Lawmakers use wetlands bill to block lawsuit

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauMay 4, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE -- Floridalegislators used a bill to change wetlands regulations to block a lawsuitagainst the state for ap-proving two no-bid,20-year lease agreements with sugar and vegetable farmers.

The leases were approved by the governor and Cabinet in January and are now being challenged in court by the Florida Wildlife Federation, which alleges the leases allow the sugar growers to continue to farm without reducing their pollution levels.

The provision wasadded to HB 999, a wide-ranging bill that changesenvironmental regulations.

The House voted 106-10 late Friday while the Senate voted 39-1 and sent the measure to the governor.

The sugar industry said in a statement that thelegislation was needed to "avoid obstructionistlitigation from some extreme environmental activists"and to complete the state's clean-up efforts that arepart of the Everglades settlement legislators also ratified.

Former U.S. Sen. BobGraham appealed to legislators to reject the bill Thursday. Graham, a member of the Florida Conservation Coalition, said it was clearly intended to end the litigation.

The Senate on Thursday stripped the bill of other provisions opposed by environmentalists, including a three-year ban on local fertilizer ordinances and a measure to prevent local governments from imposing wetlands regulations.

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