Negron Proposes $2.4 Billion Plan For Okeechobee Water Storage
Florida’s Senate President-elect Joe Negron announced Tuesday he’ll seek state lawmakers’ approval for a $2.4 billion plan to store water south of Lake Okeechobee.
The plan would require the acquisition of about 60,000 acres of land in an area mostly occupied by sugar growers and farmers. The goal is to reduce Lake Okeechobee water outflows that have contributed to the growth of blue-green algae on Florida's east and west coasts.
"Our community has been plagued by tremendous environmental and economic impacts as hundreds of millions of gallons of water are released from Lake Okeechobee each year,” Negron said in a press release. “Permanent storage south of Lake Okeechobee is unquestionably needed as part of the overall plan to solve this catastrophic problem.”
Negron, a Republican, represents part of the Treasure Coast. The area has been plagued this year by blue-green algae -- a result of polluted water released from Lake Okeechobee and nearby waterways. Being able to store and filter the water in reservoirs south of the lake would hopefully limit flows to Florida's coasts and curb the algae problem.
Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg says Negron's plan would be a step towards restoring Florida's natural water flow.
"The plan that Sen. Negron laid out is a key component of the Comprehensive Everglades [Restoration] Plan that’s been in place now for 15 1/2," Eikenberg said. "It’s a unifying issue and it brings Republicans and Democrats together."
Opponents of Negron's plan say it would take land from the sugar growers in the area, cutting their productivity. The Miami Herald reports two 60,000-acre parcels of land are under consideration for purchase, and sugar companies are the majority owners of each.
Gaston Cantens, vice president of the sugar company Florida Crystals, told the Herald on Tuesday: "We will be reviewing the details of the plan announced today by Sen. Joe Negron as soon as they are made available to the public, especially since his proposal calls for taking another 60,000 acres of productive farmland out of production..."
Florida and the federal government would split the costs of the land and the water storage facilities. Florida would cover its $1.2 billion bill with $100 million annual withdrawals from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund -- a fund voters approved in 2014 for the restoration and conservation of the Everglades.