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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
We have seen major steps forward in commitments to climate resiliency this week, both on the local and state level. In the Legislature, the momentum is building behind bills to repeal M-CORES legislation, reimagine energy preemption, and extend Florida Forever. 
Florida Scrub-Jay. Photo: Ann Foster/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Update on M-CORES Legislation
The Senate Appropriations Committee took another step towards repealing the 2019 M-CORES legislation that originally mandated the construction of 330 miles of new turnpikes through some of Florida’s most sensitive environmental areas and important rural farmland areas, effectively prying them open for future real estate developments. 

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a new and improved version of Senate Bill 100 by Senator Harrell (R- Stuart), Chair of the Transportation Committee. Audubon worked diligently to make sure these changes would be made. The new language requires that “The department (of transportation) shall take into consideration the guidance and recommendations of any previous studies or reports relevant to…” future projects, which would include the protective recommendations from the Task Forces. The bill focuses primarily on extension of the Suncoast Parkway to U.S. 19 in Citrus County, then allowing a gradual improvement of U.S. 19 and related roads up to Interstate 10 by 2034.

The bill also directs a new study of a northern extension of the Florida Turnpike. New language has been added, allowing DOT to convert parts of U.S. 19 to full “limited access” status, which would preclude sprawl type urban development that typically evolves along highways without access restrictions. The new language in the bill will require DOT to at least consider the recommendations of the M-CORES Task Forces, which include some of the most environmentally protective guidelines for highway planning and design ever prescribed in Florida. Passed with 17 yeas and 2 nays.

Audubon Florida will continue to work with bill sponsors, legislative staff, and the DOT to improve this legislation as it progresses towards passage.
Florida Scrub-Jay. Photo: Ann Foster/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Blue-winged Teal. Photo: John Wolaver.
Senate President Priorities Move Forward
Two priorities of Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby), SB 64 Reclaimed Water by Sen. Albritton (R-Bartow) and SB 88 Farming Operations by Sen. Brodeur (R-Lake Mary), raced through their Senate committees of reference and floor hearings this week.

SB 64, which passed in the Senate with a vote of 39-0, requires domestic wastewater utilities to submit a plan for eliminating non-beneficial surface water discharge (within five years) to the Department of Environmental Protection. The House companion, HB 263 (Maggard, R-Dade City), is in its second committee of reference. Using reclaimed water will ease pressure on Florida resources at a time when the state’s population grows by 1,000 people a day.

SB 88 also passed in the Senate with a vote of 37-1 with Sen. Farmer (D- Lighthouse Point) as the only dissenting vote. This bill aims to protect farming operations from nuisance lawsuits, and restricts the types of civil lawsuits based on farming activities, requires plaintiffs to prove noncompliance with state or federal requirements, and limits who may file nuisance lawsuits against farmers.

Its companion bill, HB 1601 Farming Operations by Rep. Williamson (R-Pace), is facing an uphill battle. The bill passed its first committee of reference on Wednesday, with a vote of 14 yeas and 4 nays, drawn from three Democrats and one Republican. Audubon is concerned about the possible over-reach of these bills that could limit legal recourse against landowners whose activities cause harm to water or other natural resources.
Blue-winged Teal. Photo: John Wolaver.
Northern Bobwhite. Myrna Erler Bradshaw/Audubon Photography Awards
Energy Preemption Bill Sees Improvement
SB 0856 by Sen. Hutson (R- Palm Coast) has been reimagined with a much improved and narrower scope as the Express Preemption of Fuel Retailers and Related Transportation Infrastructure Bill.

It passed in Community Affairs this week, 6 yeas and 3 nays, but not without much discussion about the preemption.  This bill prohibits counties and cities from outlawing gas stations and related infrastructure.

Sen. Hutson emphasized that he was not attempting to stop cities from being progressive and pursuing clean energy infrastructure but they (cities) cannot prohibit the existing, prevailing vehicle fuel source. The next stop for this bill is in Senate Rules. 

The House companion is HB 839 by Tom Fabricio (R-Miramar). Audubon is working to ensure that these bills do not invalidate environmental protections in local comprehensive plans related to land use and transportation energy infrastructure.
Northern Bobwhite. Photo: Myrna Erler Bradshaw/Audubon Photography Awards.
Roseate Spoonbill. Photo: Mark Cloud / Audubon Photography Awards.
South Florida Water Management District Approves Curtain Wall
The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board on Thursday, March 11, 2021 approved the $20 million construction of a 2.3-mile stretch of underground wall to keep water in Everglades National Park and mitigate flooding near the 8.5 Square Mile Area, known as Las Palmas in unincorporated Miami-Dade County. 

The curtain wall will help prevent seepage of water away from Everglades National Park. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is meant to facilitate water flow south out of the central Everglades, underneath the Tamiami Bridges, through Shark River Slough, into Everglades National Park, and eventually to Florida Bay. With no appetite for using eminent domain to place Las Palmas in public ownership, this solution will protect the private landowners from flooding in times of high water while freeing water managers to operate adjacent areas for ecosystem health rather than flood protection.  

It will allow water managers to manage levels more effectively in conservation areas like Water Conservation Area 3, which reached record levels last year and forced native wildlife to seek higher ground to survive.  This solution has been almost thirty years in the making.  The Governing Board and staff are to be commended for tackling and resolving this thorny issue.  Another sign that Everglades restoration is progressing!
Roseate Spoonbill. Photo: Mark Cloud / Audubon Photography Awards.
Laughing Gull and Royal Tern. Photo: Jorja Feldman/Audubon Photography Awards.
Major Steps Forward in Climate Resiliency
Lee County

Great news! On Tuesday, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners voted to join the emerging Southwest Florida Regional Resiliency Compact. Lee County is the eleventh jurisdiction, and second county, to join the Compact; cities and counties that join commit to collaboratively identifying and addressing the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, intensifying hurricanes, and erosion.

As a proven leader amongst Southwest Florida counties, Lee County’s decision to join the compact bodes well for the counties and municipalities as they plan for regional resiliency.  Members will share scientific data and planning tools, develop a unified action plan, and support one another as they prepare for, adapt to, and mitigate climate change impacts.

Regions that are organized into Compacts are better poised to demonstrate their readiness and capacity for state-coordinated efforts, including funding. Governor DeSantis’ proposed resilience budget tackles the challenges of sea level rise, intensified storm events, and localized flooding by establishing the Resilient Florida program which will provide $1 billion over four years to provide grants to state and local government entities. 

Regional collaboratives are instrumental in both accelerating the state’s resilience work and serving as a conduit for future funds and programs.   Lee County’s leadership and care for climate issues is an important step in amplifying Southwest Florida’s ability to protect its natural resources and bolster its resilience in our changing climate.

Congrats to Audubon policy staff Halle Goldstein and Brad Cornell and Audubon’s climate advocates in Southwest Florida on this important win!

Statewide Office of Resilience

Senator Ray Rodrigues (R-Estero) has filed billscalling for a Statewide Office of Resilience (SB 514) and the establishment of the Resilient Florida Grant Program within DEP (SB 1954). Audubon is supportive of both bills (SB 1954 passed this week in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee), while working to ensure the source of funding for the grant program is appropriate and sufficient to meet Florida’s needs.
Laughing Gull and Royal Tern. Photo: Jorja Feldman/Audubon Photography Awards.
Red-eyed Vireo. Photo: Greg Pasek/Audubon Photography Awards.
Extending Florida Forever
SB 1480, filed by Sen. Brodeur (R- Lake Mary), with House companion HB 1173, filed by Rep. Roth, would extend authority for Florida Forever to finance acquisition of land or conservation easements by issuing bonds. The bills seek to extend Florida Forever bond capacity from 2040 to 2054. 

Florida is growing in leaps and bounds, and we need to prioritize acquisition and proper management of recreational or conservation lands for the people of Florida. It’s important not only for our quality of life, but for our economic viability as well. 

SB 1480 passed the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Monday with a unanimous vote.
Red-eyed Vireo. Photo: Greg Pasek/Audubon Photography Awards.
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