Local News

Two local legislative appropriations on budget ‘turkey’ list

SEBRING - A $2 million hybrid wetland treatment system for Fisheating Creek, which would use floating aquatic vegetation to remove phosphorus and nitrogen from the water, is one of two area projects that have ended up on an annual legislative budget “turkey” watch list. Florida TaxWatch is urging that Gov. Rick Scott veto more than $100 million worth of projects included in the new state budget. The Fisheating Creek Floating Aquatic Vegetative Tilling system, which will cover both Highlands and Glades counties, is one of 107 items the Tallahassee group wants considered for a gubernatorial veto. Another Highlands County project on the list is $12,000 for the Avon Park Youth Academy. Sen. Denise Grimsley, Sebring, explained that the appropriation is meant for the youth academy to renovate a building that was recently donated to the Boys & Girls Club in Sebring.
Scott has until May 24 to act on the budget and is unlikely to announce his decisions until next week. TaxWatch officials maintain they are not questioning the merit of the projects but that they identified spending items added with little scrutiny and outside the normal budget process. The watchdog group identifies appropriations that appear in the budget at the last minute and have not been adequately reviewed by the public, their report adds. The Fisheating Creek project, the report adds, was “added in conference,” meaning it was most likely not requested by an agency or recommended by the governor or included in either the House or Senate budget as passed by the respective chambers. Grimsley added in an email that the $12,000 appropriation was added in conference because that is when she became aware of the issue. She was not personally involved with the hybrid wetlands treatment system, she said, but “anything we can do to improve the environmental benefits and restore wildlife to sensitive areas such as Fisheating Creek has a compelling state interest regardless of the opinion of TaxWatch,” she added. “Since I am sure TaxWatch has not visited either of these projects, personally, I'm not sure how they can classify such as a “turkey.” Perhaps they would prefer we replace wetlands with concrete,” she added. According to a project description provided by Grimsley’s office, the wetland treatment system is meant to be deployed on the western side of Lake Okeechobee, where Fisheating Creek enters the lake. Floating aquatic vegetation, such as water hyacinths or water lettuce, are used in a constructed wetland area, to absorb the phosphorus and nitrogen from the water. In this case, the project will involve pumping the Fisheating Creek water into this wetland, letting the vegetation do the work, and then returning the water to the lake, after which it flows into the Everglades. The patented concept, the description, adds, enhances the “efficiency and sustainability of treatment wetlands.” This year TaxWatch also criticized millions set aside in construction projects for colleges, including $14 million for a building at Gulf State College and $9 million for a lab at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The report also recommends creating a systematic review and selection process involving economic development projects, water projects, and school and instructional enhancements. Last year, Scott vetoed $171 million or 159 “turkeys,” the report states, or 61 percent of the group’s recommendations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.