NAPLES — Gov. Charlie Crist visited a nature reserve in Collier County on Friday to unveil a $2.1 billion budget request for environmental initiatives in 2010-11.
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve between Naples and Marco Island served as the backdrop as Crist made his case for environmental stewardship as an economic engine.
The budget Crist will send to the state Legislature includes $50 million to revive the Florida Forever land preservation program, $50 million for
Everglades restoration and $10 million for solar energy rebates.
“Floridians will have a cleaner, safer environment that will endure for generations to come,” said Crist, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate.
More than 300 people were on hand for Crist’s announcement along the banks of Henderson Creek behind the Environmental Learning Center at Rookery Bay headquarters off Collier Boulevard south of U.S. 41 East.
Environmental advocates hailed Crist’s bid to restore new funding to Florida Forever after the popular program fell through the budget gap last year.
“Now the hard part: convincing legislators,” said Nancy Payton, Southwest Florida field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation.
Having Crist put the request in his budget is a “major step forward,” said Andrew McLeod, government affairs director for The Nature Conservancy.
“These programs (Florida Forever) can’t afford another year of no funds,” he said.
Money from Florida Forever has bought land in Collier County at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Picayune Strand State Forest, Lake Avalon in East Naples and at the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed that straddles the Collier-Lee line.
Florida has protected 2.4 million acres over the past two decades under Florida Forever and its predecessor program Preservation 2000.
The program has typically raised $300 million in bonds each year to spend on new land acquisitions.
Beyond Florida Forever, Crist said his budget represents an investment in green energy and green technology that will provide Florida jobs.
The unemployment rate in Florida stands at 11.8 percent, Crist’s administration announced Friday.
“We know they’re hurting and we feel it,” Crist said.
The budget would spend $176 million in federal dollars on green energy technologies. That includes:
-- $126 million to help state agencies, local governments and businesses install energy-efficient technologies.
-- $30.4 million in grants to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
-- $17.5 million for consumer rebates for appliances that meet Energy Star requirements.
The budget also calls for $20 million in matching funds for communities’ alternative water supply projects, $144 million to clean up underground petroleum tanks, $283 million for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and $319 million for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The visit to Rookery Bay wasn’t just about numbers-crunching; it also had a bit of ribbon-cutting thrown in.
Crist dedicated a new $1.2 million pedestrian bridge over Henderson Creek, linking the second floor of the Environmental Learning Center with two miles of nature trails on some 50 acres south of the creek.
The land once was the site of an 1899 homestead of the pioneer Kirkland family _ a cistern made of shell still stands there _ and later was slated for a shopping center, Rookery Bay environmental manager Randy McCormick said.
The 400-foot bridge with a fiberglass free-span center section, the first of its kind in Florida, can withstand 140 mph winds, according to the contractor.
Crews used a top-down construction method to limit environmental impacts and lowered the middle span onto the bridge with a towering crane.
Monticello, Fla.-based Nature Bridges won a 2009 construction excellence award from the construction industry trade group Associated Builders and Contractors for the bridge design and construction.
For Rookery Bay, the bridge gives visitors access to a trail system where they can experience habitats found throughout the 110,000-acre reserve just a few steps from indoor exhibits.
“Now we have an outside experience to go with it,” Friends of Rookery Bay President Bruce Robertson said. “That’s big for us.”