TALLAHASSEE | The Florida Senate has taken the first step to creating a dedicated funding stream to help improve the St. Johns River and lakes in the Keystone Heights region.

 

Senate Bill 234 was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. The bill would set aside $35 million each year from the pot of money created by voters in 2014 when they approved the Water and Land Conservation Initiative, also known as Amendment 1.


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State law already requires Amendment 1 dollars to be used for Everglades cleanup, Lake Apopka and springs restoration. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said he always felt that the state’s longest river should be added to the list.

“I felt as though with its unique place in our state’s culture and history, that the St. Johns River should be included amongst with those other water bodies that are all very critical,” he said during Tuesday’s committee meeting.

Bradley is the main sponsor of SB 234, but the region’s other three senators are all listed as co-sponsors: Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton; Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach; and Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. The proposal must pass two more committees before it is eligible for a floor vote.

An identical bill was filed in the House last week by freshman Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka. House Bill 847 has not yet been assigned to committees that will guide its trajectory in that chamber.

Bradley said if the bill were to become law, the St. Johns River Water Management District could use the money to purchase conservation land along the St. Johns River or create new recreational amenities. He also wants to replenish lakes in the Keystone Heights area that have experienced drastic declines in water levels when the Floridan aquifer became stressed or overused.

Tia Mitchell, (850) 933-1321