OKEECHOBEE –State Senator Joe Negron voiced his opposition to Senate Bill 816, which would use money to expedite repairs of the Herbert Hoover Dike in order to permit the lake level to be allowed to rise to 19 ft., in a March 2 press release.
Senator Negron is the force behind Senate Bill 10 which calls for the purchase of 60,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, which he claims will help reduce the excess freshwater discharges to the coastal estuaries, State Senator David Simmons proposed SB 816 as an alternative to SB 10.
Sen. Negron said he was in Washington D.C., on Monday and Tuesday of this week to meet with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, members of Congress, senior budget staff, and high-level representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss the best way to reduce and ultimately eliminate the excess discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Calooshatchee waterways.
In a March 2 press release, Sen. Negron summarized what he learned in those meetings:
“1. If Florida advances funds to complete the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, the federal government will not repay the money to Florida. We will have simply spent hundreds of millions of dollars of General Revenue funds on what is unquestionably a federal responsibility.
“2. As I have consistently advocated from day one, Florida’s best scientists should determine the Lake Okeechobee Release Schedule (LORS) and not the Army Corps of Engineers. Achieving this goal would take an act of Congress, a highly unlikely outcome.
“3. Once the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation is complete in 2024, the Army Corps of Engineers is not committed to storing one more gallon of water in Lake Okeechobee. The LORS must go through a multi-year review process, with the Corps predicting only negligible modifications to the release schedule. The Corps wants to avoid expected negative impacts it believes would result if the Lake is managed at higher levels than the present.
“4. Under both the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), redirecting damaging Lake Okeechobee discharges southward to improve the flow, timing, and distribution of water through the Everglades has already been authorized. The issue is not if we will have additional southern storage, it is when and where.
“5. If the Florida Legislature approves and funds additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, the Army Corps of Engineers will reevaluate the order of priority in the 2016 Integrated Delivery Schedule (IDS). Florida is a partner in Everglades restoration and its decisions influence and impact federal participation in the 50-50 matching program. An example of this reality is the Corps’ recent initiation of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed one year earlier than planned after adverse discharge events.
“I look forward to discussing this important issue further when we reconvene in Tallahassee next week,” Sen. Negron stated.
“The most revealing thing about Senator Negron’s memo on his trip to Washington is NOT what is says – but what is NOT said,” commented J.P. Sasser, former mayor of the City of Pahokee, an outspoken critic of SB 10.
“Negron declared that a Federal cost-share is key to his proposed project’s success to stop the discharges. Yet it seems he came back home empty handed. We here in the Glades are thankful that the federal government is focused on finishing all the projects already in the pipeline, completing the rehab of the Herbert Hoover Dike and the many projects in CERP and CEPP.
This will do more to correct our water issues than a constantly changing wish list of projects that are not supported by science,” said Mr. Sasser.
Last week, all of the Florida Congressional representatives sent a letter to President Trump asking him to continue to fund the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) and the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Plan (LOWP) are part of CERP.
Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org