Florida lawmaker seeks to target money to hard-hit counties

By The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Money voters designated for land and water projects would help the recovery effort from Hurricane Michael, under a bill proposed Friday.

The measure (SB 376) by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, would designate at least $50 million a year from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to counties -- Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Okaloosa, Wakulla, Walton and Washington -- that sustained damage in the October hurricane.

The trust fund receives money under a 2014 constitutional amendment that required setting aside a portion of documentary-stamp taxes for land and water conservation.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis directed the state Division of Emergency Management to speed money to Panhandle communities that are being swamped financially by “massive” amounts of debris from Hurricane Michael.

Under Montford’s proposal, the Department of Environmental Protection would be able to use trust-fund money for reforestation, ecosystem management, fire control measures, debris removal, beach renourishment, coastal protections and wastewater treatment facilities.

The money would be designated to the region annually for seven years.

The state already uses portions of the trust fund for such things as Everglades restoration, Lake Apopka restoration, the construction of a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area and springs restoration.

Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, have filed measures (SB 368 and HB 141) that would provide $50 million a year for projects to restore the Indian River Lagoon.

The bills are filed for the legislative session that starts March 5.

News Service of Florida