Collier commissioners support Big Cypress Basin expansion efforts, yet concerns remain
Collier County commissioners agreed Tuesday to support state legislation that would expand the administrative boundary of the Big Cypress Basin board but said outstanding concerns must be addressed.
State Sen. Ray Rodrigues proposed a bill Dec. 30 that would expand the basin board’s administrative oversight into southern Lee County. Representative Adam Botana filed a similar bill in the House on Monday.
The Big Cypress Basin is part of the South Florida Water Management District and is responsible for regional policy, budget and tax rates for flood protection efforts in Collier County and a portion of Monroe County.
Rodrigues’s and Botana’s legislative efforts hope to expand that purview into parts of Lee County.
The commissioners’ unanimous vote to move forward with its support came after some disagreement among board members mainly on the potential future organization of the basin’s board members.
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Commissioner Andy Solis said the language of the proposed bill leaves a lot of gray area and initially said the board should not support it.
“I don’t see anything good that comes to Collier County from changing the boundaries of the basin without having a lot more clarity in terms of governance,” Solis said.
The county’s government affairs manager John Mullins briefed the commissioners on potential shortfalls of the legislation. One concern county staff and the board homed in on was the revision of the basin board’s governance.
The proposed legislation says only counties with 50% of its jurisdiction within the scientific boundary be included in the basin and that the board be made up of five residents in those counties, with a sixth member presiding as chair.
The Big Cypress Basin board currently comprises only residents of Collier County.
Commissioner Rick LoCastro said he has concerns about the change in the boundary.
“It's great to say five members (on the basin board), but then it becomes a land grab or a seat grab,” he said.
Commissioner Burt Saunders proposed a solution by suggesting issues within Lee County only be voted on by board members representing Lee and vice versa for Collier.
“We could set that up so there are three members from Collier, three members from Lee,” Saunders said. “Collier can make decisions on everything that’s done in Collier and Lee makes decisions of everything spent in Lee. If there’s a project that benefits both counties, then the six of them could work that out, but there’s a way to deal with governance that protects us.”
He went on to say there are good reasons for supporting the bill, but a mechanism is needed to fix the governance issues.
Discussions went back and forth on how to vote for the legislation.
LoCastro summarized the disagreement: The board could approve the legislation under the condition that concerns will be addressed, or they could oppose the legislation until the concerns are addressed.
“I'm more of we ‘disapprove unless’ because I think when you say, ‘we approve’, it's too soft,” LoCastro said.
Commissioner Bill McDaniel said he didn’t agree and that the board is generally in favor of the legislation.
“We can make these adjustments quite peacefully,” McDaniel said. “In concept, in precept, we can support the premise of bill and accept or reject its final language. These things are almost ministerial, administrative.”
During her first day as chair of the board, Commissioner Penny Taylor said she was meeting with Rodrigues on Wednesday and could bring the board’s concerns up then.
At the end of the discussion, Solis put forth the motion that, while there are issues, the board is not against the concept of expanding the basin.
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk