“The St. Johns River and our springs define the character of North Florida,” state Sen. Rob Bradley said in a news release.

A bill to increase money for the preservation of North Florida springs and the St. Johns River has been filed by state Sen. Rob Bradley, who is trying to build on funding that is in the current budget.

Senate Bill 204 requests that $75 million from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund be spent annually for the restoration of springs. It also requests that $50 million be given annually to the St. Johns River Water Management District for restoration of the river and its tributaries in the Keystone Heights lake region.

“The St. Johns River and our springs define the character of North Florida,” Bradley said in a news release. “In addition to providing scenic beauty and recreational opportunities to local residents, our river and springs attract visitors from across the state and nation.”

The Land Acquisition Trust Fund is primarily supported by Amendment 1, a referendum approved by Florida voters in 2014. The law sets aside one-third of the tax revenue from real estate transactions to buy land for preservation and for environmental restoration projects.

After its overwhelming passage, the Legislature drew criticism from the public over the way some of the money was being spent, contending some of the appropriations were not consistent with the requirements of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

The current budget includes $50 million for springs restoration and $13.3 million for St. Johns River projects, which Bradley worked to get in the budget, the release states.

His new bill, Bradley said, would provide a long-term commitment for the region’s springs, lakes and the St. Johns.

North Central Florida has an abundance of springs and more first-magnitude springs — those that have the highest rate of flow — than any other region.

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Bob Knight, executive director of the High Springs-based Florida Springs Institute, said that additional money could be helpful but added he is skeptical of the use of the money that has been distributed so far.

 Knight said he has been unable to get information from the state Department of Environmental Protection and from water management districts on how restoration projects are prioritized and how the money is allocated.

“They have not been forthcoming with detailed information on how they select these projects. They have shown no interest in following the money to see how it is spent and whether or not there is any benefit to the spring,” Knight said. “They take no input from the public. We’ve called them to find out how they are following up. They are not following up. They are just sending the money to the water management districts and trusting them to use it for what they said it would be used for.”

The Sun tried unsuccessfully to get a response from DEP late Wednesday afternoon.

*photo by Alan Youngblood  Star/Banner