Tuesday, February 06, 2018

BIG SUGAR smugly attacks underpinning of Everglades restoration ... by gimleteye

The top issue in the 2017 state legislature was a new law to provide relief for coastal residents whose property values, businesses, and health had been “taken” as a consequence of severe pollution from Lake Okeechobee. 

Between the end of that session and now, the South Florida Water Management District was tasked to come up with a plan to store and treat the billions of gallons destined to pollute Florida’s coasts when lake levels rise again to alarming heights. It is no surprise that the District, always under the thumb of Big Sugar, came up with a plan that won’t work, except as a guaranteed benefit to Big Sugar.

Today, those who have been involved in the minute details of Florida’s water future are desperately casting about for a way to turn this District lemon into lemonade. One idea making the rounds: take EVEN MORE land that is already designated for wilderness habitat and turn it into tens of thousands of acres of treatment marshes to clean up Big Sugar’s pollution. IT’S NOT RIGHT. 

Martha Musgrove, a great opinion writer and editor for The Miami Herald during her time, is now an informed and active board member of the Florida Wildlife Federation. She recently submitted the following letter to the editor of the Treasure Coast Palm that explains what is at stake. 

A few points of editorial perspective: Florida is being punished by the Republican legislature that allowed Big Sugar to extend leases on publicly owned lands for 30 year sweetheart deals. The giveaway happened in 2014. But for those lease extensions, and extraordinarily favorable lease terms extended to Big Sugar by state lands “negotiators”, Floridians would have access to enough lands for storage and treatment options with Big Sugar billionaires. Instead, it is as though the public is at a poker table where Big Sugar is dealt ALL the high cards. 

We are in a bad fix because Gov. Rick Scott and AG Secretary Adam Putnam gave away the card deck to Big Sugar billionaires. They deal themselves the high cards and laugh, watching us wring our hands at such bad luck.

Florida’s future has been sacrificed on the altar of political ambitions and the narrow aim of a single, heavily subsidized commodity: sugar. 

A response to “Time to talk about third rail of Everglades restoration” (TC Palm, Jan. 30, 2018) on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation. BY Martha Musgrove

            Get involved in Florida politics, and it’s not hard to find electrified “third rails.” Yet,  never in my wildest imagination would I have predicted that two of South Florida’s outdoor-recreational areas -- the 35,000-acre Holey Land and the 29,000-acre Rotenberger Wildlife Management Areas -- would be declared the “third rails” of Everglades Restoration. 
             For one thing Floridians voted –back in the 1970s -- to tax themselves to buy the Holey Land and Rotenberger. Housing developments and the urban population were rapidly spreading westward spurring wide-spread concern that we were just one-more developer and drainage project away from losing all contact with the watery wilderness of the Everglades. If we didn’t act we could be left with no place to boat, fish, hunt, camp, try out new cameras or just sit quietly and “watch birds.”  We weren’t prescient, we were defensive. This land is our land! Right?
            Well, no, it’s not our land to enjoy if we don’t own it and rise –periodically – to defend our ownership and assert our right to use and enjoy it.
            Fifty years later, South Floridians are still fighting to protect the Everglades, our heritage lands and waters.  We have a drainage system badly in need of correction –Martin County’s estuary, the Indian River Lagoon, has taken hit after hit as gluts of algal tainted freshwater are discharged from Lake Okeechobee. The lake, itself, has taken hits as well. One of the remedies is to filter the nutrient-laden water that plays havoc with our natural resources. Another is to reduce the discharges. . At this stage, we know we must store more water and enlarge the filtration marshes, called “Storm Water Treatment Areas (STA’s).” to clean it up before discharging to our estuaries. To do that we need more land. So, why not use state-owned lands? 
            And, that’s exactly what the Legislature said we should do: “Use state-owned land” in the Everglades Agricultural Area that is currently being leased to farmers!  That’s right” publicly owned”— taxpayer owned land.  There’s no proposal on the horizon to use “privately owned” land to expand STAs. Not only do you own “the land “ that’s  being leased, it’s also land in exactly the right place to be used to  “clean-up” farm runoff,  downstream of Lake Okeechobee and adjacent to  canals large enough to route farm runoff into reservoirs and STAs. 
            What stands in the way?  Florida’s sugar industry. The sugar industry is the REAL “Third Rail” of Florida politics.  It‘s also the fourth, fifth and sixth rail.  Nobody in Florida politics “messes with” sugar.  That’s nobody, until Martin County’s “favorite son” and Senate President Joe Negron stepped forward and passed Senate Bill 10. The legislation specifically identifies state-owned land in the EAA to be used to store and clean up and water to be discharged south for Everglades Restoration where it’s needed and wanted. To cushion the impact of terminating leases, his legislation also provides for buyouts and encourages lease swaps among farmers.
             Eventually, it will fall to Gov. Rick Scott and Florida’s elected Cabinet (the “Trustees” of the Internal Improvement Fund, which holds title to the land) to close “the deal.” They ought to be “stepping up” to protect both the public interest and “Negron’s back.” In this volatile election year, who knows if they will?  
            If they don’t and the Holey Land and Rotenberger are instead targeted to be converted into STAs or reservoirs, we we’ll know who to blame. Should that happen, however, I fear no publicly owned recreational land anywhere in the state will be “safe. If Floridians lose Holey Land and Rotenberger “today,” then we best prepare to lose publicly owned beaches, parks and other recreational lands “tomorrow.”  In Florida, everything, – no matter its public worth – seems to be “for sale” to the “right” bidder.  Now, is a good time to defend our public lands and our right to use them. 

Martha Musgrove is a Florida native, a retired journalist and a board member of the Florida Wildlife Federation. She began her career in Vero Beach and now lives in West Palm Beach.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Needed to be said, but you could have been tougher on env groups who let last years toxic legislation pass.