House should not water down reservoir plan
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.