What Is The Proposed Florida Wetlands Protection Ballot Amendment?
Conservationists have a 5-amendment rights of nature ballot drive going on right now. This is the third in a series looking at each of the rights of nature amendments. Today's story is about the Florida Wetlands Protection Amendment.
The Florida Wetlands Protection Amendment intends to prohibit the dredging, filling, draining or other degradation of wetlands.
Chuck O’Neal is the Chairman of the Florida Rights of Nature Network and he is chairman of the FL5 DOT Org Political Committee. He says Florida's wetlands are the hydrological kidneys of the state, and that they serve to filter the water that comes into them.
"We really have these free solar-powered water filtration operations going on within the state. They're called wetlands," said O'Neal. "People look at them. And they say, well, that's just a bunch of weeds, they're coming out of water. But they are so critically important to the state. Florida was given, from its creation, the most acreage of any state in the country with natural wetlands."
O’Neal laments that over half of Florida’s wetlands have been dredged and filled for development.
"I like to say we've donated one kidney to developers, we cannot afford to donate the one that we have left," says O'Neal. "So let's keep the acreage that we have left in wetlands. There's no reason why they need to be filled in. They're being filled in just for roads and new development. These are important hydrological elements to the sustainment of our human existence in this state."
Florida Waterkeepers, an alliance of all 15 waterkeepers throughout the state that work to protect swimmable, drinkable, fishable waterways for Floridians, supports the amendment.
"So water quality is obviously critically important in Florida, not just for the environment, but also as a key driver to our economy and a fundamental part of our public health," says Jen Lomberk, the chair of Waterkeepers Florida and Matanzas Riverkeeper. "And one of the biggest threats to water quality in the state of Florida is urbanization. So about 900 to 1000 people move to Florida every single day. We're rapidly losing the natural areas and the ecosystem services that wetlands and natural areas used to provide."
"The current regulatory system isn't working," Lomberk adds. "It's not achieving the goals that it's supposed to. So the hope is that this constitutional amendment will help to achieve that goal and maintain the wetlands that we have left."
Tish O’Dell, community organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, or CELDF, worries the proposed ballot amendment is not really about the rights of nature. "It doesn't give rights of nature to wetlands, and it also doesn't give any civil enforcement to the people directly," O'Dell says.
O’Neal says it’s about protecting the wetlands, especially from developers.
"We've given up half of our wetlands to you. And we're saying stop. Do not do this anymore. We've made the act of dredging and filling wetlands, illegal through this constitutional amendment. It's not a question of who's going to permit it. It's a question of just stop it. Leave them alone," says O'Neal.
Nearly 900,000 signatures will need to be collected by November 30th in order to qualify the the Florida Wetlands Protection Amendment for the ballot. To read the full text of the Amendment, visit FL5.org.
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