Rep. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, filed a House bill Friday to match a controversial $2.4 billion proposal — backed by Senate President Joe Negron — to buy farmland south of Lake Okeechobee. The aim of the bill (HB 761) is to prevent the return of toxic algae blooms in Treasure Coast waterways, just south of Altman’s district.
As with the Senate proposal (SB 10), which cleared its first committee Tuesday, Altman’s bill would require the state to bond $100 million a year to purchase 60,000 acres for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area. The federal government would have to approve half the money for the project. The bills would also direct Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to exercise an option from a 2010 agreement signed by former Gov. Charlie Crist and U.S. Sugar that requires the state to purchase 153,209 acres if “willing sellers” are not found for the land Negron is seeking.
The filing of the House bill quickly drew praise Friday from the Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida. But the plan has been criticized by farmers, residents and politicians south of the lake. Also, House leaders have opposed bonding. Negron’s plan is designed to move water south to the reservoir instead of sending polluted discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. Discharges have occurred when water levels in the lake have become too high.
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