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Everglades Foundation CEO Praises New Florida Governor For Quick Action

Seagrass in the Everglades.
Caitie Switaski
Seagrass in the Everglades.

Governor Ron DeSantis is receiving high praise from some environmental groups for his quick action focused on the Everglades. Last week, the governor called for $2.5 billion for Everglades restoration and combatting red tide and blue-green algae across the state. He also empowered two separate task forces, one on toxic algae and another dedicated to sea-level rise. And he called for the resignation of the entire South Florida Water Management District governing board.

Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg says DeSantis has made a real connection between the environment and the state's economy. He has faith that DeSantis will continue to make moves towards protecting and restoring the Everglades.

WLRN: Where do things stand on the reservoir that's planned near Lake Okochobee?

Eikenberg: We have this issue of the lease that was extended back in November. The governor's made it very clear that he doesn't support the extension of that lease.

The whole goal here is to have dirt truly turning by the fourth quarter of 2019 and the governor wants to see it within a four to five year timeframe, instead of this 10- 20 year foot-dragging as he's referred to it in his inaugural.

What's different now? What makes us believe that something really is going to happen?

I think it's the countless, thousands of Floridians that have stood up and said we've got to do something about it. We are a state that relies upon 125 million tourists each year. This governor has put a link between our environment and our economy and he wants to make sure that steps are taken to preserve our economic future. That's the difference here. The connection is real.

You've heard probably from a lot of businesses over the last couple of years of how the blue-green algae and the red tide impacted them.

People were suffering. You had a food bank on Fort Myers Beach that was feeding families that were in the hospitality business because there were no tourists coming to Southwest Florida. The Chamber of Commerce in Fort Myers Beach set up a food bank to help folks during those interim months. The governor also understands that these projects cost billions of dollars and we need Washington to step up to match the investment that Florida has taken over these last few years. So the governor's tapping into his relationship with the President of the United States and the staff at the White House. We need a presidential budget recommendation to Congress here in the next few weeks that matches the Florida investments. That means close to $400 million in total -- $200 [million] from Florida and $200 [million] from Washington. These projects can be built quicker on time.

You sound optimistic. The governor is talking about getting things done within four years. Do you think that can happen?

I do. This gentleman is serious. He's been elected governor of the third largest state. He understands the economic links. He's got great relationships with the administration and Washington. He's a former member of Congress. He now wants to roll up his sleeves and be the governor and the administration that's actually going to do something about it. And I believe he's driven by the fact that he has two young children. He sees the future based on his own family. He's here now at a time and a purpose in Florida's history at 40 years old to make a difference. Ron DeSantis clearly understands what needs to be done. We as one organization of many and countless others that are out there want to be a partner in this effort with them.

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Alejandra Martinez is the associate producer for WLRN&rsquo's Sundial. Her love for radio started at her mother’s beauty shop where she noticed that stories are all around her - important stories to tell.
Chris Remington knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.
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