Gov. Rick Scott added some tension to the feud between the House and Senate over priority legislation and on Monday endorsed Senate President Joe Negron's proposal to build a deep-water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee on existing state lands to reduce the need to discharge polluted water in fragile estuaries.
But the governor added a new proposal, urging legislators to find $200 million to loan the federal government to accelerate improvements to the Herbert Hoover Dike.
“I support storage south of the lake in the A2 Reservoir which utilizes state-owned land and does not take people’s private land,'' Scott said at a rare press conference about a pending legislative issue. "This is a big step toward protecting our pristine environment. This additional storage, in conjunction with our currently planned projects around the Lake, will help reduce harmful discharges to the estuaries in South Florida."
Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who has shepherded the bill through the Senate with a 36-3 vote last week, met with Scott early Monday said the announcement was "a huge step forward in bringings this in for a landing."
"The legislative process is about compromise and I look at the governor's statement today as nothing other than a positive development,'' he said. "Everybody doesn't get everything in this process...We now have the governor's endorsement, all we need is our House partners to get on board."
Scott said that he wants the state to lend the federal government $200 million to help accelerate the repairs to the dike by three years. The federal government has committed to repairing the dike by 2025 and, Scott said Monday.
"My goal is for the dike to be completely repaired by 2022, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Trump Administration to complete this, which would substantially reduce future discharges,'' he said.
Bradley said that leaves many unanswered questions, such as where the money will come from and how the state will get paid back for its loan to the feds.
"Those of us in the Senate want to learn more details about what assurances we will have from the federal government that they would pay us back that $200 million,'' he said. "That is a federal responsibility of course and it's important the federal government maintain its responsibilities. They own the dike, maintain the dike. They built the dike and it is their responsibility."
Scott added what Negron has emphasized, that money for the project not be taken from existing restoration projects, such as the building the C43 and C44 canals.
"Also, it is important to me that whatever is passed does not impact any person’s job,'' he said. And embracing the position of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the governor said: "We have dedicated record funding toward Everglades restoration and I am confident we have the funds available to get these projects done without taking on more debt."
Bradley said the Senate plan does not call for bonding in the first year but leaves open the door for bonding in future years to pay for land under the state's existing bonding authority. Bradley said he wants to see how the governor envisions the plan working without that.
"We need to see the cash flow,'' he said.
When asked if the governor, whose political committee has accepted $425,000 from U.S. Sugar, said he has not spoken to the sugar industry about Negron's retrofitted proposal which many farmers have rejected.
Here's the governor's statement: