Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Will Gov. Rick Scott find new ways to screw the public ... by gimleteye

The following letter comes in from common sense folk. It concerns the effort by Big Ag to extend leases on public lands south of Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Much of this land will be needed for Everglades restoration in the future. Its leases, by the way, are drafted by some of the top legal expertise in Florida. They are crafted to stiff the public. Government agencies have proven extraordinarily compliant. This latest gambit is another example of the hubris Big Ag manifests through government agencies like the South Florida Water Management District and the top executives in the State of Florida, including Gov. Rick Scott. Read today's story in the Palm Beach Post, here. Let's hope Gov. Scott has enough common sense to instruct the attorney general to reject the polluters. Update to come...

Florida Wildlife Federation
1000 Friends of Florida
Everglades Law Center

To:The Honorable Pam Bondi
Attorney General
Dear Attorney General Bondi:

This is a request that you and the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund defer proposed actions on today’s agenda regarding agricultural leases of state-owned lands within the Everglades Agricultural Area. We learned only recently that you are being asked to extend these leases for 30 years without seeking competitive bids. The leases for which these lengthy extensions are being sought do not expire until 2015, 2016 and 2018. There is no urgency to approve them today. Typically state agricultural leases are for six years, existing leases for these parcels have 20-year terms as a result of specific authorization in the Everglades Forever Act.

We believe state-owned lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and elsewhere should be utilized to maximize opportunities for Everglades and environmental restoration and to reduce the costs. We support and recognize that value-for-value land swaps to expand the South Florida Water Management District’s Stormwater Treatment Area 1-West are essential to reducing the level of nutrients in agricultural runoff discharged to the Arthur R. Marshall National Wildlife Refuge. We are also supportive of the Lake Hicpochee project, which will benefit the Caloosahatchee River and its estuaries by providing additional and greatly needed water storage in the region.

Nonetheless, we question the wisdom and prudence of locking up state-owned land with new 30-year leases that make these lands unavailable for future environmental restoration projects. We would hope to use the delay in approving the lease extensions to negotiate shorter-term leases with reasonable termination clauses and to require the most effective best management practices be used on state-owned land. These properties ought to be utilized in a manner that improves the quality of farm runoff and sets an example of what EAA agriculture can do.

Of the seven leases you are asked to extend today, it is our understanding that three, covering approximately 2,200 acres will include “claw-back” provisions, allowing for early termination, that are intended to permit potential use of these state lands in restoration projects. Upon reviewing the language presented to us yesterday, it appears it will take multiple years to invoke these provisions, some of which are so complex and onerous that it is questionable that they could ever be invoked. Consequently, we request that approval be deferred and more attention be devoted to the drafting and public review of the provisions of the lease extensions.

We believe the short delay would evidence your serious commitment to the stewardship of public lands.


Manley Fuller, President Florida Wildlife Federation

Charles Pattison, President 1000 Friends of Florida

Lisa Interlandi, Executive Director, Everglades Law Center


Gimleteye said...



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THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, January 23, 2013.........The governor and Cabinet on Wednesday granted 30-year leases to a pair of sugar growers over the objections of environmental groups that urged the panel to approve much shorter terms for the tracts that drain into the Everglades.

By unanimous vote, the panel approved the renewal of leases for Florida Crystals and A. Duda and Sons on separate tracts totaling more than 13,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area. In exchange the companies have agreed to sell parcels that water management district officials say they need now.

The leases have the support of the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees Everglades restoration efforts.

Melissa Meeker, the district's executive director, told Cabinet members the lease deals were critical to ongoing negotiations between the district and the companies for tracts needed for "shovel ready" projects on parcels adjacent to land the state already owns that impact the Everglades and the Caloosahatchee River.

"You are considering what I consider the critical pieces of two distinct public interest projects," Meeker said.

The leases will allow the state to negotiate with each owner for tracts it wants to buy. Meeker said the state is buying the parcels for half their appraised value, a good deal at a time when the district has little money to spend on new purchases.

Environmentalists, however, say the length of the leases is of particular concern.

Representatives from Audubon of Florida and the Florida Wildlife Federation questioned the wisdom of granting 30-year leases to the property, saying the agreements could tie the hands of state officials as the decades-long Everglades cleanup evolves.

"You are the landlord and it is your right and your duty to insist that the tenant maximize their efforts to reduce the impact of the land," said Audubon Executive Director Eric Draper. "The lease extensions preclude your ability to insist upon that accountability. "

Meeker said the state will continue to have the authority to ramp up environmental requirements on the leased lands.

Given the need to move forward with restoration efforts, Meeker said the state needs to focus on what it can accomplish within the next several years.

"We have enough to do," Meeker said. "Let's get in the ground and start moving dirt and do what we need to do for Everglades restoration and focus on what we need to do now."


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