Washington, D.C. - Final passage of an $82 million measure aimed at battling toxic algae outbreaks choking off life in the Caloosahatchee River and estuary around Fort Myers was blocked June 12 by an unknown Republican senator, according to a release issued by Nelson's office Friday.
The legislation, authored by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, would have funded new research into the causes and control of large algae blooms while also giving affected communities additional resources to respond when outbreaks occur.
Nelson successfully ushered the bill through the Senate Commerce Committee and it passed the full Senate earlier this year. The House then added some amendments to the bill before approving it Monday. A second Senate approval was required for final passage. Under Senate rules, a measure can be approved without a full vote as long as no one objects. One Republican member, whose identity was not disclosed, blocked the bill.
The move by the GOP to block Nelson's measure, however, came just days after President Obama signed into law a broader water resources bill that contains some $800 million Nelson sought for Everglades restoration projects on the Caloosahatchee.
Nelson pushed hard to have a number of Florida projects included in the water bill, specifically $626 million for a reservoir near LaBelle and $174 million to modify the Caloosahatchee canal.
"Restoration of the river is essential not only to the health of the ecosystem, but also to the local economy," Nelson (D-FL) said.
The lawmaker added that he is optimistic about resolving, perhaps as early as next week, any differences that stand in the way of passing the toxic algae bill.
Last summer, millions of gallons of freshwater were released from Lake Okeechobee straight into the Caloosahatchee River, dangerously reducing the amount of salt water in the river's delicate ecosystem. Then, early this year, the salt levels swung the opposite way, with too little freshwater entering the river.
Such extreme changes in salinity impact the health of sea grass and oysters, which in turn leads to higher mortality rates for manatees who rely on sea grass for sustenance. Lee County reported 276 manatee deaths in 2013, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, 73 of which occurred on the Caloosahatchee.
Source: Office of Sen. Bill Nelson