Charlie Houder Supports Amendment 1

Charlie Houder

The Gainesville Sun has a guest editorial today written by Charlie Houder, recently retired employee of SRWMD.  In this article, Mr. Houder gives reasons for supporting this amendment and the original piece can be read at this link. 

Mr. Houder has written an understatement below:   “Some of our public lands and waters need greater management or restoration than has been completed to date…”

OSFR recalls a public meeting at Poe Springs on the Santa Fe River not long ago during the drought when the river was dry in places not far from there.  Mr. Houder was there as a representative of the water managers for this section of our state, and someone in the group asked if his employer, the Suwannee River Water Management District was going to reduce water withdrawal permits due to the current crisis, and his answer was “no.”

OSFR applauds Mr. Houder’s efforts here.  Perhaps he will be able to be more effective in protecting the rivers now that he is unshackled from the water mismanagement mindset.

You can  continue reading here to see the article in its entirety, for which OSFR thanks Nathan Crabbe and the Sun for permission to republish in full.

Charlie Houder: Conservation is worthy of a constitutional amendment

 By Charlie Houder
Published: Sunday, September 28, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 11:45 p.m.

Polls in this state repeatedly show that the quality of Florida’s environment is highly important to most of its residents. Protection of our water and other natural resources is so important to our economy and quality of life that we must take action to protect what we love about Florida while we still can. And yet since 2009 funding for Florida Forever, the state’s highly regarded land protection program, has been cut by more than 96 percent.

Fortunately we have the opportunity to vote yes on Amendment 1 on Nov. 4. The Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 on the upcoming November ballot, would dedicate no less than 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents (the “doc stamp” on real estate transfers) to finance the acquisition and improvement of land, water areas and related property interests for the next 20 years. This is not a new tax, but the dedication of an existing revenue source that has funded land protection programs for decades. This proposed amendment to the Florida constitution contains a fairly comprehensive list of resources that could be conserved with the aid of these funds — everything from springsheds to working farms and ranches to urban open space.

Typically, I have an aversion to changing the Florida Constitution when a revision in state statutes could accomplish the same goal. This was the central point of debate between former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham and David Hart of the Florida Chamber of Commerce during a forum on the University of Florida campus on Sept. 4.

Hart used arguments that I had used over the years when deciding to vote against earlier proposals to amend the Constitution. Principally, legislators’ hands should not be tied in exercising their responsibility to allocate state resources.

Graham’s arguments were both spiritual and practical. He reminded those in attendance of the unique and fragile nature of Florida’s ecosystems. Protecting our natural areas and working landscapes is not a routine matter subject to legislative whim, but a matter of preserving the soul of Florida across the generations.

Yet he also pointed to the prudence of investing in our natural infrastructure while vital pieces of it are still intact and available. The ability to bond a portion of the 20-year income stream will enable the purchase of lands or conservation easements at today’s prices. Deferring the protection and maintenance of our ecological systems is a fool’s economy.

At the end of the debate, the audience questioned how much land needed to be set aside and how the performance of the programs might be measured. Neither of the men had the precise answers at hand. Having worked in these programs, I was aware of the work by units of the University of Florida and Florida State University to objectively quantify and locate critically important areas. Also unstated was the fact that Florida law contains a set of goals and performance measures for Florida Forever. Metrics are gathered and by each participating agency for each proposed acquisition.

The exchange clearly demonstrated the potential value of an expanded public dialogue and a sharing of information on the details of the existing programs. The story is good. As Graham asserted, both Florida Forever and its predecessor Preservation 2000 have been prudently implemented on behalf of the public.

For 28 years, I had the honor of working to protect this area’s water and related natural resources as a land acquisition manager for the St. Johns and Suwannee River Water Management Districts. Having worked with landowners and other residents to protect our area’s rivers, springs, and even the drinking water supply for a number of municipalities, I know both the quality of the resources we have preserved, and the quality of those still at risk. Some of our public lands and waters need greater management or restoration than has been completed to date; such priorities also are allowable use of funds if Floridians vote favorably.

All of us share an interest in having sufficient quantities of clean water and the ability to share the forests, rivers, springs, and beaches of our Florida with our children and grandchildren. Those are interests of importance to all Floridians and worthy of a constitutional amendment. That is why we must vote yes on Amendment 1.

Charlie Houder lives in Gainesville.

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