Nelson: Trump request for Florida money to speed up dike work is 'absurd'
By Bruce Ritchie, POLITICO
Feb 13, 2018
Sen. Bill Nelson is calling the Trump administration's request for Florida to spend $200 million to speed up repairs of the dike around Lake Okeechobee "absurd."
President Donald Trump's fiscal 2019 budget proposal issued Monday says an "innovative partnership" with Florida using state and federal funding will help speed up repairs on the federal dike. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget overview says the speedup requires $100 million from Florida by September 2019 as part of a $200 million commitment by the state.
"That's absurd," Nelson said in a statement Tuesday. "Floridians shouldn't have to pay a dime to finish the dike. Congress just gave the Army Corps all the money it needs to fully fund this project and get it done by 2022."
Last week, Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio sent a letter to the Corps of Engineers urging it to set aside a portion of $10.4 billion in disaster supplemental funding to pay for the accelerated dike repairs.
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday praised Trump's proposed budget, but a spokeswoman for the governor would not answer questions about whether Florida has made a funding commitment to speed up work. Nelson, a Democrat, likely will face the Republican governor for reelection to the Senate later this year.
Scott in 2017 requested $200 million from the Legislature to help complete the dike work in 2022, rather than 2025 as scheduled. He said the money would be repaid by the federal government.
Instead, the Legislature provided $50 million in the fiscal 2017-18 state budget. The federal budget documents do not describe the state money for the project as a loan.
"President Trump's budget announcement [Monday] is great news for Florida and solidifies his commitment to me to secure the federal funding needed for critically important repairs to the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike," Scott said Monday in a statement.
A later statement by gubernatorial spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said Scott had worked with the Trump administration and Congress to secure the supplemental disaster funding that can be used for the dike repairs.
Scott wants to speed up repairs to reduce the risk of flooding to surrounding communities from a dike breach. He also says the repaired dike would allow the lake to hold more water and reduce discharges that harm coastal tourism. Federal officials say a study is needed to determine whether higher lake levels could be allowed.