The Heroes Are Stepping Up

Across Florida the heroes are stepping up. This week more lawmakers from all around Florida and both sides of the aisle joined in support of Sen. Pres. Joe Negron and SB10/HB761 to fix our broken plumbing for good.

Joe Negron, Lone Hero by Andy Marlette/Pensacola News Journal. Reprinted with permission.

In Ft. Myers, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, co-sponsor of Rep. Thad Altman’s HB 761, led the announcement of Clemson economist Michael Maloney’s study on the project’s total economic impact. The study confirms what residents knew: Cutting toxic discharges into the Caloosahatchee represents a massive economic boost for southwest Florida. 

But Fitzenhagen focused on the people hurt most by the flagging tourist economy: hotel employees, restaurant workers, and fishermen. For them, the project means safer, better jobs. Fitzenhagen pointed out that glades communities need the same thing, and joined others calling for the bill to include local training and employment initiatives.

A day earlier, Sen. Jack Latvala demanded the same thing at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches: job creation in the Everglades Agricultural Area to ensure that a dynamic reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is a win-win for one of the state’s poorest regions. As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Latvala reiterated his support for Negron, for a solution, and for a bill that delivers the most benefit for all of Florida, including the Everglades and Florida Bay.

That’s critical for Sen. Anitere Flores. Florida Bay is her district’s backyard and it’s suffering as much as anywhere from Florida’s disastrous water management. By co-introducing SB 10 (brought by Sen. Rob Bradley, whose North Florida district is just about as far as you can get from Monroe County), Flores is uniting districts for some of the same reasons Fitzenhagen spoke up. Tourism is the Keys’ economic lifeblood and small business owners–like Islamorada councilwoman Deb Gillis–and their employees are the first ones to pay when the bay collapses.

Sunrise over Florida Bay

In Miami, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez‘s support for SB10’s job creation potential and Everglades restoration echoes his republican colleagues, but rehydrating the River of Grass can also safeguard three million Floridians’ drinking water supply in his district where scientists are eyeing the advance of saltwater intrusion into the aquifer.

Of course the momentum behind the solution to all of these problems picked up when national news media descended on Joe Negron’s backyard last summer, filming mats of stinking, toxic algae from Lake Okeechobee to the Atlantic. Negron’s Martin County has seen its own heroes step up lately, too: four Martin County Commissioners outvoted sugar-backed Doug Smith to draft a resolution in support of SB10, the Stuart City Commission, and the Town of Sewall’s Point voted unanimously to support it. And Economic Council of Martin County co-founder Bud Jordan stepped down, blowing the whistle on US Sugar’s influence pushing the organization to betray local residents and businesses by lobbying for sugar interests over their health and safety.

Thanks to these people and the thousands of others who’ve kept the toxic discharges and decline of the Everglades in the public eye, Florida is closer to solving its water crises than we’ve been in years. It’s becoming harder for our politicians to duck this issue, and as more of them feel pressure to take a stand, the number of heroes keeps rising.

This state legislative session ends in May. That means our best chance to win a bill that actually solves our problem is to keep the pressure on, keep the focus on the solution, and keep our elected officials honest. Believe it or not, a growing list of them are showing themselves to be just that.