Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Make Florida Great Again: Good Reason To Support Senate President Negron's Intent In Everglades Land Purchases ... by gimleteye

Follow on Twitter: @gimleteyemiami

After the historic rainfall during the winter of 2015/2016, Senate President Joe Negron faced constituents who were exhausted and furious that their estuaries, beaches and waterways were being used as toxic waste sites for filthy water from Lake Okeechobee. Senator Negron resolved, at the time, to do what more than 200 scientists had already concluded was necessary: buy enough land in the Everglades Agricultural Area, where Big Sugar is king, to store and treat flood waters when Lake Okeechobee filled too high, threatening the security of communities below the dike.

On Wednesday, the Senate is taking up what emerged from Senator Negron's initiative. Last week, Senate Bill 10 passed the Appropriations Committee. If it passes the Senate, the next steps involve reconciliation with a House version. Keep your fingers crossed and make your phone calls to legislators now, because the current version of SB 10 has strayed considerably from Senator Negron's intent.

The first issue: the size of a reservoir to hold billions of gallons of stormwater from Lake Okeechobee, the diseased liquid heart of Florida. Senator Negron, taking his cue from qualified scientists, initially aimed at securing 60,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area to be purchased with moneys available from the widely popular 2014 Amendment 1 citizens referendum. Everglades advocates had originally sized the acreage requirement considerably larger, at 100,000 acres, to store fresh water at a depth of one foot, or, 1,000,000 acre feet.

Senator Negron ran into instant opposition from Big Sugar, the most political influential (next to electric utilities and cement manufacturers) in the state. Big Sugar doesn't want any land taken out of sugarcane production. It steadfastly opposes any exercise of the option to buy US Sugar lands, a deal the company agreed to with the state in 2010.

As a result, the current bill omits specific reference to acreage and instead substituted volume. The current bill refers to 240,000 acre feet of new water supply -- far from the one million acre feet originally contemplated -- that could possibly, at some point in the future, rise to 360,000 acre feet if the smaller volume fails to meet Everglades water quality standards established through decades of bitter, contentious litigation.

As the Treasure Coast Palm points out, the current bill doesn't identify any new additions of privately owned sugar lands to the storage plan. It only contemplates using existing public lands -- and maybe more sugar lands in the future. Lands identified in the current bill were not only designated for storage in the past, they have already received hundreds of millions of infrastructure "improvements" in addition to the cost of buying the land from Big Sugar in the first place.

The new plan is to build, in the midst of former Everglades wetlands now sugarcane, a mini-Lake Okeechobee with walls about 38 feet high, about 20 miles around, in order to store water at a depth of about 12 feet. The total cost? In the low billions. It shows how little influence citizens have in comparison to Big Sugar.

There is more.

To highlight a few issues: Big Sugar successfully lobbied the current bill to eliminate eminent domain as a legal recourse to buy its lands. Eminent domain is a tested way, though rarely used in the Everglades, for government to purchase property from unwilling sellers. (Triggering eminent domain requires a cooperative government agency. Under Gov. Rick Scott, environmental agencies have been hostile to the measure.) Although it is loudly held forth by conservatives as "government over-reach", eminent domain is often quietly deployed by government to serve electric utilities, road builders, wall builders and developers (cf. Donald Trump) when their plans are considered important public purposes. Big Sugar fears, at some fuzzy point in the future, Floridians could elect a governor who supports eminent domain in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Big Sugar, in the current bill, also inserted a major rewrite of Florida water law. Rainfall in Florida is a public resource. Government manages fresh water in Florida as a public benefit. The provisions of the current Everglades bill detonate Florida's legacy with a new statute to allow large private property owners to use taxpayer dollars to fund the planning and design of new treatment facilities on their land in order to then sell rainfall to the public. Water privatization is the gold ring that is within Big Sugar's reach through the current version of the bill.

The bottom line: Senate Bill 10 offers citizens only hurdles while providing Big Sugar a clear path to further socialize risk and privatize profit. Great if you are a Big Sugar millionaire or billionaire. If you are a fisherman, a kayaker, or maybe get protein for your family by fishing in water management district canals? Not so much.

There is still time for state legislators to get it right, but they will have to start thinking about what is in the public interest as a higher priority than what is in the interest of wealthy private corporations.

With more than 100 Big Sugar lobbyists prowling the hallways and bar rooms of the state capitol today -- compared to a few environmentalists -- the table is set. Big Sugar's campaign has been an aggregation of savvy public relations, promises and arm-twisting, using the same tactics it deployed in the mid-1990s to defeat a plan to assess a penny-a-pound tax on sugar to help pay for Everglades restoration. Still, to many environmentalists and civic activists, the Negron initiative is the last, best chance in their lifetimes to restore a measure of equity to Florida's fresh water resources, to private property along Florida's waterway, to economically disadvantaged who always bear the highest costs of pollution, and to Florida's treasured, iconic natural resources.

In the coming weeks, it will take considerable political skill for Senator Negron to succeed, on behalf of his constituents whose life, liberty and pursuit of happiness has been badly damaged by pollution spewing from Lake Okeechobee. Citizens can help by calling state legislators now and ask that the current Senate Bill 10 and the House version retain the initial purpose of Senate President Negron: make Florida great again.


Anonymous said...

Big Sugar is a problem, because you're dealing with the Fanjuls - and corporations (Coke and Pepsi, perhaps?)that rely on a steady supply of sugar. Large corporations have numerous influential lobbyists. As for the idea of bottling rain water - this sounds like something bottling companies would dream up, an idea opportunists would latch onto. Then again, the Fanjuls may want to store water in the event of severe droughts.
I live in N. Central Florida, and the decline of our springs is a major concern. Not only is water quality in decline – water is becoming a precious, almost scarce commodity. There are too many straws drawing from the aquifer. Water conservation is a big deal.
Water is a statewide concern. A 2012 Tampa Bay article by Greg Pittman highlights water issues in the center of the state, such as springs pollution and saltwater intrusion. If water issues can’t be properly addressed, forget tourism; people aren’t going to want to live here.
Forget jobs, Governor Scott. Corporations certainly won’t locate here, if our oceans and springs are a slimy green and our drinking water a murky brown.
Governor Scott and our legislators need to wake up to the fact that Florida can’t continue unabated growth, as usual. Florida’s most valuable resource is being polluted and depleted. The algae blooms polluting our oceans, even fresh water springs, are a symptom of a problem. It is a problem Florida needs to find real solutions for.

And thankyou Gimbleteye, I believe I will write them.

Unknown said...

I AM CRYING OUT LOUD - sharing on all my facebook pages and Hoping the Senate will DO The RIght thing :(

Unknown said...

ID like permission to copy & past your response to this article on Facebook and share your name with it please??