The new leader of the South Florida Water Management District on Thursday tried to downplay environmentalists' concerns that state spending cuts will bring Everglades restoration to a grinding halt.
Melissa Meeker, who held a top post in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Agency, on Thursday was picked to head Florida's largest water management district.
The South Florida Water Management District leads Everglades restoration for the state, in addition to guarding against flooding and protecting water supplies from Orlando to the Keys.
Meeker said the district needs to reprioritize and restructure to deal with what could become a more than 30 percent budget cut called for by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature.
But in addition to flood control and protecting water supplies, the district's "core missions" include restoration, Meeker said.
"This administration is fully committed to Everglades restoration. We will move projects forward," said Meeker, a Florida native who lives in Stuart.
While concerns remain about the district's looming budget cuts, Meeker's selection drew praise from environmental groups impressed with her experience.
Meeker is a former environmental consultant who during her career has previously worked for the Department of Environmental Protection as well as the South Florida Water Management District. She was also one of former Gov. Charlie Crist's appointees to the district governing board, serving from 2007 to 2009.
"We couldn't do better than Melissa," said Charles Lee of Audubon of Florida, who called Meeker selection an "excellent decision."
Leadership changes at the district have been looming since Scott's election.
Meeker fills a vacancy at the district created by the abrupt retirement in April of former Executive Director Carol Wehle. Scott had been critical of district spending under Wehle.