Orange Park Senator Sets Sights On More Funding For St. Johns River
A Northeast Florida state senator is trying to get more environmental dollars flowing toward the St. Johns River.
He’s proposing $35 million more for projects along the river that flows from Central Florida to Jacksonville.
In 2014, three-fourths of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment earmarking tax revenue for conservation.
Since then, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Orange Park) said the St. Johns hasn't gotten the attention it deserves from Tallahassee.
“I do think we’ve spent a lot of time and effort, understandably, dealing with the issues with Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades and I would like to bring a little bit of that focus to North Florida as well,” he said.
Bradley’s bill would set aside cash for the St. Johns River, its tributaries or the Keystone Lake region. It doesn't list specific uses.
“I want to be aggressive in using Amendment 1 dollars for projects, and if it is appropriate, to improve conservation lands to allow the public to enjoy them and if it’s appropriate, to even purchase land,” he said. “All of these things are things that I think the voters intended.”
Bradley said he would also be comfortable paying for cleaning up the riverfront at the defunct Jacksonville Shipyards or helping remove septic tanks, if those uses are OK’d by regional water managers.
But environmentalists strongly oppose those types of expenditures, and the St. Johns Riverkeeper and others are suing lawmakers for failing to purchase enough conservation land.
Still, Bradley argues the Legislature ultimately controls the purse strings.
“The expenditure of Amendment 1 dollars is a legislative function and it’s not something for courts to dictate and the people of the state of Florida have a mechanism, it’s called an election, where they can judge whether we’re doing our job or we’re not doing our job,” he said.
Bradley is a member of all three of the legislative committees his bill has been assigned to. Most notably, Bradley is the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, which controls environmental funding.
Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.