Monday, August 18, 2008

Dear Alfie and Pepe Fanjul: No, nyet, non... by gimleteye

The Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach are among the richest farmers in America. The family interests own Florida Crystals/ Flo Sun in lands formerly of the Everglades.

I wouldn't care except that the Fanjul's sugar growing interest in the Everglades Agricultural Area is a home-grown Florida polluter whose influence in the political sphere has contributed to the destruction of millions of acres of publicly owned property and irreplaceable natural resources. What adds to my ire is that in the execution of its business strategy, Fanjul lobbyists and attorneys take maximal positions in defense of the last dime of profit-- even when lands like the 50,000 acre Talisman Farm have been committed to public ownership-- causing years and years of delay.

Watching the recent opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, I couldn't help but feel that Americans could never be organized to perform the way the 2008 Chinese drummers did; with synchronous purpose and intensity. Instead, the American way of doing things is exemplified by Florida Crystal: influence 2008 agencies and their missions and their mandates and their political overlords in ways so that nothing ever works with purpose or synchronicity except that a few people win gold every time Big Sugar flexes its muscles.

Well, that's just democracy some people say. No it is not just "democracy"; it is democracy deformed by special interest influence.

Big Sugar exerts its muscle through campaign contributions, largesse to strategically placed "good" causes, highly placed lobbyists like Jesse Jackson or friends like Alfie's golf partner Bill Clinton, and expense paid trips for the politically connected to family owned resort on the Dominican Republican where the family is also the largest sugar grower, subjecting workers to slave-like conditions it cannot impose on its Florida farms. (check our archive feature, Big Sugar, for more).

Big Sugar's influence is so pervasive (at one point, during the Homestead Air Force Base controversy, a call from a sugar lobbyist to then county commission chairperson Gwen Margolis stopped a planned press conference by citizen opponents at Miami Dade County Hall) it is difficult to say what politician is not in its orbit, although Governor Charlie Crist was certainly NOT Big Sugar's candidate in the last gubernatorial election cycle.

And because Governor Crist was not Big Sugar's candidate, I wondered at once when the deal he triggered to acquire the other major sugar producer, US Sugar and its 187,000 acres, how the Fanjuls would react.

Notwithstanding their recent charm offensive with the mainstream media, (ie. they are "for" everything green, including their new energy plant and future plans to make ethanol from sugarcane grown in the Everglades), the Fanjuls have made very clear their intent to develop the Everglades Agricultural Area; either through massive rock mines, or suburban sprawl matching up to West Palm Beach and Wellington, new power generation plants, or through its plan-- to be considered by the Palm Beach County Commission tomorrow-- for an enormous 10,000 acre inland trans-shipment port to handle the increase in goods traded between the Americas and the Far East.

The Palm Beach Post reports, "Sugar giant Florida Crystals is lobbying to develop an industrial and commercial center about the size of Delray Beach on land it owns south of Lake Okeechobee - right in a proposed pathway for the state's
multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration efforts." (Glades port idea fights for balance, August 10, 2008)

It turns out that the Fanjuls own lands critically important to provide a link between the acres I hope will soon be owned by the public and the Everglades. Billions of dollars will need to be spent configuring the US Sugar lands purchase so that the new purpose--cleansing marshes for pollution caused by Big Sugar mainly-- can shift water around the Fanjul's land. All of the Fanjuls' big development plans will require enormous flood management infrastructure that runs at direct cross-purposes to restoring the Everglades.

In its first pronouncements, the Fanjul interests appeared to put a positive spin on the acquisition of US Sugar by the State. Fanjul representatives indicated that the company was looking forward to evaluating the way that the new deal for the Everglades would work. Given that the old deal for the Everglades, called CERP, also imposed billions of costs (mostly in unworkable technology of using wells tapped into underground aquifers as vertical parking lots for excess rainfall), it was only a matter of time before the muscle flexing would begin.

"Florida Crystals, owned by the Fanjuls of Palm Beach, says water could flow around an inland port at the company's Okeelanta site along U.S. 27, where it operates a mill, refinery, rail spur and biomass power plant. But environmental activists see the port plan as a betrayal -- and a sign that money and politics once again may trump the Everglades. "You're putting something in there before you've decided what you're going to do with the Everglades," said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club. Florida Crystals Vice President Danny Martel said the two projects can coexist. "What we're trying to achieve here is, really, to create a balance between economic development, our sugar operation and the environment," Martel said."

What the state should say to the Fanjul business interests, that want to build the massive inland port, is -- in a single word-- no. Nyet. Non.



Avoid a confrontation over Everglades' future
Palm Beach Post Editorial
Sunday, August 17, 2008

Will saving the Glades economy - if the state buys U.S. Sugar for Everglades restoration - undermine Everglades restoration? The Palm Beach County Commission, which faces the question, is not in a position to decide.

The idea that eco-tourism could compensate for the loss of 1,700 jobs is unrealistic. Eco-tourism can't happen in the Glades until Lake Okeechobee gets healthy. A better, if far from certain, idea is an inland port - a warehouse and distribution hub, fed by shipping. A state study identified a need in South Florida based on cooperation among the Port of Palm Beach, which proposed it, the Port of Miami and Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

On Tuesday, West Palm Beach based-Florida Crystals, part of the Fanjul family's sugar conglomerate, will ask Palm Beach County to designate 9,000 acres of company land for an inland port. That land is between the Miami and North New River canals - exactly where the South Florida Water Management District wants to create a huge reservoir to store water from Lake Okeechobee after the buyout of U.S. Sugar. Florida Crystals wants the county to start a yearlong planning review. Any review, though, first should determine if there are better sites outside the flood zone.

Florida Crystals notes that its site already is industrial. On 2,300 of the 9,000 acres are the company's Okeelanta mill and a plant that converts sugar byproducts to energy. An ethanol plant is planned. There are roads, rail lines and a distribution center. Putting an inland port somewhere else, amid cane fields with no roads or rail, the company argues, would be wasteful. Besides, as spokesman Gaston Cantens said, Florida Crystals has no intention of selling or trading its Okeelanta Mill. The reservoir, he insisted, would have to be built around it.

Florida Crystals thus becomes an even bigger part of the U.S. Sugar deal. The water management district, which is buying U.S. Sugar, would like to sell the company's mill and some land to make back some of the state's $1.75 billion cost. Obviously, the state's preferred buyer would be Florida Crystals. The company's interest in the inland port became more public after the U.S. Sugar deal was announced. Florida Crystals may be trying to leverage its position to get the inside track on an inland port - there would be profit in the warehousing and distribution - from the county and favorable consideration from the water district in restoration plans.

Water district administrators must decide if the cost of building a reservoir around the mill outweighs the cost of buying the mill. Because they are still negotiating the purchase of U.S. Sugar, they refuse to address the issue publicly. The district also was silent this year about rock mining in the same area. County commissioners granted U.S. Sugar rock-mining rights that water managers - and taxpayers - may have to pay dearly to wipe out in favor of Everglades restoration. The district's silence on the other big sugar grower appears to be a tacit admission that angering the Fanjuls now would jeopardize Everglades restoration later.

The best outcome would be successful Everglades restoration and a thriving inland port. There may be a way to have both. But Palm Beach County commiting now to the Florida Crystals proposal would set up a premature and possibly needless competition between the Florida environment and the Glades economy. Only a longer, closer look will determine if Florida Crystals has the best site for an inland port.

8 comments:

Genius of Despair said...

What inland port? I don't understand.

Anonymous said...

On Tuesday, West Palm Beach based-Florida Crystals, part of the Fanjul
family's sugar conglomerate, will ask Palm Beach County to designate 9,000
acres of company land for an inland port. That land is between the Miami and
North New River canals - exactly where the South Florida Water Management
District wants to create a huge reservoir to store water from Lake
Okeechobee after the buyout of U.S. Sugar. Florida Crystals wants the county
to start a yearlong planning review. Any review, though, first should
determine if there are better sites outside the flood zone.

Florida Crystals notes that its site already is industrial. On 2,300 of the
9,000 acres are the company's Okeelanta mill and a plant that converts sugar
byproducts to energy. An ethanol plant is planned. There are roads, rail
lines and a distribution center. Putting an inland port somewhere else, amid
cane fields with no roads or rail, the company argues, would be wasteful.
Besides, as spokesman Gaston Cantens said, Florida Crystals has no intention
of selling or trading its Okeelanta Mill. The reservoir, he insisted, would
have to be built around it.

Florida Crystals thus becomes an even bigger part of the U.S. Sugar deal.
The water management district, which is buying U.S. Sugar, would like to
sell the company's mill and some land to make back some of the state's $1.75
billion cost. Obviously, the state's preferred buyer would be Florida
Crystals. The company's interest in the inland port became more public after
the U.S. Sugar deal was announced. Florida Crystals may be trying to
leverage its position to get the inside track on an inland port - there
would be profit in the warehousing and distribution - from the county and
favorable consideration from the water district in restoration plans.

Anonymous said...

Sugar grower Florida Crystals is lobbying for an inland port with the development of an industrial and commercial center just south of Lake Okeechobee, in the heart of the state's proposed path for Everglades restoration.

Area officials and the state Transportation Department say the project would link seaside ports on Florida's coasts with roads and rail lines.

Supporters say the project could make up for some job losses in the region in the wake of the state's proposal to buy 300 square miles from U.S. Sugar Corp., based in Clewiston.

Under the $1.75-billion proposal, the company would shut down in six years, putting 1,700 people out of work.

Opponents of the port, however, fear it could negate benefits from the land purchase touted in June by Gov. Charlie Crist as providing the "missing link" to the state's multibillion-dollar restoration efforts.

Crist and water managers said then the proposed deal, set to be finalized with U.S. Sugar by Nov. 30, would remove agriculture from crucial segments of the River of Grass, allowing water to flow more freely south into the Everglades.

Florida Crystals, owned by the Fanjuls of Palm Beach, said water for restoration could still flow around the inland port at the company's Okeelanta site, where it operates a mill, refinery, rail hub and power plant.

Environmentalists, however, see the move as a betrayal that could once again put politics and business interests ahead of Everglades restoration.

"When development proposals come before you have the science developed, you end up with development limiting options for restoration," said Lisa Interlandi, of the Everglades Law Center.

Florida Crystals vice president Danny Martel said the two projects can coexist.

"What we're trying to achieve here is, really, to create a balance between … economic development, our sugar operation and the environment," Martel said.

Anonymous said...

Glades cities win planners' help to get inland port

By CHUCK McGINNESS
Staff Writer
Palm Beach Post
Thursday, July 17, 2008

WEST PALM BEACH — To help make up for the economic loss from the
state's purchase of U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration, Glades-area
leaders urged Palm Beach County's transportation planning board Thursday to
help them land a proposed inland port.

Several locations are being considered for the facility, including spots in
Hendry, Glades and Martin counties. But putting the inland port in the Glades -
possibly at the intersection of U.S. 27 and State Road 80 in South Bay - is
vital to the community's survival, Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson said.

"Our caution to you today: We're going to be in this fight," Wilson said. "We
want to be at the table to help make the decisions."

The Metropolitan Planning Organization, made up of city and county officials,
needed little prodding to join the effort and agreed to send a "strongly worded"
letter to Gov. Charlie Crist.

What happens with U.S. Sugar's 187,000 acres of farmland and its railroad
network will affect the entire region, planning board Chairman Jeff Koons
said. "I just want to make sure what's left is sustainable for the people of the
region," Koons said.

Officials at the Port of Palm Beach have proposed the inland port project as a
way of easing crowding at the Riviera Beach facility. Cargo arriving at the
existing port could be transported to the new terminal, stored there, broken
into smaller shipments if necessary and redistributed.

The new center would reduce freight traffic on busy highways and rail lines
along the coast, transferring that traffic to less-used inland roads and rail
lines. Most important, it would create hundreds of jobs.

About 1,700 jobs will be lost with the closure of the sugar company, along
with about 2,000 service-related jobs, Wilson said.

"We need to be self-sufficient. We need to be up and going," Pahokee Mayor
Wayne Whitaker said. "The Glades desperately needs the inland port."

Pahokee intends to ask the state for 2,000 of U.S. Sugar's acres to create a
commerce park and help diversify its economy, Whitaker said.

But Greenacres Mayor Sam Ferreri said the region needs to think big and
demand 10,000 to 20,000 acres to bring the cities together.

Many questions remain on what the creation of a continuous path of marshes
and reservoirs connecting Lake Okeechobee with the Everglades will do to the
regional transportation system. Will big money have to be spent to raise
Tamiami Trail? Does a bridge have to be built between South Bay and
Clewiston?

One thing is for sure about the deal, Ferreri said.

"The rich get richer," he said.

Genius of Despair said...

Well, thanks...I guess I missed a lot. I heard about an inland port but it went right over my head, I was too busy with Florida Hometown Democracy.

Anonymous said...

Palm Beach Post Letters to the Editor

Monday, August 18, 2008

Palm Beach County is searching for the best and quickest means of assisting the Glades communities to offset and complement the state's planned acquisition of U.S. Sugar holdings in the Everglades Agricultural Area. One idea up for serious discussion involves a proposed inland port at Florida Crystals' Okeelanta facility.

This idea, which the county commission will discuss at a Tuesday workshop, needs to be slowed down and studied in great detail before any hasty decisions are made that favor a single property owner.

The necessarily delicate and involved process of acquiring the U.S. Sugar holdings will not be completed until early November. Until that happens, it is impossible to determine what Everglades restoration opportunities will be created and how best to make sure that the environment and the taxpayers receive the most benefit. At the same time, there is a pressing need to evaluate and secure the economic future of the Glades communities.

This, too, can best happen once it is known not only what has been purchased but what U.S. Sugar holdings might be sold, their uses, and what development possibilities, including the inland port idea, is the most effective for long-term economic stability. To simply declare up front that an inland port is the "right" solution, when the details of this at a particular site are unknown, would be folly.

Last summer's final site assessment report of five inland port locations contained a comment letter from Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole that every site had significant environmental issues, from site suitability to effects on Everglades restoration efforts. And at this time, the infrastructure costs, which would be covered by taxpayers, are unknown. The more we follow this particular issue, the more it reminds us of the Scripps/Mecca Farms mistake, made in haste and without enough information.

Our organization supports the best economic and environmental result from the opportunity Gov. Crist has presented to us. We do not support a frenzied, secretive, poorly understood and researched process that identifies and moves ahead with a "best option" before all the facts are in.

CHARLES PATTISON

Tallahassee

Editor's note: Charles Pattison is the executive director of 1000 Friends of Florida.

Anonymous said...

ok, I am too tired to understand all this tonight, so I will read it again tomorrow when I am fresh. Here's a tidbit of info, however, that might be interesting -- did you know that glycerine is often a byproduct of making ethonol. Somehow, there is new technology whereby the byproducts of ethonol can now be converted into energy as well, improving the ratio of enery consumed to energy created. This new technology also eliminates carbon emmissions in the air. I wonder if these guys will be doing any of this stuff. I only understand it marginally, but I am fascinated by it.

out of sight said...

Great. The next move will be hooking Lake O to the inland port so they can go cross state.

Oh, we better warn the State Fish and Wildlife Commissioners! Never mind. They probably have it all under control already.