From: News Service of Florida
Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida and a prominent environmental lobbyist, released a statement Tuesday walking back concerns about a House measure that would alter the distribution of money for land conservation. Draper said he was wrong Monday to link a House bill (PCB GAC17-06) that would change the state’s Florida Forever land-conservation program to a controversial plan (SB 10) for a $1.5 billion reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that has been approved by the Senate. “In an initial reading of PCB GAC 17-06 I erred by speculating that the bill would limit Florida Forever bonds for the reservoir allowed in SB 10,” Draper said in the statement. “I was mistaken, there is no connection. I regret that my statements misrepresented Rep. Matt Caldwell’s intention and his efforts to advance land conservation.” Under Caldwell’s proposal, money for Florida Forever, once the primary program for land acquisition in the state, would be directed toward the acquisition of conservation lands on what is known as the Acquisition and Restoration Council priority list and through the Florida Communities Trust and the Rural and Family Lands Protection programs. The Florida Communities Trust, within the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Rural & Family Lands Program, an agricultural-land preservation program within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, would both get larger portions of money than under a current formula. The proposal also would prevent money voters directed in 2014 for land management and conservation from being used to acquire land on water management districts’ priority lists and would prevent districts from using the money for capital projects and for land management. The Senate reservoir proposal is a top priority of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and has been a point of contention throughout the legislative session. The House Government Accountability Committee, which is chaired by Caldwell, unanimously backed the Florida Forever proposal.