Did voters envision sewage plants when they voted for Amendment 1?

in Uncategorized by

Pipes vs. parks. Could that become the focus of debate over Amendment 1, the conservation lands amendment approved by 75 percent of voters on Nov. 4?

Amendment 1 would dedicate more than $10 billion over 20 years toward state purchases that could involve more than just state parks and forests. That’s probably what most people envision when they think about conservation lands.

Among the other purchases, according to the ballot language, could be “lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams.”

Does that include pipes to hook up homes that now are on septic tanks? What about expensive upgrades to existing sewage treatment plants to improve the quality of water eventually flowing to springs.

Will Abberger, campaign manager for the Florida’s Water and Land Legacy group behind Amendment 1, said the amendment sponsors don’t believe it should be used to pay for wastewater treatment.

“We look forward to working with the Legislature to implement Amendment 1 in a manner that is consistent with the voters’ intent,” Abberger said.

Gov. Rick Scott last week left open the door for using the tax to pay for pipes as opposed to parks.

Asked whether he will support more spending on the environment with the passage of Amendment 1, he said the state already has been “stepping up on the environment.”

He cited funding this year for springs projects, which actually include several sewage treatment plant and reclaimed water projects, along with projects to protect coral reefs, which involved $100 million for sewage treatment plants in the Florida Keys.

“We’re going to continue to do that,” Scott said without mentioning how money in the budget to buy conservation lands has been slashed in recent years. “I look forward to working with the House and Senate to implement the amendment that passed.”

State Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said this week that Amendment 1 is an “essential ingredient” of legislation he is working on the preserve springs.

Last year he was sponsor of SB 1576, which initially would have provided an estimated $365 million per year for springs projects, including sewage treatment plan improvements and hooking up homes that now are on septic tanks. The bill passed the Senate 38-0 without the dedicated funding before dying in the House without a vote.

Asked whether Amendment 1 revenue could go toward sewage plants and septic tank hookups, Simmons said, “I think we can assist local government.”

Simmons said the idea that Amendment 1 was for the purchase of conservation lands “is simply not correct.”

“What is the use of simply allocating all of the monies to purchase land when that will not solve the water resources problems we have?” Simmons said.

“I’m not saying all of this will be for water,” he added. “I’m saying to you we are doing a water resource plan. And even a cursory review of the amendment shows it (the amendment language) is as broad as the Pacific Ocean.”

And what about local water projects secured by legislators in the state budget, often involving water and wastewater pipes and stormwater treatment ponds? They counted for $88.5 million in the state budget this year. Will they receive money under Amendment 1 next year?

Simmons said it’s premature to discuss whether they will be included.

He said everyone involved in the issue should work together while also recognizing there will be competing ideas on how to spend the revenue dedicated under Amendment 1.

“The whole point is we welcome the debate,” he said. “We look forward to having a robust debate on this with one objective: a clean and pristine environment not only for this generation but generations to come.”

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Floridaenvironments.com