Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has doubled down on the work his administration had carried out in his first term to improve the Sunshine State’s water quality.

At a Jan. 10 press conference in Bonita Springs, in a restaurant set to reopen after repairing Hurricane Ian’s damage, DeSantis announced an executive order committing another $3.5 billion to water quality projects in the state.

They include restoring the Everglades, improving the freshwater flow to Florida Bay at the state’s southern tip, and protecting the 150-mile-long and biodiverse Indian River Lagoon on the state’s Atlantic Coast.

During his administration’s first term, it spent $3.3 billion on water quality improvements enabled by what DeSantis says was good legislative budgetary management and the state’s growing economy.

“That would not have been possible if we had turned Florida into a Fauciville,” he said, alluding to how Florida forged its own path as the federal government advocated widespread pandemic shutdowns.

A marsh in Everglades National Park in Florida. (Diana Robinson Photography/Moment/GettyImages)

“Promises made, promises kept,” DeSantis said. He spoke at Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grille, with a quintessentially Floridian scenic backdrop of Fish Trap Bay and Little Hickory Island.

His choice of locales for the press conference underscored another administration achievement: rapid reconstruction following Hurricane Ian’s destruction, including reopening bridges upon which the coastal islands’ life depends.

DeSantis said the state would expedite Everglades restoration, including better management of Lake Okeechobee as it sends waters south to the Everglades. Money will go to better control algae blooms like red tide.

Construction will also continue on reservoirs regulating water’s flow into the Caloosahatchee River and helping treat stormwater, he said.

The governor said Florida will spend at least $100 million a year on protecting and restoring the Indian River Lagoon, including reducing nutrient contributions and supporting seagrass recovery propagation projects.

Money would also be available to protect the coasts and make communities more resilient, he said.

The administration would continue funding for the Resilient Florida Program, expedite hurricane recovery for communities affected by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, and support the completion of vulnerability studies for all Florida counties and cities by 2026, he said.

Indian River
View of the Indian River In Melbourne, Florida on March 2021. (Google Maps)

DeSantis said his administration had added 170,000 acres in conservation lands during his first term.

The governor talked about why water quality projects protecting the state’s varied ecologies enjoy widespread support: Florida attracts new residents for its beauty, and tourism is a leading industry. Protecting its environment—and the unique ways water moves around in it—is good business, he said.

“We need to leave Florida to God better than we found it,” DeSantis said. “It is something that we have to do. Now, by doing that, you’re also fortifying the economic engine that this state represents.

“I mean, the people that are coming to visit, they want to go to the beaches. They want to go fishing. They want to go boating. They want to do those things. So that’s just the lifeblood of our state’s DNA.

“And so it’s the right thing to do. But it also reinforces, I think, our economic objectives.”

Epoch Times Photo
The last lines of light illuminate cattails on a restored area of Lake Okeechobee. Habitat restoration in this section of wetland was to benefit the endangered Everglades snail kites. (Courtesy Lake Okeechobee)

The Everglades, part of a unique ecosystem, filter water as it moves southward to drain into Florida Bay. Development, agriculture, pollution, and earlier generations’ decisions to straighten the Kissimmee River and build canals severely damaged Lake Okeechobee.

“When Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in the year 2000, it outlined a 30-year plan to restore the Everglades,” said Eric Eichenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.

“Thanks to this governor and this commitment today, we see the finish line by 2030. These projects will be finished. We will have better water quality. We will have a better Everglades. We will be able to pass it on to the next generation.”

Taking some questions from reporters afterward, DeSantis needled Democrats for the decline in their fortunes. State Democrat chairman Manny Diaz resigned on Jan. 9.

“There aren’t as many Democrats around as there used to be in the state of Florida, and we had something to do with that in November 2022.”

This marked the first time in 150 years there hadn’t been a single Democrat in statewide office, DeSantis said.

And while discussing insurance reform—trying to get more insurance companies competing in the state to bring down skyrocketing property insurance premium costs—DeSantis launched into a mini-speech about another threat to the state’s economy and what he’d like to do to counter that.

DeSantis Targets CCP investment

“My view on our economy is, in Florida, you know, we don’t want to have holdings by hostile nations. And so if you look at the Chinese Communist Party, they’ve been very active throughout the Western Hemisphere in gobbling up land and investing in different things.”

Chinese interests are opposed to American ones, he said.

“And [when] you see how they wielded their authority—and especially with President Xi, who has taken a much more Marxist-Leninist turn since he’s been ruling China—it is not in the best interest of Florida to have the Chinese Communist Party owning farmland, owning land close to military bases.”

“My view is, and I think there’s a broad agreement on those two, but my view is, okay, yeah, no farmland, but why would you want to them buying residential developments or things like that?”

DeSantis said he did not want the CCP owning subdivisions but that they use front companies to do it, and the state must find better ways of policing the issue.

Epoch Times Photo
Grand Forks Air Force Base is located about 12 miles from the city of Grand Forks, N.D. Residents have organized to oppose a corn mill investment by a Chinese company with reputed ties to the Chinese Communist Party through its company chairman. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

“And yes, we do not need to have CCP influence in Florida’s economy,” DeSantis said. “We’ve already taken steps. We’ve banned the Confucius institutes from our universities and our state colleges. They have used those Confucius Institutes across the country to basically bring propaganda into our universities—as if our universities don’t have enough problems already.”

“We’ve also done things to limit their ability to fund research in our universities. I think we’re going to go even further than that,” DeSantis said. “The legislature only went so far a couple of years ago. I think there’s an appetite to do even more because their influence in our society has been very insidious.”

“If you look, they’re very powerful in entertainment. They’re very powerful in finance,” DeSantis said. “Disney, you know, they will change things to placate the CCP. Wall Street will bend to placate the CCP.”

“We are a pretty big fish now, and I think we have the 13th or 14th largest economy in the world if we were our own country in Florida,” he said. “We’re a force to be reckoned with. But, from the broader U.S. economy, we’re way too intertwined with China economically, and it hurts us.”

DeSantis noted that the United States had to depend on China for supplies to battle the Covid pandemic.

“I think 100 percent of it was made in China. Why would you want a hostile nation, to rely on a hostile nation for things like that, that are integral for our quality of life and security?

“Of course, you wouldn’t want to do that. But this has been going on for many, many decades. So disentangling from China—it’s something that’s very, very significant going forward.”

Dan M. Berger

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