Former Gov. Bob Graham asks Gov. DeSantis to veto multi-billion-dollar toll road plan and bill that punishes anyone who challenges development

By: - May 10, 2019 3:43 pm

Florida State Park photo

Bob Graham

Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, chair of the Florida Conservation Coalition, is joining the calls for Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto two bills that pose significant threats to Florida’s environment.

One bill (SB 7068) to build a massive toll road network through rural areas was called “the worst environmental bill in twenty years” by one long-time environmentalist. It would dedicate billions to toll roads that haven’t been called for in any state transportation plan. Legislators voted on it without having any exact routes to look at – just general corridors.

The other (HB 7103) says anyone who challenges a development’s approval and loses has to pay legal bills for the local government or developer. Experts say it is the final nail in the coffin for Florida’s landmark 1985 Growth Management Act, a landmark law passed to make sure development’s impacts are properly planned for and infrastructure is in place to support it. It was tacked onto an unrelated bill late in the legislative session, and wasn’t debated or voted on  in any committees before that.

Former Republican state Sen. Lee Constantine of Orlando, the group’s vice chair, also signed the bipartisan letter.  (Graham is a Democrat). The Florida Conservation Coalition represents 80 groups. Last week, the Sierra Club called for a veto in a letter representing 90 community and environmental groups. Next week, activists are planning public protests in Gainesville, Hollywood, and St. Petersburg.

“Florida’s environment will not improve if we only take one-step-forward, but two-steps-back,” Florida Conservation Coalition’s letter says, in part. “As proposed in SB 7068, these new transportation corridors will diminish the impact of the billions of dollars the state has committed to address water pollution and Everglades restoration and threaten your administration’s environmental legacy.”

Since DeSantis has described himself as a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” the letter quotes Roosevelt: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”

The group tells DeSantis: “We hope you will take these words of President Theodore Roosevelt to heart and veto SB 7068.”

In their letter asking DeSantis to veto the bill that punishes citizens who challenge development, Graham and Constantine point out that: “The risk of having to pay a city’s or a county’s attorney fees would scare all but the most wealthy resident or landowners away from attempts at enforcing local government comprehensive plans. This change will effectively stop any comprehensive plan enforcement litigation.”

The language to force citizens who challenge developments to pay attorney’s fees was tacked onto unrelated legislation near the end of the legislative session. At the Capitol, that’s sometimes called a legislative “train” because so many things get tacked onto it like train cars. The Florida Conservation Coalition letter tells Gov. DeSantis that represents bad policy:

“Because these proposed changes first appeared so late in the session and were added on to what the Senate sponsor jokingly declared ‘the last train out of town,’ the Legislature adopted them without analysis, public input, meaningful discussion or debate. Good policy and good governance dictate that HB 7103 deserves your serious consideration and veto.”

Here’s a list of previous Phoenix stories about the toll road plan: Legislature’s planned road project could benefit Florida’s richest man; Vague, multi-billion-dollar plan to build new toll roads across Florida passes Legislature; Ignoring pleas for more scrutiny and local control, Republicans advance multi-billion dollar toll road planGroups blast Legislature’s proposed new toll road plan as “worst ever” bill; and Who needs trees? We want toll roads!; Sierra Club: If DeSantis says he is a ‘Teddy Roosevelt” Republican, he should veto massive toll road scheme


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Julie Hauserman
Julie Hauserman

Julie Hauserman has been writing about Florida for more than 30 years. She is a former Capitol bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times, and reported for The Stuart News and the Tallahassee Democrat. She was a national commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and The Splendid Table . She has won many awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is featured in several Florida anthologies, including The Wild Heart of Florida , The Book of the Everglades , and Between Two Rivers . Her new book is Drawn to The Deep, a University Press of Florida biography of Florida cave diver and National Geographic explorer Wes Skiles.