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Water woes: Florida Senate approves plan to stop toxic algae

Posted April 12

— A reservoir system would be built south of Lake Okeechobee to stop toxic algae discharges from fouling coastal communities under a bill that Florida senators sent to the House Wednesday following extensive debate.

The Senate voted for the bill (SB 10) 36-3, giving a victory to Senate President Joe Negron who has made it a priority during the Legislative session.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley, said the project is designed to avoid a repeat outbreak like the one last summer when "guacamole-water" saturated beach communities in Florida, threatening tourism, and the health of residents and marine life.

"I am not describing a scene from a third world country, but one of the areas most populated in our state," Bradley said.

The bill provides money for the $1.5 billion project, a cost that the state and federal governments would split. The bill would also accelerate the project's completion.

"It's been such a political and financial nut to crack, and now we finally have the political will to get it done," Bradley said.

As the proposal inched closer to the Senate floor for consideration, it went through a major overhaul including scaling-back the project's size to take less agricultural land out of production. The plan would create at least 240,000 acre feet of storage, and would store about 78 billion gallons.

The bill was amended after it received pushback from opponents in the agricultural and sugar industries, but both industries remain hesitant to support the proposal.

Florida Sugarcane Farmers said in a statement the plan has improved but "massive job losses" are still a concern. Bradley said the project could take between 3,000 to 6,000 acres of agricultural land out of production.

Sen. Kevin Rader, a Democrat from Palm Beach who supported the bill, said more must be done to help residents who may lose their jobs.

"This is the most blighted area in the state, we don't know if it is 40 or 50 percent unemployment in the area, but there's no economic driver out of there," Rader said.

Under the bill, funding would be allotted to train workers who may be unemployed as a result of the project. It would put money into the fostering economic development in the community with an airport and an inland port.

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