Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants the state to invest in one Panhandle community on the brink of environmental and economic collapse. Scott’s including $3 million for Apalachicola Bay water projects in his proposed budget.
Oyster fisherman, devastated by water-quality issues and poor harvests in recent years, have been asking for state aid. And, on Monday, speaking at an environmental research center near the bay, Scott said, he’s heard them.
“A lot of families’ lives have been impacted by the loss of oysters here,” Scott said, “so we’re doing the right thing at the state level. I’m looking forward to the support from the Legislature to make sure we appropriate the $3 million.”
The district’s Senator, Democrat Bill Montford, thanked the governor for the proposed funding, which would go toward improving water infrastructure. He said, the bay is not only the area’s main economic driver but also a national treasure.
“We’re going to protect it, we’re going to put it back where it should be, so, once again, it will be a focal point of this country, in terms of good oysters and good fishing and good quality of life,” he said.
The proposed money would go, in part, toward removing some of the salt from the water entering the bay, making the area more hospitable for baby oysters. And up to $500,000 would be set aside for a study of the water levels of the rivers that feed the bay.
After the 2010 Gulf oil spill, Apalachicola Bay was one of the last oyster habitats not devastated by oil. But since then, a combination of natural and man-made problems has depleted the oyster crop anyway.
Franklin County Commissioner Pinki Jackel said, although only 10,000 people live in the county, the bay’s effects spread much further than that.
“Governor Scott understands that the problems that we face with our bay are not just Franklin County problems or Apalachicola Bay problems but they are problems with the state of Florida,” she said. “And we appreciate his support.”
Meanwhile, Scott continues negotiating with the Army Corps of Engineers and the states of Georgia and Alabama in what’s being called the “tri-state water wars.” Those negotiations could restore some of the flow of fresh water into the bay.
But in the mean time, local leaders say, the $3 million is a step in the right direction. That’s if it gets an OK from the full Legislature.