The Everglades. Credit: National Park Service
Forty-four organizations – including all the heavyweight Florida environmental groups – are urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto a bill – HB 7103 – saying it would hurt efforts to clean up Florida waterways, especially the ongoing, multi-billion-dollar Everglades restoration.
Former Gov. Bob Graham has also urged DeSantis to veto the bill.
“This bill has several provisions that could negatively impact the full restoration of the Greater Everglades ecosystem,” the groups said in a letter sent to DeSantis Wednesday, “including efforts to reduce nutrient pollution in our waterways; the worst of which were quietly amended onto the bill in the final hours of the legislative session and adopted without public input, meaningful discussion or debate in committee hearings, without any legislative staff analysis, and without any public testimony.”
“In as much, legislators voted without fully understanding the impact of those last minute changes. Good governance dictates that HB 7103 must not be signed into law and deserves your veto.”
The bill includes language saying anyone who sues to enforce local comprehensive land development plans and loses in court has to cover the winners’ legal fees. (See previous Phoenix story: Last-minute legislative amendment penalizes anyone who challenges Florida development).
In their letter, the groups point out: “In general, citizens who may bring challenges to defend against environmental threats, such as loss of wetlands that filter pollution and reduce flooding, do not have the same financial means as developers and/or local governments.”
Since lobbyists for developers got the Legislature to abolish Florida’s Department of Community Affairs land-planning agency years ago, no state agency enforces the local plans. Instead, it is up to citizen challengers.
“Citizen comprehensive plan challengers typically struggle just to cover their own attorney fees; the risk of having to pay the attorney fees of local governments and/or other intervening party would make challenges much less available to concerned citizens. Only the very wealthy would be able to attempt those challenges.”
DeSantis has called himself a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican” yet he refused to veto one of the most environmentally damaging measures in Florida history – a vague, multi-billion-dollar plan to build new toll roads statewide, many through rural areas and land set aside for conservation.
“A critical tool that is used to ensure that Everglades restoration efforts are not further hindered, and that helps protect what is left of this ecosystem, is the local comprehensive plan,” the groups wrote DeSantis in urging a veto.”Local comprehensive plans include elements that address important issues relevant to our Everglades efforts, such as water quality, flood protection, drainage, waste management, water resource protection, aquifer recharge, water supply, conservation of open space, wetlands and other ecologically sensitive habitats, coastal management, urban development boundaries, agricultural buffers, and intergovernmental coordination.”
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