Everglades restoration will receive $50 million under a proposed fiscal year 2009-10 budget agreed upon by House and Senate leaders, but Florida Forever will receive no new money.
The proposed budget also includes borrowing about $100 million to pay for cleaning up petroleum contamination sites. But a group representing gasoline station owners said the money isn't enough to prevent cleanup firms from going out of business.
And there is budget proviso language that would prevent the Florida Department of Health from proceeding with any nitrogen reduction activities until a septic tanks study is completed. The language is aimed at preventing DOH from implementing a rule that could require more expensive advanced septic systems in the Wekiva River area, said Rep. Marcelo Llorente, R-Miami and a lead budget negotiator for the House.
Florida Forever and its predecessor program led to the purchase of 2.4 million acres since 1990 for state parks and forests, urban parks and water projects. Gov. Charlie Crist proposed $300 million again for 2009-10 but the House and Senate could not agree on spending for the program.
The Senate proposed $50 million both for Florida Forever and the Everglades but the House indicated that it could accept only $50 million for the two combined, said Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales and the Senate's budget chairman.
The Everglades was considered a higher priority, Alexander told reporters. He said the state also will be able to keep Florida Forever alive through next year by extending authority to issue $250 million in bonds that were approved in this year's budget.
"We do support Florida Forever," Alexander said. But a steep drop in revenue from documentary stamp tax collections made it so revenue was not available and hurt the bond rating.
The Legislature also adopted a bill to close a loophole that allowed some tax revenue used for Florida Forever to go uncollected, Alexander said.
"If that fix works, then this time next year when we write the next budget it would be our hope to get the plan fully back on track," he said.
Echoing the comments of environmentalists this session, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, said the lack of funding for Florida Forever was "devastating."
"Now is the time to be buying these lands," Altman told FloridaEnvironments.com. "Prices (for land) have dropped. You'll get a bigger bang for your bucks. It's a critical need there."
The Senate and House last week were ready to slash the Inland Protection Trust Fund from the more than $100 million it has received in recent years for petroleum tanks cleanup to only $10 million. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that effectively eliminating the program would put at risk groundwater, which provides drinking water for much of the state.
The Florida Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association is unhappy with the plan to bond $100 million for the program, said Jim Smith, the group's president.
He said $130 million is the "absolute bare minimum" needed to maintain the cleanup program. The House and Senate propose sweeping revenue from an 80 cents-per-barrel tax on petroleum into a state reserve account.
The state, Smith said, will spend $100 million a year just to pay for electricity to run equipment that's being used to clean up groundwater contamination at sites scattered across the state. And he said more money is needed to address new leaks as they are discovered.
"The program in essense is going to shut down" with $100 million, Smith said.
The House and Senate also have proposed language preventing the DOH from implementing "any nitrogen-reduction activities" and requiring the department to report on passive strategies for reducing nitrogen from septic systems by May 1, 2010.
"There is definitely a contingent down there that would like to see it studied even longer rather than moving forward with nitrogen reduction to clean up the Wekiva," said Julie Wraithmell, wildlife policy director for Audubon of Florida.
Springs protection was a major environmental issue in the session with homebuilders and developers opposing SB 274 because they said it could require the more expensive septic systems. A Florida Department of Health spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.
Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Please do not redistribute without permission.