CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill in Clearwater Wednesday afternoon to announce what was called record-level funding for red tide mitigation in Florida.
Signage at the event was for “Protecting Florida Together,” his office’s environmental initiatives slogan. The governor was joined by Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton, and a variety of lawmakers and state leaders.
The governor started the event by thanking Frenchy’s for hosting him, saying the last time he was there was to watch the Super Bowl when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played. He introduced a variety of officials with him as “a great cast of characters,” then jumped into the speech.
“We’re here today to announce some new funding that I’ve approved in next year’s budget, now I’ve not signed the whole budget yet because we’re still going through those, I’ve got line item veto authority,” DeSantis said. “We’ve gotta make sure we get it right. But we have done more than any governor to help put resources to bear for research and mitigation efforts against red tide. If you look at the four years before I became governor, those four years, there was a total of $2.5 million dollars that was allocated to address the research and mitigation of red tide. Once I make this announcement today, for my four years, we went from $2.5 million to $40 million.”
DeSantis said he and state leaders were excited about the funding efforts.
“We understand that yes, these red tide blooms have been recorded for hundreds of years. We understand they happened but we also believe that we need to do whatever we can to mitigate the effects,” DeSantis said, before criticizing the media for how it covers red tide. “You see if there’s one little bloom somewhere like off the coast of Sarasota, the media will act like it’s in every part of Florida, so it does affect people who work in tourism and hospitality, the restaurants, because sometimes people think that somehow it’s just going. So we want to bring resources to bear for research and mitigation. So today, for next year’s budget, we’re going to have the most we’ve ever had. We’re going to have $14 million to enhance the state’s effort to understand and detect and mitigate red tide and it’s impact on Florida communities.”
The governor announced the funding would be split between multiple parts of the state’s efforts. $4.8 million was allocated for the Center for Red Tide Research at FWRI, which DeSantis said he requested be made to improve red tide monitoring and mitigate the effects of it. Another $3 million would be given to the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative, a partnership between Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Mote Marine Laboratory to identify technology to decrease environmental and economic impacts of red tide. He said a recurring $3 million per year would be allocated for the next six years to fund research that’s already underway.
DeSantis also said $20 million would be used to combat and clean up harmful algal blooms and support county government clean up efforts, with a minimum of $5 million going to the red tide emergency grant program operated by the state of Florida.
“What happens is, you have a bloom, you end up seeing these fish, and if you don’t go up and clean it out, it exacerbates all of the problems,” DeSantis said. “So what we did last summer when you had it in Tampa Bay, is they sent millions of dollars in grants to the counties, and you had FWC, DEP out there trying to do the quick clean up to be able to allow the recovery to happen.”
DeSantis said there has been a dedicated funding source to respond to harmful algal blooms since he took office as governor, and that the $20 million allocated now was double the current funding.
“It’s not just for the red tide and the Gulf Coast. We’re also doing things to mitigate blue-green algae in Lake Okeechobee,” DeSantis said. “Because what ends up happening is you have blue-green algae that will develop, part of it’s from runoff from agriculture and other things, Lake Okeechobee is what it is. But if the lake gets high, the Army Corps. of Engineers will discharge that water into the estuaries. And so if you discharge that into the Caloosahatchee River, it ends up going out into the Gulf of Mexico in Southwest Florida. And if you then have red tide, it interacts with that and exacerbates it.”
The governor said the state was working with the Army Corps to limit discharges and said the state’s view was to manage the lake to keep levels lower before the rainy season, so “you wouldn’t have to spew this” water out into local water systems. DeSantis said he had spoken to former President Donald Trump about the issue in 2019, and that since doing so, the Army Corps of Engineers had done a better job of managing the issue.
“We’re also building more infrastructure, we’re building a reservoir on both the east and western parts of Lake Okeechobee, that’s going to be able to take this and clean this water so we make sure that we’re not mitigating,” DeSantis said. “Before that infrastructure is finished and it’ll be finished during my time as governor, but the technologies where you can actually send people in there where you can treat the blue-green algae, when we had some of this build up last summer, we actually had companies out there that were going and mitigating, so that’s where this funding can be applied to and it makes a difference, so we’re really happy.”
DeSantis lauded the funding given to red tide mitigation over his years in office, and called the new funding level a big commitment to the issue. He also mentioned Florida’s status as a popular fishing destination in the country.
“I mean we’re the No. 1 fishing destination in the country, so we’ve gotta make sure we’re continuing to do all that we can,” DeSantis said. “Did you see that we did the longest red snapper season that we’ve ever done? We announced that a couple of weeks ago. All of these fishermen they’re really really excited. And we want to continue to do that.”
DeSantis said an executive order he issued when he first took office was responsible for making red tide more of a priority due to a restructure and reorganization, rather than leaving the effort “defunct.”
“We currently have 25 projects underway at the Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative at Mote Marine,” DeSantis said. “They’re working on all of this stuff, but just imagine, if we end up with the type of approach that is going to mitigate this, that is going to be worth so much to this state to be able do that. We’re happy about that, we’re glad that they have a lot of these research projects underway, and we’re happy to partner with them to do that.”
DeSantis said they were working with several state universities and agencies to complete research and develop ways to mitigate red tide and other harmful algal blooms.
Rodney Barreto, chairman of FWC, spoke next. He praised DeSantis for doing more for mitigating red tide, and the environment generally, than any other governor in Florida’s history. Barreto promised that FWC would continue to be committed to using science and best practices to resolving red tide issues and stopping fish kills from affecting all of Florida, thanking DeSantis for resources to do so.
Then, Dr. Michael Crosby from Mote Marine spoke. He thanked the governor for bringing everyone together for these efforts.
“The governor’s leadership, along with that of the legislature has enabled the state to launch this incredibly unique, new red tide development initiative,” Crosby said. “This initiative is bringing together the best and brightest minds in science, not only from the state of Florida, but from all around the world. We’re utilizing innovative approaches and technologies to determine the most effective, but very importantly, ecologically compatible methods to mitigating the adverse effects of red tide. It also is enhancing public health protection with the expansion of the beach condition reporting system.”
Crosby said there were apps to help leverage the state’s residents and state investment through Mote into more public reports on conditions at Florida’s beaches.
“We’ve reviewed over 100 different research proposals, as the governor said 25 different ongoing projects,” Crosby said. “We have 20 new partners working with us, Florida universities, non-Florida universities, private entities, and non-profit organizations. The initiative has created a cutting edge red tide mitigation testing facility that has over 150,000 gallons of treated and recirculating seawater so we can test these strategies and approaches before ever applying them out into the natural environment. Form the hundreds of mitigating tools and technologies that we have examined to date, the initiative has already identified well over a dozen different natural compounds, manmade compounds, and new technologies that demonstrate great promise in reducing red tide cells, and very importantly the toxin as well. Denaturing the toxin. And without causing any greater harm to the natural environment.”
He said the developments include algicidal compounds, a new water treatment process, among other methods to fight off red tide’s effects on the environment. Crosby said some of the smartphone apps developed for use by Florida residents were now being copied or used by other states, and said the program was transitioning to more promising technologies and researching how to deploy the programs in the field. He said inquiries on the apps and other developments were coming in from all over the world.
“The Florida model for embracing science and technology to develop innovative tools to help protect the environment is a model the rest of the nation can follow, and should follow,” Crosby said, thanking the governor again.
DeSantis took the podium again to underscore how important dealing with red tide was to the state, and said they wanted “to be ahead of things” as much as they can.
“We’re fortunate to have some really great places,” DeSantis said about Florida’s beaches. “We’re fortunate to be Floridians, but you have a lot of people who work hard, they save, to be able to come to Florida. To have fun and to bring their families. We welcome that, and we’re really happy that we have such beautiful beaches here, and particularly in this stretch, some of the best beaches are right here in our own backyard.”
House Speaker Chris Sprowls (R-Pinellas) spoke next.
“As we stand here today, we stand here with the most pro-environment governor in the history of Florida,” Sprowls said. “We like to think the reason you’re that way is because you were raised right here in Pinellas.”
Sprowls said the governor was there to talk about all of the efforts and research underway to fight red tide and the record resources reserved to protect the manatees and the environment.
“When the governor came in, he could have picked any one of those things. He could’ve said ‘I’m going to be the governor who combats red tide the most.’ He could’ve been the one who said ‘I’m going to tackle the algae blooms in Lake Okeechobee, I’m the one who’s going to focus on the convergence from septic to sewer, I’m going to save the manatees,'” Sprowls said. “He could’ve done any one of those things, and it would’ve been a significant improvement in the lives of Floridians, but this governor knows that in order to make this the kind of place that we want to live, that we want to raise our children, that we have to do all of those things, and we have to do them at the same time.”
Sprowls said he was grateful to be there with DeSantis and other lawmakers, calling the current legislature “the most aggressive on these issues.”
Hamilton spoke after Sprowls, praising the governor’s work and “bold vision” to achieve more for Florida’s environment. He said that leadership was powering the state forward. The DEP secretary said that supporting communities during fish kills and investing in long-term solutions to abate and minimize the longevity and impact of red tide blooms.
Speaking on the red tide blooms of 2021, Hamilton said the DEP had spent “$3 million” in multiple counties “to ensure our beaches were clean and additionally to ensure that the nutrients associated with the fish were not released back into the system, causing further harm.” He said along with county efforts, the DEP had removed 45,000 pounds of marine debris caused by red tide.
“We know this will take time, we know this will take long-term water quality improvements and projects, that you hear the governor talking about,” Hamilton said, thanking the governor again. “To that end, as a result of the commitment of this administration and the Florida Legislature, statewide, over the past three years, we’ve invested over half a billion dollars in coastal counties to address water quality and nutrient sources.”
Touching on 2021’s record tourism levels in Florida, DeSantis said people knew they could come to Florida and not have “arbitrary restrictions imposed on them,” mentioning that Florida had beaten New York City’s tourism record in the past year, due to its lack of COVID-19 restrictions for visitors and residents.
After hearing from Visit Florida President and CEO Dana Young, DeSantis said the agency could use its advertising efforts to counteract misconceptions about the spread of red tide, and said April’s state revenue was $765 million above expectations.
Repeating similar comments on the economy and state budgets, DeSantis said the state had better roads, infrastructure, education and public services than places like New York, and historic levels of funding. He said the state has done a lot to improve teacher compensation and other priorities, but the surplus was going to be more than $20 billion, a record.
It is worth noting, as in the past, that the surplus level is due to a combination of federal aid provided during the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to state business levels. The two factors together is what provides the “cushion” DeSantis said the state has. The governor also fired off on inflation and policies in Washington that have added to the economic costs, commenting on moves by the Federal Reserve.
“You look at what’s going on out of Washington, you look at inflation that’s absolutely out of control, they say it’s 8.5% but the things that matter are up way more than that. You look at gas, groceries, you look at how much utilities, all of these things are going up really significantly,” DeSantis said. “Now you have the Fed is going to be raising rates to try to get a handle on this. That’s going to slow down the economy. I hope it isn’t the case, but I think there’s a very good chance that the Biden administration plunges this country into a recession. We have to be prepared for that, I think we’ve got a lot of good stuff going, hopefully we’ll be able to weather it better than most.”
For clarity, the 8.5% inflation rate is aggregated from the price fluctuations across all parts, products, and industries in the economy. While correct that some items have risen much more than 8.5%, dramatically more so, but not all have, and some items have actually decreased in cost. The 8.5% inflation level is a general count of cost increases for everything, collectively.
DeSantis said that despite what’s going on in Washington, the budget surplus made it so he could just “plug a hole” and not “miss a beat” in terms of response to inflation and potentially resultant budget changes.