Everglades protection hangs in the balance

Everglades National Park photo courtesy: VisittheUSA.com

The Everglades Protection Area legislation was sponsored by Sen. Alexis Calatayud, a Republican from Miami. 

She argues that comprehensive plans and amendments pertaining to certain lands located within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area must adhere to the state-coordinated review process instead of the expedited state review process. The bill passed favorably through the Senate with a 40-0 vote.

A bill to strengthen the Everglades’ defense against detrimental development in Miami-Dade County is making its way to the Senate floor, but the House version of the bill is moving slowly, which could once more prevent the legislation from becoming law. The bill (SB 1364), which passed the Senate Rules Committee with no debate, would mandate a coordinated state review for any building projects and zoning modifications located within two miles of endangered wetlands. 

Should the Department of Environmental Protection later ascertain that the plan will impede the restoration of the Everglades, it must be modified to eradicate such detrimental effects. The bill’s sponsor, Calatayud, changed her original draft on Monday to limit its application to Miami-Dade County. A previous iteration would have impacted the counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe.

The House is once again moving forward with legislation to establish a two-mile buffer zone around the Everglades Protection Area after the bill was unanimously approved by lawmakers during its initial committee stop. Should the proposal be approved, it would tighten regulations on potentially dangerous construction and zoning modifications close to the threatened wetlands that the state has invested billions of dollars in restoring and protecting.

Local development plans or plan amendments pertaining to land within two miles of the act would have to follow Florida’s coordinated review process, rather than an expedited review process, whereby the Department of Environmental Protection would determine whether the proposed changes would hurt the EPA. HB 723 and its upper-chamber analog, SB 1364, are sponsored by Calatayud.

Billions of state funds have been set aside for Florida’s renowned “River of Grass,” including more than $4.5 billion from Governor Ron DeSantis and $1.1 billion from President Joe Biden’s administration. However, local governments have decided to intrude on the protected territory in recent years. In 2018, Miami-Dade granted approval for the Kendall Parkway, a project that has since been shelved which will stretch State Road 836 14 miles over the EPA.