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Ad campaign from AIF’s water coalition is ‘confusing,’ Audubon’s Eric Draper says

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An Associated Industries of Florida advertising campaign criticizing “special interests” who want Amendment 1 funding for their “pet projects” is confusing, Audubon Florida’s Eric Draper said Monday.

Amendment 1 will provide $757 million for water and land conservation programs in fiscal year 2015-16. Approval by 75 percent of voters in November led quickly to debate over whether funding was intended strictly for land conservation or whether sewage treatment and other water projects are eligible.

Associated Industries of Florida, through its Florida’s H2O Coalition, says in its television ad that Amendment 1 is intended to clean up rivers and springs, finish Everglades restoration, renourish beaches and “protect our water supply.”

“Lawmakers are now deciding how to spend Amendment 1 money,” the ad says. “And special interest groups want the lion’s share for their pet projects.”

“We all voted for it. And we should all benefit from it. Let’s remember: Amendment 1 is for everyone.”

Associated Industries of Florida said last June that it had not taken a position on Amendment 1.

Draper said Associated Industries of Florida is deliberately not looking at the ballot language, which he said is clear about using the funding to acquire land for a number of purposes.

“Why they feel they need to attack environmental groups — I don’t know,” Draper said. “Maybe it helps them raise more money to be on the attack.”

A spokesman for Florida’s H2O Coalition on Monday did not answer questions about the ad, such as who are the special interests being referred to and what does the coalition want the Amendment 1 money to be spent on? Associated Industries of Florida also has declined to name its coalition members.

The coalition issued a similarly vague message in January when it twice sent emails saying, “Our opposition argues for rigid policies that would cause water shortages and stifle responsible growth.”

Those emails prompted Florida’s Water & Land Legacy, the political committee that proposed Amendment 1, to respond to what it called an “alarming email from an industry group masquerading as an environmental coalition.”

“They want to see Amendment 1 funds go to infrastructure that could further deplete our waters and fuel irresponsible growth in our vulnerable natural areas,” Aliki Moncreif, director of Florida’s Water & Land Legacy, wrote in January.

The environmental groups that supported the amendment issued their spending recommendations in January for the $757 million in fiscal year 2015-16.

Draper said the groups have asked the Associated Industries of Florida coalition to discuss how they can work together but have not received a response.

“Instead of following up on our request on how we can work together, they’ve attacked us,” Draper said.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.

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