around LakeO­kee­chobee. The U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neersmust lower the lake level when wa­ter rises high enough to po­ten­tially stress the dike. Those dis­charges of pol­lut­ed­wa­ter now­must go east or­west, into the es­tu­ar­ies.

Reser­voir op­po­nents— sugar com­pa­nies and res­i­dents of Glades com­mu­ni­ties— have ar­gued that fi­nal re­pairs to the dike would do more to pre­vent lake re­leases than a south­ern reser­voir. Scott, how­ever, prob­a­bly­won’t get that money, since he’s only ask­ing for it now. And there is no guar­an­tee that, post-Ka­t­rina, the Corps of Engi­neer­swould al­lowa re­built dike to hold sig­nif­i­cantly more­wa­ter. Scott’s re­quest is a side is­sue.

Which brings us back to all the ev­i­dence that sup­ports the reser­voir. TheUniver­sity of Florida has con­cluded that even­with all the projects to store­wa­ter north of the lake — the sugar in­dus­try’s pre­ferred plan— a south­ern reser­voir still is nec­es­sary to re­duce and pos­si­bly end the re­leases.

Thisweek, a pro-reser­voir group in Martin County re­leased a pa­per by Dr. Jay O’Laugh­lin, who taught in theUniver­sity of Idaho Col­lege ofNat­u­ral Re­sources. To the crit­i­cism that the reser­voir­would cost jobs in the Glades, O’Laugh­lin re­sponds that con­struc­tion and oper­a­tion of the reser­voir­would cre­ate new jobs. SB10 re­quires that lo­cal res­i­dents get first crack at those jobs.

Com­pro­mise in the Se­nate re­moved any cred­i­ble ob­jec­tion to the reser­voir bill. The House should do no harm.

Ed­i­to­ri­als are the opin­ion of the Sun­Sen­tinel Edi­to­rial Board and writ­ten by one of its mem­bers or a de­signee. The Edi­to­rial Board con­sists of Edi­to­rial Page Ed­i­tor Rose­mary O’Hara, An­drewAbram­son, Elana Simms, Gary Stein and Ed­i­tor-in-ChiefHoward Saltz.

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