Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sierra Club challenges the $2 billion Big Sugar reservoir plan ... by gimleteye

So much taxpayer sacrifice in Florida, for this: Big Sugar

NOTE: Florida voters who support Rick Scott and incumbent state legislators should spend a few minutes considering how Scott rejected in 2010 the state purchase of US Sugar lands that was "too costly" at $1.75 billion. The Fanjuls were the principal agitators who killed the plan.

So, instead of owning 187,000 acres at a cost of $1.75 billion, Florida taxpayers are now committed to fund at least half of a $2 billion, man-made, cement reinforced 16,000 acre reservoir 23 feet deep, that can't deliver clean water up to state and federal water quality standards.

In case you didn't get the math: We are getting 16,000 acres instead of 187,000 acres. We are paying $2 billion instead of $1.75 billion.

Gov. Scott's governing board lambasted the US Sugar as "political". Instead, we got a deal that is political on steroids.

Kind of sucks, doesn't it.

To make a deep reservoir work -- it will be more than a decade if the federal government agrees to cost sharing -- , in 2017 scientists (and senate president Joe Negron) asked for 60,000 acre of storage and cleansing marshes. Then, Big Sugar flooded the state capitol with lobbyists, crying wolf. Not only did the 60,000 acres disappear, Big Sugar turned the bill into a Trojan Horse: inserting benefits to Big Sugar that would cripple future efforts to clean the Everglades and Florida's badly degraded public waters, rivers, and bays.

The current proposal represents an extraordinary betrayal of what the public fought so hard to achieve and what senate president Joe Negron sought to achieve before Big Sugar slammed its fist on the table.

If the state had completed the purchase of US Sugar, preliminarily signed in 2008, it would have been possible to do land swaps (even if the Fanjuls were unwilling). If the deal had been consummated, the public could have assembled the needed 60,000 acres, but last year Big Sugar-friend legislators eliminated eminent domain in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) and provided significant benefits to large landowners like the Fanjuls: a unprecedented decision that provides an easy excuse for failure.

For these reasons, the environmental response to the Everglades reservoir plan -- really, it is a Big Sugar reservoir plan -- is muted. This week, Sierra Club offered the following response to Gov. Scott's water management district board.
The Sierra Club is not happy with the outcome, thus far, of the EAA Storage Reservoir Project plan; it must be improved quickly because we are running out of time.

We cannot respond, and do not know how anyone in the public can respond, to the draft PACR, because it has not been made available to the public.

What we can comment on is the stakeholder process, the TSP (Tentative Selected Plan) and the Secretarial Order.

The District waited for five months after the bill signing to start an inadequate stakeholder scoping process that was squeezed into a seriously truncated time period. The District refused to hold scoping meetings in Broward, Miami-Dade, or Monroe counties - limiting the meetings to just West Palm Beach and Clewiston - and has not responded to Sierra Club’s questions related to details of the District’s modeling. I [Diana Umpierre] have here a list of those questions and the date upon which they were submitted to District staff – we hope that by submitting them to you today on the record we may finally get the answers we have a right to. Finally, there is no proof that the TSP or the claimed benefits have been fully vetted by external state and local agencies or reviewed by a truly independent scientific body and if it has, without public notice, it has been within a ridiculously small window of time.

The TSP does not account for the approximately 18,000 acres of public land, purchased with our tax dollars, which are currently neither serving a public purpose nor providing ecological services, but instead are leased to sugar and other agricultural corporations. The SFWMD thus far has failed to provide an optimal configuration, failed to explore the use of those 18,000 acres, and instead constrained their modeling to only parcels A-1, A-2 and lands just west of A-2. The intent of SB10 was not to limit analysis of project configurations to these lands. As a result, we do not know if your tentatively selected plan represents the actual optimal configurations or “best buy.” The District has failed to show the public what else is possible and therefore we cannot judge what is on the table.

An excessively deep reservoir does not provide all of the ecological benefits we expect from an Everglades restoration project. When the EAA reservoir was first proposed in 2000, it was envisioned as a shallow 6-feet deep reservoir; later in 2006, it was proposed as a 12-feet deep reservoir. These water depths are far more reasonable, safe, and ecologically beneficial than the 23 feet deep industrial-scale reservoir presented by the District. We are also concerned about the increased safety risks it poses to those near and downstream of this proposed super deep reservoir.

The Secretarial Order is vague in the "assurances" it claims to provide. For instance, the FDEP states "additional actions" would be taken if water quality standards are not attained. We are concerned this could mean reducing the ecological benefits of the project, such as less water flowing south and less reduction of harmful discharges to northern estuaries, in order to reduce the need to treat water. While Sierra Club appreciates that FDEP says it will meet water quality standards, it is just an aspirational goal because the Order has no teeth to guarantee benefits to the estuaries, the Everglades or Florida Bay.

For Sierra Club, neither the TSP nor the Order is good enough. We urge you to spend the next two weeks to deliver an optimized plan that guarantees benefits to the public in a transparent manner. While we do not oppose the EAA Reservoir, we demand better. We will continue to advocate for improvements to the plan and for more land for true Everglades restoration.

Diana Umpierre
Organizing Representative, Sierra Club

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An article in NYTs related to sugar use: David Leonhardt article, "Big Sugar Vs. Your Body":