Conservationists who successfully sued the state for misspending hundreds of millions of dollars of land acquisition moneys today requested the trial court to make its order effective immediately before further funds are misspent. If granted, the motion would immediately restrict the use of over $600 million per year in the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to purchases of conservation land. In 2014, a 75 percent majority of Florida voters adopted an amendment to the state constitution that dedicates several hundred million dollars per year to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire and restore Florida conservation lands.
When the Legislature spent most of the funds on agency salaries and expenses, a coalition of conservation organizations sued, and won. Although a circuit court in Tallahassee entered an order on June 28 and declared Legislative appropriations in 2015 and 2016 from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund unconstitutional for purposes other than land acquisition, the Legislature appealed the order, which stays the effect of the order while the appeal is pending unless the circuit court reinstates it. The motion filed today requests the court to vacate that stay, making the order effective immediately.
If the order were reinstated pending appeal, as much as $600 million per year would be freed up to acquire lands to address the algae crisis throughout Florida. Lands for holding or storing water are desperately needed because the only short-term solution to the algae crisis is to capture large amounts of fertilizer-laden water and cleanse it with wetlands and natural processes in new water retention and storage areas. Analyses have shown that more water storage and treatment is needed. Funding limitations have prevented state acquisition of lands for that purpose.
“The devastation of what has happened to our waterways shows that we cannot afford to wait any longer to buy more land,” said Alisa Coe, a staff attorney with Earthjustice who is representing several of the plaintiffs.
Prominent environmental attorney David Guest who is also representing several plaintiffs noted, “The Legislature has sat on its hands in dealing with this crisis and it is long overdue for them to comply with what the voters instructed. We need to buy the land now.”
The plaintiffs in the case are Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida Defenders of the Environment, the Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and several individual plaintiffs.
Read the legal document.