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Everglades Restoration: Water And Money Flow Into The River Of Grass

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May was an eventful -- and most would likely say hopeful -- month for the beleaguered Everglades. Gov. Rick Scott signed into law new legislation that will provide hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade to fund Everglades restoration and cleanup.

House Bill 7065 provides $32 million per year in state funds for the next 10 years to pay for restoring water quality in the Everglades, according to a story from Sunshine State News. The bill is part of an $880 million long-term restoration plan that also includes a $70 million infusion in this session alone. 

The new law also includes an extension of a tax on sugar cane farms -- a significant source of pollution in the Everglades -- located south of Lake Okeechobee. The "agricultural privilege tax in the Everglades Agricultural Area" places a $25-per-acre annual tax on farms through November 2026. The tax rate will then decrease in $5-per-acre increments every few years through 2036.

Scott was quoted as saying he was "proud to work with state, local and federal officials...to ensure we're doing what it takes to protect and properly manage our nation's most delicate natural treasure."

An Associated Press story makes note of what some constituents -- and environmentalists in particular -- may perceive as a new direction from a governor who has previously voiced opposition to "government regulation and spending." The story quotes Audubon Florida executive director Eric Draper as saying, "This is not what I would have expected from this governor, but to his credit, he stepped up."

Heading into Session 2013, Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) had predicted that with Florida's economy on the mend, environmental issues -- particularly those surrounding the Everglades -- would get more focus in Tallahassee. At the February pre-session WLRN/Miami Herald  Town Hall, Latvala said "(environmental programs) went by the wayside, but I think they'll be back." 

Cash isn't the only thing to start flowing into the 'glades this spring. Crews this month finally broke the roadbed under the new one-mile Tamiami Trail bridge, allowing the water-restoration project to fulfill its duty for the first time since its completion in March.

The bridging is part of a larger effort "to restore fresh water flow into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay," according to Jonathan Ullman, the South Florida/Everglades senior organizer for the Sierra Club. The final goal is to complete six and a half miles of bridging over Shark River Slough, allowing unencumbered water flow from Lake Okeechobee down to Florida Bay. Read more about the project here.     

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