Monday, February 27, 2017

Big Sugar Pushes Its Way To Control Florida's (BADLY POLLUTED) Future ... by gimleteye

Eve Samples: Economic Council co-founder resigns, citing U.S. Sugar
Treasure Coast Palm

Bud Jordan is not a radical.

He has been an investment broker in Stuart for more than four decades. He's a member of the "business hall of fame" at Florida State University.

He co-founded the Economic Council of Martin County, a pro-business advocacy group, in 1985.

But last month, Jordan resigned in protest from the council he helped create.

The reason: He thinks the council's priorities have gotten all mixed up — specifically as they relate to water policy.

"My opinion is the Economic Council is not doing what it should be doing for expanding the economy of Martin County," Jordan told me during a phone interview Wednesday.

Water-related businesses are a primary driver of the local economy, he said. But, even after last summer's toxic algae crisis in the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, the council has refused to back a proposal from state Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to curtail discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries.

“This river is a national resource just like the Everglades, and we’re killing both of them,” Jordan said.

He thinks it's counterproductive that the Economic Council is not supporting a land buy south of the lake. Instead, it has advocated a strategy for completing projects that already are on the books.

In a Jan. 11 resignation letter to the council, Jordan wrote:

"The Economic Council has not put their solutions in the proper priority order. In my opinion, sending water south must be the first solution."

He concluded with this line:

"It is with a heavy heart that I resign my membership in the Economic Council of Martin County because I believe their major objectives have been compromised."

Jordan believes the council has become too influenced by one of its newer and more powerful members, U.S. Sugar Corp., which owns some of the land identified by Negron. Jordan was caught off guard when U.S. Sugar joined the Economic Council a couple of years ago. The company's headquarters are in Clewiston, about 75 miles away from the council's offices in Stuart.

“I was shocked that they wanted to come in, and was not smart enough to understand what they were going to do," Jordan said. He later came to the conclusion the company wanted to "take over direction of the council.”

The council's executive director, Ted Astolfi, did not return my messages for comment. Nor did a U.S. Sugar spokeswoman I called.

"I’m not trying to put sugar out of business,” Jordan said.

He just wants the council to stand behind what's truly best for the local economy.

Jordan believes the creation of a southern outlet for excess Lake Okeechobee water, as proposed in Negron's plan, would do more than help address our local water-quality crisis. He said it also would enhance safety for residents who live near the aging Herbert Hoover Dike that encircles the lake; another outlet for the water would decrease the chances of a dam breach.

Jordan, who founded the St. Lucie River Initiative decades ago to advocate for clean water projects, has faced opposition from Big Sugar before. He knows the odds are long when you take a stance against U.S. Sugar or the state's other large sugar grower, Florida Crystals.

“I feel like I’m taking a knife to a gunfight," he said.

Don't read that to mean he's giving up. It's more a statement of pragmatism.

"If Big Sugar does not join the effort to get water south," Jordan said, "the battle will continue."

Eve Samples is opinion and audience engagement editor for Treasure Coast Newspapers. Contact her at 772-221-4217 or Follow her on Twitter @EveSamples.

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