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Senate proposal earmarks $20M for coral reef protections and more in the Keys

KeysSanctuaryStaghorn.jpg
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
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Staghorn coral in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctary in 2019

A Senate committee backed a proposal that would earmark up to $20 million a year for environmental projects in the Florida Keys, a week after Gov. Ron DeSantis included protection of Florida’s coral reefs as part of his second-term environmental plan.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved a bill (SB 54) on Tuesday that calls for providing money each year from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which receives real-estate tax dollars under a 2014 constitutional amendment aimed at land and water conservation.

The proposal by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, would provide money to restore Florida Bay, the Florida Keys and ecosystems such as coral reefs and to acquire land within the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern.

READ MORE: New rules and new boundaries for Florida Keys sanctuary heading into final stretch

State law already directs money from the trust fund for such things as Everglades restoration and springs protection. David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, voiced opposition to the proposal, which was amended Tuesday to remove a ban on using the money for wastewater projects.

“Sierra Club strongly believes … the LATF (Land Acquisition Trust Fund) --- per the constitutional amendment passed in 2014 --- is for the acquisition, restoration, management and improvement of conservation and recreational lands,” Cullen said. “Not for pumps and pipes.”

Last week, DeSantis called for lawmakers to spend $3.5 billion over the next four years on environmental projects such as restoring the Everglades and addressing water-quality problems. Among other things, he called for protecting coral reefs.

“We are also going to establish a coral reef restoration and recovery initiative to increase coral deployment, to enhance coastal-flood and storm-surge protections,” DeSantis said at the time. “That is something that is very, very important, and we are going to continue to make progress there.”