Gov. Scott focusing more attention on the Glades, hosts roundtable in Belle Glade

Community leaders voice needs in Tuesday's session

BELLE GLADE, Fla. - Gov. Rick Scott is on the move across Florida this week, making a stop in Belle Glade on Tuesday afternoon.

He met with local leaders and businesses in a roundtable to talk about the community's needs.

With the signing of Senate Bill 10 to create a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee and his push to fix the Herbert Hoover Dike repairs -- this is just the latest round of attention the governor is showing to the Everglades Agricultural Area.

"We're really excited he's coming to the Glades. We're often forgotten, the forgotten child of Palm Beach County," said Barbara Miedema, the VP of communications for the Sugarcane Growers Cooperative of Florida. "Protecting a $3 billion agricultural industry is critical."

It's Scott's first one-on-one with Lake Okeechobee community leaders this year.

"The Glades community -- we're getting more attention by the governor than we ever have in the last 20 years," said Belle Glade mayor Steve Wilson.

Perhaps Scott's biggest announcement is the new Florida Job Growth and Grant Fund. Cities across the state must compete for the $85 million grant. The money will go toward infrastructure and job training projects.

"A different way we can grow our economy," said Scott. "I personally believe that every community in this state can grow jobs."

Tammy Jackson-Moore with Guardians of the Glades group is continuing to hold Gov. Scott accountable on his recent push to expedite Herbert Hoover Dike repairs, by 2022.

"We are hoping that promise remains in tact because it really really means a lot to us in this community. Right now, we're in the heart of hurricane season. So anything can happen," she said. "Those of us who live work and play here, we know how important that dike is."

Scott only got $50 million of the $200 million he asked for in this year's budget. With help from President Trump in getting some federal funding, Scott said he will push for more money in the state budget next year.

"So I'm going to keep fighting for that, I think we'll have the support of the legislature," said Scott. "Hopefully by the time I get out of office you can see there's a path to get the dike fixed."

The roundtable comes just three months after Gov. Scott signed Senate Bill 10, which had originally put jobs on the line by building a reservoir to hold Lake Okeechobee water on farm land.

"It did take a lot of the local farmers to reach out to the senators and the governor and really have to explain our story, tell our story," said Stephen Basore, who helps run TKM Bengard farms in Belle Glade.

Basore's farm employs about 500 people and is the largest lettuce grower east of the Mississippi River. He said he hopes the new bill that was signed into law, which plans to build a reservoir on state land, continues to keep their livelihoods intact.

"We're just such a big agricultural area here and people just don't really realize what happens here in the area in terms of fresh fruit and vegetable production," he said.

Senate Bill 10 also has a component to fund more job training opportunities. A lot of business and city leaders pushed the governor on Tuesday to ensure that is still his focus for this community.

"So we want to make sure that stays in the forefront and those training opportunities are available to those that live in the glades communities," said Jackson-Moore.

The governor said they are obligated to honor that funding component but are still working on where that money will come from exactly in the state budget.

Wilson is also expecting nearly $4 million for transportation improvements, which is money set aside by the state in Scott's Rural Areas of Opportunity program that is designed to help Florida’s rural communities continue to grow.

"For the last 30 years, they've been neglected. Even with our pipes, they've been rusted, outdated," he said. "We have got to keep knocking on the door. And making a lot of noise. Ten years from now, you wouldn't even know the Glades, you wouldn't even recognize the Glades."

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