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Florida's gambling compact money could soon be used to support projects for the environment

 Apalachicola Bay is one area that might be helped by a recurring source of funding for environmental projects.
Erich Martin
Apalachicola Bay is one area that might be helped by a recurring source of funding for environmental projects.

The state of Florida is putting its money on the environment. Each year millions of dollars from the state’s gambling deal with the Seminole Indian Tribe will go to projects that help protect and preserve wildlife, waterways and green spaces. That’s under a bill now on its way to the governor’s desk.

In total the bill, a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, earmarks at least $450 million annually for environmental projects. Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) is carrying the measure in his chamber. He says it uses money from the compact, a revenue sharing deal the state struck with the Seminole Indiana Tribe in exchange for granting them exclusive rights to certain types of gambling.

“I can think of no better partnership with the Tribe and the compact dollars than to help take that money to help keep Florida beautiful, keep our conservation land well managed, and also clean up our waterways," Hutson says. "I think it’s a perfect, perfect thing we can do in coordination with them.

The bill sets aside funds specifically for projects aimed at addressing the state’s ongoing water quality issues. That includes $75-million for water resource projects and $5-million for a study by the Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University that will help to identify the most impactful potential regional projects.

Sen. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) says the bill and long term funding will help take water quality projects from piecemeal to a strategic plan.

“I love the idea that we’re going to have a five-year water plan," Berman says. "It’s well past time. We do it for the department of transportation and it works.”

And Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R-Melbourne) agreed when she spoke about the measure in committee.

You know what we’ve always talked about with our water projects is you need a recurring resource for revenue to make sure we’re completing them," Mayfield said. "You can’t start these projects and not have the money to finish them.”

Other allocations include $100 million dollars for land acquisition, $150 million dollars for flood control and $96 million for land management,

Hutson says funding will be allocated annually through the life of the compact, which is expected to last 30 years. However, the gambling deal is currently facing a pair of legal challenges in state and federal court.

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