Rival Dems Jeff Greene, Gwen Graham escalate fight over mall project

Democratic gubernatorial rivals Jeff Greene and Gwen Graham have released dueling ads over the Graham family’s ties to a massive mall project in Miami-Dade.

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham — rivals in Florida’s Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary — have released dueling TV ads and campaign statements over a massive mall project planned for a 175-acre Miami-Dade parcel that includes land owned by a company founded and controlled by Graham’s family.

Greene and another Democratic candidate, Winter Park businessman Chris King, brought up the American Dream Mall during a televised debate in Palm Beach Gardens last week, noting that environmentalists oppose the project because it’s relatively close to the Everglades.

Greene followed up with a 30-second TV ad that began airing over the weekend, criticizing “Graham’s mall” and concluding with the words “How can Florida trust her?” on the screen.

Graham responded with an ad of her own today that shows her canoeing with her father, former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

“A billionaire opponent is attacking me personally – even falsely attacking my dad, Bob Graham. It’s disappointing,” Graham says in the ad. The ad notes that Graham was endorsed Monday by the Everglades Trust.

Everglades Trust Director Kimberly Mitchell has been critical of the mall project, saying: “While we are fighting like the dickens to ensure the survival of the Everglades and the source of drinking water for eight million Floridians, mega-developers and projects like these continue to put it all at risk.”

Graham has tried to distance herself from the Graham Companies. She stepped down from the company’s board after she was elected to Congress in 2014 and has placed her holdings in the company — valued at more than $13.7 million — into a “transparent trust,” her campaign said. Graham has also pledged that, if she’s governor and questions about the project come before state government, she will recuse herself and ask the state’s three elected Cabinet members to decide.

After Graham accused him of attacking her father, Greene’s campaign issued a statement praising Bob Graham’s environmental record while quoting Greene saying: “But Gwen Graham is no Bob Graham.”

Who was the only candidate for governor at Everglades Coalition conference?

Democratic governor candidate Chris King at a Palm Beach County Democratic meeting last year.

Chris King, the Winter Park businessman seeking the 2018 Democratic nomination for Florida governor, scored some points with Everglades advocates by being the only gubernatorial hopeful to attend the recent Everglades Coalition Conference in Stuart.

King impressed attendees by appearing “sharp” on the issues, said Kimberly Mitchell, the former West Palm Beach city commissioner who is executive director of the Everglades Trust. The Everglades Trust, the Sierra Club and several other groups sponsored the four-day conference.

Mitchell said all the major Republican and Democratic candidates for governor were invited except former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who got in the race after invitations went out.

Former Florida Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham — whose daughter, Gwen Graham, is a candidate for governor — spoke at the conference.

King has pledged not to accept campaign contributions from the sugar industry “because I want to be an honest broker as we tackle a host of important environmental and legislative issues,” King said in a statement released by his campaign.

“This isn’t about demonizing one industry — everyone has a right to advocate for their interests. But special interest groups have enough advocates in Tallahassee. I’m going to be a governor who puts the people, environment, and economy of Florida ahead of these special interests. Today, I renewed that pledge,” King said.

 

Hurricane Irma: Interior Sec. Zinke to visit Florida, Lake Okeechobee

Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke rides a horse to his first day of work in March. (Interior Dept. photo via The New York Times)

U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke will visit Florida Thursday through Saturday “to conduct on-the-ground assessments of hurricane damage at National Park Service locations and to receive a briefing on Everglades Restoration.”

A detailed schedule hasn’t been released, but Zinke’s office said he will get a Thursday briefing on infrastructure upgrades and Everglades restoration at Lake Okeechobee. On Friday, he’s scheduled to visit Big Cypress National Preserve for hurricane damage assessment and a clean-up project.

Zinke will join Sen. Marco Rubio and other members of Florida’s congressional delegation at Everglades National Park on Saturday for a media availability.

Republican Rubio and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson wrote a letter to Zinke in May inviting him to tour the Everglades and a Zinke spokeswoman said at the time the secretary was eager to see the River of Grass.

 

Horse-riding Interior secretary mulls Everglades airboat ride

Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, who rode a horse to his first day of work in March, could soon be riding an airboat in Florida’s Everglades. (Interior Dept. photo via The New York Times)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to visit the Everglades after being invited to tour the River of Grass by Florida’s two senators and most of the state’s U.S. House delegation.

The Everglades. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“The Secretary believes the best way to learn about a location is with boots on the ground,” said Heather Swift, the Interior Department’s press secretary, after Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and 23 House members sent a letter asking Zinke to visit the threatened subtropical ecosystem.

“He’s visited Utah, California, Wyoming, Montana, and several other locations and looks forward to seeing the Everglades and other Florida public lands. The Secretary is thankful for the warm invitation from the senators,” Swift said.

Zinke is a former Navy SEAL commander and Montana congressman who was tapped by President Donald Trump to head the Interior Department. True to his Big Sky Country heritage, Zinke rode a horse to work for his first day on the job.

Part-time Palm Beach resident Trump pledged during his campaign that “A Trump administration will also work alongside you to restore and protect the beautiful Everglades.”

Rubio, Nelson, House members pitch Everglades to Trump administration

The long list of politicians and government officials who have toured the Everglades includes Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and most of the state’s U.S. House delegation sent a letter inviting U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to come to Florida and tour the Everglades.

All four of Palm Beach County’s U.S. House members — Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach; Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton; Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach; and Brian Mast, R-Palm City — signed the letter to Zinke.

Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander and U.S. House member from Montana, was appointed by President Donald Trump, who during the 2016 campaign pledged his support for the Everglades.

“A Trump administration will also work alongside you to restore and protect the beautiful Everglades,” Trump said at an event in Naples last year.

Today’s letter to Zinke calls the Everglades a “unique treasure” and adds: “The U.S. Department of the Interior plays a critical role in our efforts to restore the balance of this ecosystem.  As secretary, you serve as chairman of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and play a vital role in the effort to restore the balance of water flow and management.  The Everglades faces numerous challenges, but with a successful state and federal partnership, we are committed to ensuring future generations are able to enjoy this treasured ecosystem.”

 

 

Does population surge mean Florida will be parched?

Will Florida have enough water for surging population?
Will Florida have enough water for surging population?

With Florida’s population poised to climb by 15 million people in coming decades, demand for water – already one of the state’s scarcest resources — is poised to spike 54 percent if development goes unchecked, a new report shows.

The agriculture region east of Lake Okeechobee already is one of the state’s biggest users of water. But as the site of big residential developments already approved in Palm Beach County, the demand will intensify by 2070, analysts said.

A similar threat to the availability of fresh water also exists across Central Florida and in Southwest Florida, where thousands of new homes are planned in areas once considered off-limits to development.

“I agree that the situation does look dire,” said Ryan Smart, president of 1,000 Friends of Florida, which joined with the Florida Department of Agriculture and University of Florida’s GeoPlan Center in preparing the report.

“But I take hope in the fact that there are relatively simple things that we can do as Floridians, to dig us out of the hole,” he added.

Rubio, far from GOP convention, focuses on toxic algae

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, far from the Republican Party’s national convention in Cleveland, criticized the Obama Administration’s refusal of Florida’s request for a state of emergency to deal with toxic algae that has polluted the St. Lucie Estuary.

In remarks before a Lake Okeechobee roundtable meeting at Indian River State College’s Chastain campus, Rubio touted the Central Everglades Planning Project as a critical part of the solution.

CEPP is a collection of storage, cleaning and conveyance projects south of the lake. The projects are part of federal legislation that have passed the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

“We are as close as we have ever been to getting the CEPP authorized,” Rubio said. “Our hope is to get it passed and authorized in September. It would be malpractice for us to not get that done.”

Rubio, whose presidential run never gained traction, said he is not at his party’s national convention in Cleveland because he made a late decision to run for re-election and he wants to focus on his race.

On Tuesday, Rubio is scheduled to visit businesses impacted by the Orlando nightclub massacre.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during an algae bloom discussion in Stuart Monday. (Wayne Washington/Palm Beach Post)
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio speaks during an algae bloom discussion in Stuart Monday. (Wayne Washington/Palm Beach Post)

Amid rising criticism over algae, Scott proposes grant program….next year

A view from space this week of Lake Okeechobee algae
A NASA photo this week of Lake Okeechobee algae

Under rising criticism for a severe algae outbreak that has closed beaches across the Treasure Coast, Gov. Rick Scott offered Wednesday some long-range state budget help.

Scott said he will ask the Legislature next year to establish a 50-50 grant program between the state and local governments to finance efforts to move homeowners away from using septic tanks and also encourage cities to build new wastewater treatment centers.

Scott said details about the grant program are still being developed. The next regular session of the Legislature begins next March.

More on algae bloom here:  http://bit.ly/29hCdnU

Scott also continued to divert blame toward the federal government for failing to replace or rebuild the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee. Discharges from the big lake, designed to lower water levels and reduce the risk of nearby flooding, is a major contributor to the fouling of the St. Lucie estuary and other waterways with nutrients from farm and housing runoff that leads to the growth of algae.

Environmentalists and many citizens groups, though, also argue that Scott and the Republican-led Legislature haven’t done enough to enforce clean water standards and blunt the impact of the politically powerful agricultural industry on Lake Okeechobee.

“While the state has continued to step up and invest in important restoration projects to help South Florida waterways, it is clear that more work has to be done,” Scott said.

“It is up to all of us – the state, Florida’s local communities and the federal government – to work together on long term solutions to improve the quality of our water.”

 

Environmental groups say Legislature ignoring voters on green spending

Amendment 1 fight intensifies
Amendment 1 fight intensifies

Environmental groups Wednesday asked a Leon County judge to declare unconstitutional the Legislature’s approach to spending voter-approved Amendment 1 land-buying dollars.

The measure was approved by 75 percent of Florida voters in 2014 — with state-leading 85 percent coming from Palm Beach County.

It calls for spending one-third of real estate stamp taxes — more than $700 million a year — to acquire and preserve land for parks, water supply and wildlife habitat. But the Legislature instead has been using much of the money for such expenses as agency salaries, vehicles and pollution control efforts — sometimes on private lands, the court filing claims.

“State officials have misused these funds, plain and simple,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney David Guest. “We are asking the court today to uphold the state Constitution.”

Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida filed a lawsuit last year against the Legislature, which unsuccessfully sought to have it dismissed.

But in rejecting that action in December, Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds did refuse the groups’ demand that dollars be shifted from reserves to correct the lack of spending.

Scott says mega-building is generating dollars that help Florida fight environmental problems

Gov. Scott says mega-developments are helping state pay for environmental problems
Gov. Scott says mega-developments are helping state pay for environmental problems

Florida’s building boom, which followed Gov. Rick Scott’s rollback of growth management laws, is alarming many community activists and environmentalists.

But Scott sees the spread of mega-developments, from the Panhandle to the heart of panther habitat in Southwest Florida, as helping the state pay for widespread environmental problems facing the state.

The Indian River Lagoon on the state’s Atlantic shore and Caloosahatchee River on the Gulf of Mexico side have been badly fouled by freshwater runoff from Lake Okeechobee, carrying pollutants from neighborhoods, farms and cities.

At the same time, freshwater springs, concentrated mostly in Central and North Florida, have proved particularly vulnerable to pollutants from nearby development. Such landmark sites as Silver Springs, Wakulla Springs and Fanning Springs are choked by nutrients and algae.

Scott, though, said his administration has steered $880 million toward advancing long-stalled Everglades’ projects while backing major efforts for cleaning the Indian River Lagoon and endangered springs.

These initiatives would not be possible without the dollars provided by the building projects that are flourishing in Florida, he said.

“All that’s happened,” Scott said, “because we’ve turned around our economy.”

Palm Beach County’s unincorporated western area is the site of almost 14,000 new homes planned in coming years, spread across four new communities, including Westlake, whose developers want to make it the county’s 39th city.

On what had been timber and farm land in Charlotte County on the Gulf coast, a city whose acreage is bigger than Manhattan is beginning to emerge. In Orange County, 4,000 homes are on their way east of the Econlockhatchee River, long a dividing line between urban and rural Central Florida. Prime Florida panther habitat is targeted for development in eastern Collier County, just southeast of Palm Beach County.

What’s happened in Florida since growth oversight has been reduced?

More here:   http://bit.ly/1VlNqZT