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Diane Roberts: Will Joe Negron make Everglades deal happen? Maybe.

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

As the old Vulcan proverb goes, “Only Nixon could go to China.” Maybe only Joe Negron can make an Everglades land deal happen.

Negron, the incoming state Senate president and a conservative Republican, wants to acquire 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee, land that would help clean up the filthy, nutrient-choked lake water currently sliming South Florida from Fort Pierce to Cape Coral.

Using Amendment One money, the state would pay for half (about $1.2 billion), and the federal government would pay for the other half. Big AG and Big Shug and the other landowners would get some cash, and instead of pumping dirty Okeechobee water east and west toward the coasts — where its toxic algae wrecks beaches, kills fish, stinks to high heaven and is hazardous to your health — the nasty stuff would get cleaned before becoming part of the natural flow of the Everglades.

Win-win, right? No brainer, yeah?

But wait, this is Florida. Some of our politicians actually lack brains. Scientific fact! Greg Evers, a Pensacola state senator now running for Congress, and Mike Hill, a Pensacola state Rep. now running for Evers’s Senate seat, have pitched a hissy fit over Negron’s proposal, vowing to “stand up for North Florida’s water and North Florida taxpayers.”

Evers, whose idea of honoring the Orlando nightclub victims was to raffle off an AR-15 a few days after the shootings, claims Negron’s proposal “discounts” other environmental projects–as if cleaning up South Florida is some kind of attack on North Florida.

Not that he’s into environmental projects: Evers fought against septic tank inspections and argued for Big Sewage’s right to spread the aromatic contents of pumped-out septic tanks on land, allowing it to seep merrily down into ground water, rivers and springs.

Also claiming membership in the Missing Grey Matter Club, Sen. Marco Rubio, who says he doesn’t support buying the land until the Central Everglades Planning Project is finished–in a mere 24 years. And the South Florida Water Management District: now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Big Sugar headed by Rick Scott’s personal Attack Gecko, Peter Antonacci.

Younger readers may not believe this, but there was a time when Republicans were Florida’s best environmentalists. These days conservatives no longer want to conserve things.

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran says he’ll review Negron’s proposal with “seriousness and respect.”

That would be an improvement on how the House normally deals with Florida’s environment. Remember how Floridians voted in 2014 to designate a nice chunk of change from the doc stamp tax for buying conservation lands? The legislature evidently does not.

As for the governor, he’s busy raising money for Donald Trump and whining that the toxic algae is all the fault of the federal government.

But these people better pay attention: Negron is onto something. Buying land south of the lake is not merely the right thing to do for water quality – more than eight million people rely on Lake Okeechobee for their drinking water – it’s politically astute, too.

Pictures of snot-green algae washing up on our once-pretty sands have horrified the planet. The University of Florida’s wonderfully-named Tourism Crisis Management Initiative has done a study showing that almost three-fourths of potential visitors to Florida would balk at vacationing any place south of Disney, while more than half express doubts about coming to Florida at all.

That’s going to cost us money. Which will terrify businesses. Which will, in turn, translate into lost campaign contributions.

Joe Negron’s constituents in Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Palm Beach counties are outraged over the state of their waters: the dying estuaries, the fish kills, the closed beaches, the health risks, the diminishing property values.

He may well have become a good environmentalist. Or maybe he has statewide ambitions and wants to be known as responsive to voters. It doesn’t matter. Though he’s got a tough row to hoe in the Legislature, what with many of his colleagues thinking public land ownership is un-American, he’s doing the right thing.

Perhaps when Donald Trump finally melts down–or just melts, like the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz–Florida Republicans will be released from his evil spell, and they’ll start to give a damn about the water that gives this state life.

Perhaps even Rick Scott will get a clue and stop sucking up to big polluters. If he wants to run against Bill Nelson for a US Senate seat in 2018, he’d better.


Diane Roberts’s book “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America” will be out in paperback this fall. She teaches at FSU.

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