A Senate plan to bond $1.2 billion in state funds to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee grew to become a $3.3 billion bonding program that would incorporate dozens of water projects around the state, incentives for job development, and other provisions in an attempt to win wider approval for top priority of Senate President Joe Negron.
Despite the modifications, the 5-1 vote of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee is closer than it appeared because many supporters expressed reservations that the expensive plan to store water is the most cost-effective solution to address Negron's goal of preventing discharges of polluted water from the lake into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries that led to toxic algae blooms and a state emergency.
Voting against the bill was Sen. Oscar Braynon, the Senate Democratic leader from Miami Gardens who said the Glades area is "a place that's hemorrhaging" and he wants to see an economic development bill for the impoverished Glades region, regardless of whether this water bill is passed or not.
"I visited Haiti, which is a Third World country, and I would compare some of the areas in the Glades to the conditions of a ravaged Third World country,'' he said before opposing the bill.
Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said she supported the bill as a result of the amendment but wants the state to pursue using land the state already owns for the water storage.
"We need to avoid the employment pitfalls and the farming interests,'' she said.
Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Harbor, said he would support the bill but was also torn. And Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Merritt Island, said her son was hospitalized after wakeboarding on the Indian River Lagoon because the toxic water infected a cut on his foot but she said she also has concerns about the proposal.
"I have been assured there are more changes as we go forward,'' she said.