Scott vows to fix dike by 2022

SOUTH BAY — Governor Rick Scott Friday vowed to make sure the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs are complete by 2022 during the signing ceremony for Senate Bill 10, held Friday morning at John Stretch Park in South Bay.

With the dike at his back, the governor said the state will provide funds to help speed completion of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dike rehabilitation project. Relying on federal funding alone, the corps had projected completion of the repairs by 2025.

The state, however, did not allocate the promised $200 million for the dike this year. That proposal was not included in the final version of SB 10.

The governor and Florida Senate President Joe Negron were in the Big Lake area on May 12 for the official signing of Senate Bill 10, which provides funding for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) using land the state already owns. Senate Bill 10 expressly prohibits the use of eminent domain, leveraging land already owned by the State of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District, land swaps, and purchases, to minimize impacts on agricultural workers while achieving 240,000 to 360,000 acre feet of storage. The legislation also provides grants to establish training programs for agricultural workers.

The final bill was quite different from the legislation originally proposed, which called for buying 60,000 acres of farmland in the EAA for a reservoir.

Residents south of the lake protested that plan, which they projected would have shut down a sugar mill and cost hundreds of jobs.

Gov. Scott said the EAA reservoir and the work on the dike are just pieces in the puzzle of restoring what remains of the Everglades. He said additional water storage will help prevent the need to release excess freshwater to the coastal estuaries, where it disrupts the salinity levels and which contributes to environmental damage.

Senator Joe Negron, who championed the legislation, said he prioritized southern storage because he knew it would be the most difficult to obtain. He said storage is also needed north of the lake. He recognized the problem of nutrient-rich water entering the lake from the north, and admitted there is much work to be done to lower the phosphorus levels in Lake Okeechobee.

“Nobody has the right to send polluted water down the Kissimmee River into the lake,” he said.

Residents of areas south of the lake gathered at the park and they cheered at the promise to complete dike repairs.

“Today’s bill signing is the culmination of what has truly been a community effort. Thanks to the advocacy efforts of residents from across the Glades, this law does not take nearly any private farmland out of production and will build a reservoir on state-owned land,” said Clewiston Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Hillary Hyslope. “The law will also protect our communities from eminent domain. Special thanks to representatives like Rick Roth, Katie Edwards, and Byron Donalds as well as Senators Oscar Braynon, Keith Perry and Kathleen Passidomo for standing up for our communities throughout this long debate.”

“Ultimately, U.S. Sugar supported this dramatically improved legislation because it takes essentially no privately-owned farmland out of production, removed the threat of eminent domain for the EAA Reservoir and would build on land already in government ownership,” said Judy Sanchez. “Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature recognize the importance of protecting our water resources while also protecting our farming communities and vital local food production.

“We appreciate Governor Scott’s strong support for rural communities south of Lake Okeechobee by advocating for $200 million in funding for expediting repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike. This structure is absolutely critical to protecting all of South Florida — not just the farming communities — from a catastrophic flooding event,” she said.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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