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Lawmakers Look To Fund Environmental Projects Despite Budget Shortfalls

Lawmakers sit on the House Floor.
Bobby Caina Calvan
AP Photo
State Rep. Chris Sprowls, 35, addresses the Florida House of Representatives, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla., after the Republican was elected to lead the 120-member chamber.

Lawmakers are facing pressure this session to fund environmental projects at the behest of Governor Ron DeSantis. This comes as money is tight due to constraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

DeSantis is proposing $1 billion to go towards his new Resilient Florida program. He says its purpose is to tackle the challenges posed by flooding, intensified storm events, and sea-level rise. The program would provide grants to state agencies and local governments to adapt roads, ports, hospitals, and other vital infrastructure to mitigate the impacts of flooding, storms, and sea-level rise.

That could be done by hardening shorelines, preventing backflow into stormwater systems, and relocating structures out of flood-prone areas. The program got a boost from House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who highlighted a similar effort to get $100 million a year to go toward helping local governments address sea-level rise.

Meanwhile, Rep. Chip LaMarca (R-Lighthouse Point) has filed a proposal to create a statewide task force that would make projections for sea-level rise and flooding impacts. If the task force and its results are approved, state agencies will use those results for projects.

"And adding the sea-level rise task force, I think, would give us the opportunity to pull some of these folks together and come up with some ideas for and plans for [the] state of Florida to move forward with mitigation," LaMarca says.

LaMarca's bill would also codify into statute the statewide office of resiliency. Sprowls' plan for a statewide task force is similar but would leave it to the Department of Environmental Protection to develop projections and estimates. Randy DeShazo with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council says it's a good idea to investigate the sea-level rise in the state but says a single number may not work for a diverse state like Florida.

"One curve the state may settle on may be perfectly fine for a lot of uses that you'll see in the state, but if in fact, we're facing higher sea-level rise than we would otherwise expect under [the] intermediate curve than you might want to prepare for that higher level of risk," DeShazo says.

Also on the wish-list of items is the ongoing effort to restore the Everglades. Gov. DeSantis has pitched $473 million for it. Something Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg is glad to see.

"It continues his commitment, his promise of $2.5 billion to be invested on Florida's natural resources and everglades," Eikenberg says.

Eikenberg says that's needed because the everglades face multiple problems like drought, fires, and toxic discharges.

Wastewater will be another issue lawmakers will have to tackle. From Miami-Dade to Hillsborough, local governments are requesting dollars for septic to sewer conversions. Aliki Moncrief with Florida Conservation Voters says the state has long underfunded these types of projects.

"You've got lots of communities who need to convert from septic to sewer and may not have their own tax base to be able to do it and need support from the state," Moncrief says.

The governor is asking for $100 million to be spent on water quality improvement projects like septic to sewer conversions. Florida lawmakers, meanwhile, have to figure out how to cover a more than $2 billion overall budget deficit.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.