Crist budget includes land-buying, Everglades restoration

Gov. Charlie Crist today included $50 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program and $50 million for Everglades restoration in a $2.1-billion fiscal year 2010-11 environmental budget request.

Announced by Crist during a press conference in Naples, the budget request was welcomed by environmental groups who were disappointed last year when Florida Forever received no money for the first time since 1990. The state had been borrowing $300 million a year for Florida Forever.

The state since 1990 has purchased 2.4 million acres for state and local parks, state forests and hunting preserves, “working waterfronts” for commercial seafood and conservation agreements with owners of forest lands and working ranches.

In a written statement, Crist described his environmental spending request in economic terms.

“Florida’s present and future economy depends on the stewardship of our natural resources and our continued efforts to set aside land for water resource protection, recreation and the enjoyment of Floridians and visitors to the Sunshine State,” Crist said.

Environmental groups who had pushed for the full $300 million in past years were grateful for the $50 million requested by Crist for Florida Forever.

“We know this is just the beginning of another tough budget year,” Jeff Danter, Florida state director of The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. “But when the Legislature convenes this spring, we hope it will recognize that Floridians want to be stewards of their natural environment, even in difficult economic times.”

Crist’s budget also includes $144 million to clean up soil and groundwater contamination from leaking underground petroleum tanks along with $29.2 million to remediate and restore other previously contaminated sites.

The budget request was welcomed by the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association, which opposed the Legislature last year when it voted to sweep money from a trust fund that used revenue from an oil tax to pay for cleanups. The Legislature eventually voted to issue $100 million in bonds for the cleanup program, said Jim Smith, association president.

“I feel good about what we’ve done today,” Smith said of Crist’s budget request. “I look forward to seeing it move through the legislative process.”

Crist also proposed $10 million for solar energy rebates along with $176 million in federal stimulus funds for energy programs.

The governor also proposed $11.2 million for repairs and renovations to existing state park facilities. A detailed line-item version of the governor’s budget request was not immediately available.

And he proposed $20 million in matching funds for wastewater and alternative water supply projects and $6 million for water quality programs to protect springs, rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Crist also requested $283 million to support the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and $319 million to support programs at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

To read a news release on the governor’s budget request, go to .

(Copyright by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)