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Everglades cleanup bill passes

More than a dozen bills that would have weakened environmental laws die at the legislative session's end.

By JULIE HAUSERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Legislators on Friday passed a Florida Everglades cleanup package that will provide $200-million a year for the next decade -- thrilling environmentalists who feared this year's legislative session would bring nothing but bad news.

Environmentalists at one point had called the legislative session the worst in history, but they were sighing with relief when they left the Capitol on Friday night.

More than a dozen bills that would have weakened environmental laws died at the session's end, including a much-debated growth management bill that aimed to rewrite the rules for developers.

Only a few pieces of legislation opposed by environmental groups passed: a "right to farm" act that restricts local government's ability to regulate agricultural lands, and several measures that make taxpayers responsible for pollution cleanup when pesticides or other chemicals contaminate land and water. Environmentalists also are concerned about a bill that does away with vehicle emissions testing statewide, even in Tampa Bay, where the region's air flunks federal standards.

More critical were the measures that didn't pass.

Early versions of the growth management bill would have taken the state out of development regulation altogether, but the latest version made modest changes and created a commission to study growth management.

The measure failed on Friday when the House and Senate did not agree on details.

Gov. Jeb Bush said he will appoint a study commission anyway to review Florida's Growth Management Act, a 1985 law designed to rein in urban sprawl and make growth pay for itself.

"It's not working," Bush said Friday evening after the legislative session ended. "Right now, we have a situation where, in many cases, the cost to the developer is lower and the cost to the community is higher."

"We need to define where the state's role is in this," Bush said. "We need to establish a base. People are going to be nervous that if you take the state's role away, something bad will happen. But I think there's a whole series of things that communities can do for themselves."

Some other key environmental bills were dead when the debate ended and the lawmakers cleared off their desks. Among them:

Sovereign lands: Republican Reps. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Adam Putnam of Bartow pushed this measure, which attempted to set a line in the sand along Florida's lakes and rivers to show where the public's (sovereign) land ends and private land begins. Opponents called it a "land grab" that would have converted 100,000 acres of public shoreline into private property.

The House passed the bill, but the Senate failed to take it up.

"I wish we could have gotten something passed on sovereign lands, but maybe we'll do something next year," said Ben Parks, lobbyist for the Florida Farm Bureau.

Property rights: This bill would have made it easier for property owners to sue if government changed the zoning to allow anything less than one house per 5 acres.

Lobbyists for municipal governments objected, saying it would cut out government's ability to protect sensitive lands and maintain rural areas.

Rodman Dam: A bill would have enshrined the controversial Rodman Dam on the Ocklawaha River as a state park, making it harder for the state to remove the dam and let the river run free. The dam -- and the resulting bass-fishing reservoir -- is the last vestige of the defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal, a failed public works project.

Environmentalists have been lobbying to tear it down for years. Supporters tried, in vain, to tack the Rodman Park proposal onto several unrelated environmental bills, including the Everglades cleanup bill and a measure to clean up polluted urban lands, but they were unable to get the votes to pass it.

Lake clearing: A bill by Rep. Nancy Argenziano, a Republican from Dunnellon, would have allowed waterfront property owners to clear vegetation from their shorelines. An early version would have allowed owners to scrape down to the "rocky substrate" from one property line to the other without getting a permit. It failed in the Senate.

Citizen standing: The Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have reduced citizens' rights to object to pollution or development permits.

Getting the Legislature to approve the Everglades cleanup funding this year was critical, because the federal government is looking to the state for a 50 percent funding match for the massive re-plumbing project, expected to cost $8 billion.

Florida lawmakers said they needed to send a strong signal to Washington, because the Everglades project could face stiff opposition when it competes with other U.S. priorities in Congress.

-- Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report.

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