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DEP says no “critical” funding would force state parks to close

The view of Panama City Beach from St. Andrews State Park. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

The view of Panama City Beach from St. Andrews State Park. Photo by Bruce Ritchie.

By BRUCE RITCHIE

Florida would be forced to close state parks without approval of a new state budget that provides for at least “critical” spending, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP on Monday issued a list of critical funding needs as requested last week by Gov. Rick Scott in advance of a June 1-20 legislative special session.

The Legislature failed to pass a 2015-16 state budget during the regular session that ended May 1 because of a disagreement between House and Senate leaders over health care spending. In response, Scott said his office was preparing a budget that continues funding for “critical programs” only and excludes controversial and divisive issues such as Medicaid expansion or hospital funding.

DEP said without funding for critical services, it would be unable to provide emergency response and cleanups for hazardous materials spills. And permits for construction could not be issued by the department to businesses and individual.

“All future development would halt,” the department said.

And state parks would be shut down, hurting local economies and forcing the cancellation of vacation reservations at the peak of tourism season. There are 161 state parks.

A Scott spokeswoman said the governor’s focus is to keep state government running.

“Governor Scott is glad the Legislature issued a call for a special session and remains cautiously optimistic that we will have a budget that will help our economy grow and create more jobs,” said Jackie Schutz, Scott’s communications director.

In a May 14 memo to agency heads, Scott’s budget director, Cynthia Kelly, identified critical service needs as those including “environmental initiatives consistent with Amendment 1.”

Amendment 1 is the water and land conservation iniative approved by 75 percent of voters last November. It would provide about $740 million for those programs in the 2015-16 state budget.

Will Abberger, chairman of the Florida’s Water & Land Legacy political committee that sponsored Amendment 1, said he agrees with DEP on the importance of the state park system.

“Certainly … we know how important our state park system is — and generally water and land conservation — to Florida’s tourism-based economy,” Abberger said. “There is no doubt about that.”

He is director of conservation finance at the Trust for Public Land.

The agency documents can be viewed at this link. Note that DEP’s submission, on page 25, is not identified as a DEP document but its authenticity was confirmed Tuesday with the governor’s office.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)

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