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Proposal Would Funnel Money To Indian River Lagoon

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

At least $50 million a year of voter-approved money would go to conserving and managing the Indian River Lagoon, under a measure filed Monday by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart.

The proposal (HB 339) joins others that seek to further divide money that voters in 2014 overwhelmingly approved for land and water conservation. The lagoon comprises about 156 miles of waterway from Jupiter Inlet north to Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County.

Under Harrell's proposal, preference would be given to projects for ecosystem monitoring and habitat restoration, connecting properties to central sewer systems and for managing stormwater, freshwater and agricultural discharges. Local matching grants would be required for projects involving sewer systems and discharge management, under the bill.

Voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment that required setting aside a portion of documentary-stamp tax revenues for conservation. The real-estate tax is expected to provide $862.2 million to a conservation trust fund next fiscal year, according to an August estimate by state economists.

The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee has already advanced a pair of bills (SB 174 and SB 204) for the 2018 legislative session that would require at least $50 million a year from the voter-approved money go to beach nourishment and inlet-management projects and $50 million go toward helping restore the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region.

Meanwhile, funding for the state's natural springs would increase from $50 million a year to $75 million. A separate measure in the Senate (SB 370) would set aside at least $100 million a year for Florida Forever, the state's most prominent land-preservation fund.

Lawmakers previously have directed that at least $200 million goes each year for Everglades projects, another $64 million for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee and $5 million to the restoration of Lake Apopka.