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News from Tallahassee for 5/23/13
Water district leader submits resignation letter posted on 5/22/13
by Andy Reid | sun Sentinel
The head of the South Florida Water Management District resigned Monday, leaving after just two years and creating another leadership shakeup for the far-reaching agency charged with guarding against flooding and leading Everglades restoration.
Melissa Meeker, in a letter to the district board's chairman, said she was stepping aside as executive director after accepting a "new opportunity" that will allow her to focus on "international issues."
Meeker helped guide the district through a difficult period that included a $100 million state-imposed budget cut that led to 134 layoffs.
She also helped craft a new $880 million Everglades restoration plan aimed at resolving a lingering legal fight over Florida's failure to meet water quality standards.
Meeker in her letter said she "treasured the opportunity" to lead the district "during a very challenging period."
Meeker, who leaves on the eve of hurricane season, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, despite several attempts by phone.
"I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished together and confident that the leadership team of this agency, along with its dedicated staff, will continue to effectively serve this region, its citizens and its priceless resources," Meeker, who was paid about $165,000 per year, said in her letter.
The district's nine-member governing board, appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, now must select a replacement for Meeker.
Scott in a statement released Tuesday said Meeker has been "a tremendous asset" to the district and that she was "instrumental" in helping create the new Everglades water quality plan.
"Thanks to her stewardship during the last two years, we are headed in the right direction for Everglades restoration and I wish her the very best in her next endeavor," Scott said.
Governor vetoes $50 million for proposed bike trail along with $27.3 million in water projects posted on 5/21/13
by Bruce Ritchie | Florida Current
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday approved $32 million in water projects in the 2013-14 state budget while vetoing others totaling $27.3 million.
The governor also vetoed a $50 million for a proposed bicycling trail across Central Florida that would have linked 14 existing bicycling trails.
The $74.1 billion budget includes $70 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program including $50 million from the sale of state lands, plus $11.1 million for agricultural conservation easements. Other budget highlights include $70 million for Everglades restoration, $10 million for springs protection and $37.5 million for beach renourishment projects.
In 2011, Scott vetoed more than $600 million of what he described as "special interest earmarks" including $16.5 million in water projects. That included $10 million to help improve St. Johns River water quality. Of the $19 million in water projects proposed 2012, Scott vetoed $12.6 million -- but not $5.6 million for St. Johns River restoration.
The $32 million in water projects approved this year includes $7 million for St. Johns River restoration and an economic impact study. That project is supported by Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine and chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules.
Among the projects vetoed were three in Walton County in the home district of Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, totaling $4.5 million.
Water projects left off Florida TaxWatch's "turkey" list this year posted on 5/17/13
by Bruce Ritchie | Florida Current
Florida TaxWatch spared local water projects totaling $59.4 million from its list of "turkeys" in Legislature's 2013-14 state budget.
The group each year lists projects that it says were placed in the budget without proper public review and debate. The group says it doesn't condemn the projects but it does request that the governor consider them for vetoes.
In 2011, Scott vetoed more than $600 million of what he described as "special interest earmarks" including $16.5 million in water projects.
Last year, Florida TaxWatch labeled as turkeys 23 local water projects totaling $19 million. Scott eventually vetoed $12.6 million in water projects.
River of Grass flows again into Everglades National Park posted on 5/16/13
by craig pittman | Tampa Bay Times
Eighty-five years ago, work crews built a dam across the Everglades and called it the Tamiami Trail. The two-lane highway, completed in 1928, blocked most of the flow of the River of Grass just as it began trickling into what would become Everglades National Park.
On Wednesday, the dam broke.
About 10 a.m., a worker driving a backhoe cracked apart the old roadbed, letting the shallow water flow into the park the way it did eight decades before.
"It's an important milestone in Everglades restoration," said Mary Plumb, a spokeswoman for the park.
But federal officials acknowledge that it's not enough.
Bill would hand win to Georgia in water dispute with Florida posted on 5/16/13
by Ledyard King | Tallahassee Democrat
WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a public works bill on Wednesday that would give Georgia an important victory in a long-running water-rights dispute with Florida.
Both of Florida’s senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, tried unsuccessfully to add an amendment that would have limited Georgia’s water use from two federal reservoirs providing important freshwater flow to the Apalachicola River Basin in the Florida Panhandle.
Georgia uses much of the water to accommodate the Atlanta region’s growth.
The issue was debated as part of the sweeping public works bill, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which passed 83-14 despite criticisms from some lawmakers that it would add to the federal deficit.
Nelson, D-Orlando, voted for the bill while Rubio, R-West Miami, voted against it. The bill now heads to the House.
Nelson said a federal court ruling siding with Georgia gave Florida little leverage in the water-rights dispute. So he and Rubio didn’t get far in their attempt to change the bill.
Nelson said the amendment was basically blocked partly because Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia “threatened to tie up Everglades restoration and every other project in the broader water bill.”
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