Go big to restore the Everglades | Column

If we are going to get this done and done right, all voices must be heard.

Imagine the emphasis Florida would place on Everglades restoration if our lawmakers and citizenry understood it as Marjory Stoneman Douglas did.

The Florida Everglades has a special meaning for different people. For tourists, Everglades National Park is a thrilling airboat ride through unforgettable wilderness. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Everglades is a great place to spot birds, alligators and our very own charismatic megafauna, the Florida manatee. For 8 million Floridians, the Everglades is water to drink. And for the Miccosukee and Seminole nations, the Everglades is home.

When Marjory Stoneman Douglas coined “River of Grass,” she helped us understand that the Everglades was no longer a swamp to be tamed, but rather a one-of-its-kind ecosystem, a crown jewel deserving our pride and our steadfast commitment to restoration. As she writes, “there are no other Everglades.”

As governor of Florida, I was honored to secure a historic deal to acquire 187,000 acres of sugar land for Everglades restoration. Until that moment, agricultural land acquisition had been a critical, yet missing and confounding, piece of Everglades restoration.

Those who follow Tallahassee know that this breakthrough would not have been possible had a sugar giant not desperately needed the money in that moment, which is why I said at the time this acquisition would be the most monumental since Yellowstone. Sadly, the not-so-Great Recession left Florida only able to afford 26,800 acres — nothing to sneeze at — but tragically, my successor had other priorities once revenues recovered. Our Yellowstone moment fell through.

I was criticized for thinking too big, moving too boldly and too quickly. Fortunately, I was not alone. In 2014, 75 percent of Florida voters approved Amendment 1, creating a dedicated revenue stream to acquire land and restore our state’s ecosystems. In their wisdom, Florida voters deprived Tallahassee politicians of the excuse that we cannot afford to go big on the Everglades.

We’re gaining steam in Washington as well. As a member of the Appropriations and Science committees, I worked to secure hundreds of millions in Everglades funding over my four years in Congress, including a record $250 million last year alone.

Additionally, I’m proud to be co-leading Florida’s representatives in Congress in calling to dramatically expand Everglades funding and to prioritize Everglades restoration in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package. Getting both the New York Times Editorial Board and Florida’s diverse representatives to agree — Everglades Restoration is worth going big — is a big, Florida deal.

Full funding and a dedicated infrastructure lens will bring the finish line into sight. But if we are going to get this done and done right, all voices must be heard. From communities on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and Indian River Lagoon, plagued by Red Tide and blue-green algae from Lake Okeechobee discharges; to the generations of farmers — mostly Black — who make their living working hard in the “muck;” from the activists, whose decades of bipartisan advocacy, have carried us this far; to the tribes, who have been stewards of their Everglades centuries before Florida was a state — we are all in this together.

United, and with President Biden’s leadership, we will seize this once-in-a-generation chance. Let’s go big for the Everglades.

Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, represents St. Petersburg in the U.S. House.

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