Led by former congressman Steve Southerland, Stand Up for North Florida is making the case for equitable spending of state conservation dollars.
Tallahassee, Fla. — Today, state and local leaders gathered at the state capitol to announce the formation of Stand Up for North Florida, a coalition focused on the water and conservation needs of North and North Central Florida. Former Congressman Steve Southerland, the Coalition’s chair, was joined by State Representatives Brad Drake (R-5), Jay Fant (R-15), Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg, and members of the volunteer steering committee of Stand Up for North Florida to discuss the needs of North Florida and voice concern over Senate President Joe Negron’s plan to buy more than 60,000 acres of farmland in south Florida to build a another reservoir for water filtration. State Reps. Liz Porter (R- 10) and Stan McClain (R-23) could not be in attendance but are supportive of the effort.
“Water is one of our most precious resources, and it is vital that North and Central Florida are treated equitably when it comes to state dollars spent to protect our water,” said Southerland. “Certainly there are very real issues regarding Lake Okeechobee that need to be addressed, but we plan to work hard to make sure that taxpayer money is not spent on a plan that is scientifically questionable and that unfairly benefits South Florida over the rest of the state.”
Despite the fact that North and Central Florida are home to seventy percent of the state’s river watersheds and the vast majority of the state’s springs, which provide nearly all of the recharge to the Floridan Aquifer, 75 percent of all specific water conservation budget funds went to South Florida last year. Counties across North Florida are considering resolutions calling on the Florida Legislature to equitably provide funding for Florida water projects and not send a majority of funding to one region. The resolution has already been adopted by eight cities and counties.
“Any spending decision we make must be wise and with the taxpayers’ interests fully in mind,” said Rep. Jay Fant. “Florida is facing a tight budget over the next two to three years, and it is important that we not unfairly penalize one part of the state over another.”
Rep. Brad Drake added: “Those of us from the Panhandle and all across North Florida are united in our belief that making sure water resources in our part of the state is not just good for us, but for the entire state. We look forward to working together to make sure Amendment 1 resources are spent in a way that protects all of us, not just South Florida.”
In 2014, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1 to fund conservation projects. However, last year South Florida received 94 percent of the Amendment 1 dollars appropriated to specific water projects. The newly proposed land buy and reservoir are estimated to cost $2.4 billion. However, questions have been raised regarding whether that figure would be the true cost of the project as well as how effective the plan would be in actually addressing the issues surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
“As I’ve talked with legislators and local leaders from across North Florida, I have not found anyone eager to spend billions of dollars on a project we are not sure will work and that favors one region over another,” said Southerland. “It’s just common sense, and I believe we can count on our state leaders to come together to make sure our water resources are properly stewarded. We’re here to make sure that North Florida is part of both the conversation and the solution.”
Other volunteer steering committee members of the coalition include the following: