A big oak tree at old Manatee County Courthouse shaded Bill Evers, just barely, before a rally began Saturday for Amendment 1. “They should just go ahead and fund it,” said Evers, Bradenton’s hardnosed mayor for 20 years. “The people want it. What better way can you spend your money than to protect your future?”
Roughly 75 supporters for Amendment 1 circled the gazebo at the historic courthouse. Eight other rallies across the state were held to lobby lawmakers to fund Florida Forever, Everglades restoration, and protections for springs and beaches.
“We need to protect water and land because of the way we’re developing in Florida,” Evers said.
Conservationists say proposals in the legislature, which huddles in a special session Monday, weaken Amendment 1. The 20-year water and land initiative, which was approved by 75 percent of voters last year, is worth $22 billion, including about $750 million this year.Amendment 1’s shapers say lawmakers are trying to redefine the initiative, including spending more than $230 million for state agency operations and expenses. Bradenton's speakers included state environmental activist Jono Miller, Mary Hrenda of the local Sierra Club, and Nick Baden of the Fish and Game Association of Manatee County.
Amendment 1 is funded by a portion of state real estate taxes. Miller said Sarasota ($17 million) and Manatee counties produced $28 million in so-called real estate documentary stamps revenue last year.
“It’s going to be anything goes” by lawmakers, Miller said, referring to recent privatization measures in Tallahassee for state parks, including cell phone towers. “Our state parks should be sacred.”
Miller said a cattle-lease program for Myakka River State Park was also advancing in Tallahassee. He passed out flyers and bumpers stickers that said, “Don’t Mess With My Akka.”
The legislature's special session is to adopt a state budget that will decide what to do with Amendment 1 funds. Eco-stewards want the state to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee – a vital link, they say, to restoring the Everglades. Development interests are against it.
Evers, 81, led the expansion of Ward Lake in the 1980s (now Evers Reservoir) as Bradenton’s mayor. Plans are in motion to sell more than 200 acres near the reservoir. That's the kind of preservation work that Amendment 1 was built for.
“I believe in conservation, and especially at the reservoir,” said Evers, who was known as "Bulldozer Bill" for his leadership. “Years ago when I was mayor we bought the acreage to build the reservoir and now they’re trying to sell some of the land. I don’t think we need to sell the land.
“Not that I’m against development. It’s just that there’s certain places for it, and other places where it shouldn’t be.”
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