The ailing Apalachicola Bay may get some help if Gov. Rick Scott gets his way — but lawmakers say the funding will mainly go toward a study.
Scott’s recently unveiled budget would give $3 million to “water quality improvement projects” in the bay, which is located in Franklin County. The Northwest Florida Water Management District would receive the money and undertake the projects.
State Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who represents the county, said he’s pleased the governor recommended the funding. “He understands the severe problem that we have with the Apalachicola River basin and the Apalachicola Bay,” he said.
Montford said the money, at least partly, will go toward a “river-flow study.” Lawmakers and scientists agree that the lack of freshwater flow on the river is contributing to the oyster-haul decline, as well as other issues.
Montford said the lack of flow has increased the bay’s salinity, allowing sea predators to feast on oysters.
But Florida has no control over freshwater flow on the river. Lake Lanier, north of Atlanta, releases the water that feeds the river, and despite legal wrangling, Florida has not been able to increase that volume.
Right now, there’s been no official decision on how the $3 million would be spent, Montford said.
Scott will likely leave that up to the water management district’s professionals, but he definitely wants a water-flow study, Montford said.
Also Montford will fight to put the $3 million is in the Legislature’s budget, which has not yet been written. And he said he has some big guns in the Legislature — Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, chair of the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee — who support helping the bay.
Montford said like the Everglades, the bay and the basin are problems that should concern everyone in the state. “This is not just a North Florida issue; this is a Florida issue,” he said. “We are witnessing the destruction of an American treasure.”
So far, the water management district has been reticent to detail how the $3 million would be spent, saying there’s no project list for the money. “It’s a proposed budget; it’s pretty early,” said Lauren Engel, district spokeswoman.
Engel said she had no knowledge the money would be spent on a study.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello), was less energized about the governor’s interest in the bay’s problems.
“I wish that we were doing something more direct to help out those people down in Apalachicola, rather than study(ing) something,” he said.
Beshears said the problem is one that must be relentlessly pursued. He, the chair and vice chair of Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee, and the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection toured the region Friday.
They spent half a day in Apalachicola, going out on the water, even seeing oystermen harvesting. And Beshears was resolute the Legislature needs to find some remedies.
“We were there trying to look at all our options, trying to see what in the world we can do to help this problem,” he said.