Negron endorses massive land buy to ease Lake Okeechobee runoff woes

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he'll support a massive land buy south of Lake Okeechobee

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said he’ll support a massive land buy south of Lake Okeechobee

Senate President-designate Joe Negron said Tuesday that he will push for a massive, $2.4 billion public works project to create 60,000 acres of water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, signaling a major break in one of Florida’s longest political and environmental battles.

At a news conference in his Stuart hometown, Negron, a Republican who represents part of northern Palm Beach County, said the land-buy is needed to ease the deadly environmental effect of discharges of Lake Okeechobee water fouled by runoff from nearby farms and residential and commercial development.

The Indian River Lagoon, in Negron’s district, has turned green with toxic algae this summer, fueled by the nutrient rich water pushed out of the big lake to lower the risk of flooding.

“For too long, 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. “Permanent storage south of Lake Okeechobee is unquestionably needed as part of the overall plan to solve this catastrophic problem, particularly given the very devastating effects the current algal blooms are causing in both our estuaries and the Everglades.”

Environmental organizations have been demanding the land buy for years to create new reservoirs for water storage.

But Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature have denied the approach as too costly and scientifically unproven.

Negron’s endorsement, however, is a big step in negotiations that will begin in earnest following this fall’s elections. The Legislature reconvenes in March.

Negron is proposing a state-federal split of the $2.4 billion price tag. The state would draw financing by using about $100 million-a-year in documentary stamp tax dollars set aside by voters in 2014 under constitutional Amendment 1.

These dollars, used over the next 20 years, would finance the purchase of the land and construction of the reservoirs, Negron said.

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