Friday, July 18, 2008

Humanity's last innings: if our coral reef was a baseball stadium... by gimleteye

There is a lot to be indignant about. The price of gasoline. The cost of the housing market crash, foreclosures and the slow motion implosion of the financial system, brought on by the party of so-called fiscal conservatism.

In Miami, politicians like the green Mayor of Miami Manny Diaz have circled their wagons around a $3 billion plan to build more attractions, including a professional baseball stadium at terms that guarantee a financial windfall for the private owners of The Florida Marlins.

I wish our coral reef were a baseball stadium.

If our coral reef were a baseball stadium, then politicians would be advocating for a $36 dollar tax on our water service to finance the $1.75 billion buyout of US Sugar plus whatever it costs to make sure that water reaching the Everglades is clean and not polluted with nutrients instead of a $3 billion plan for infrastructure including benefits accruing to one baseball team in Miami.

I guess that is the point, isn't it: there is no payout from the coral reef you can see for free the way there is from contractors and engineering firms stretching change orders to the horizon.

In Miami-Dade alone, never mind the $3 billion Megaplan, county agencies have listed more than $6 billion in infrastructure backlogs-- not even including the upgrades promised to water and wastewater infrastructure.

The immutable law of America's dysfunctional dream is that the Growth Machine makes money wrecking the natural landscape and makes more money trying to fix its mistakes. This is not a law that nature abides.

The cost per taxpayer in South Florida to view a healthy coral reef-- in other words, to fix the pollution by agriculture and the cities--is probably on the order of a ticket price along the first base line to a Marlins game.

$36 to finance the buyout of 175,000 acres of US Sugar lands is less than the cost of a bleacher seat per taxpayer.

It is time for government scientists and policy makers to stop spending time giving each other awards and in hotel conference talking about the reef--and start arguing the radical consequences of misplaced public priorities.

Imagine if a policy maker from NOAA or the US EPA of the US Army Corps of Engineers would explain that sports and their enthusiasts embody ideals we value, but that fixing the Everglades and coral reef embodies the requirements of the environment we need to survive.
We can do without a new baseball stadium, in other words. But the coral reef is another matter: I would gladly pay money I am spending through my taxes to fund the war in Iraq, highways and roadways and other "necessities", in order to assure that these photos of the coral reef, taken just last weekend in the pristine backcountry of Big Pine Key, are just a bad dream and not a forecast of humanity's last innings.

Consider tax increase with U.S. Sugar deal

Palm Beach Post Editorial

Friday, July 18, 2008

The euphoria over Florida's proposed $1.75 billion deal to buy U.S. Sugar Corp. land for Everglades restoration is evaporating as hard realities become apparent.

The South Florida Water Management District wants to make the purchase for the state without raising taxes on residents in the district's 16 counties. Given the price, that no-new taxes approach seemed unrealistic when the deal was announced on June 23, and it looks even less realistic now.

Part of the cost for buying U.S. Sugar - contract negotiations will be done in early September - would be shrinking or postponing restoration projects already in the works or trying to get the federal government to pay for them. The Miccosukee Indian Tribe already has signaled its concern by filing a motion before U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno. He is supervising the ongoing Everglades water cleanup, and the tribe wants him to make the district finish building the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir. It is part of the state's Acceler8 plan to speed up restoration.

The Miccosukees have fought since 1989 in federal court to make the district meet water quality limits and cleanup deadlines. "The state is always promising to do something for the Everglades 10 years later," the tribe's attorney, Dexter Lehtinen, said. " ... The Everglades is dying now, not 10 years from now."

Stopping construction on that reservoir and others near the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers could mean more dirty water sent to coastal estuaries or tribal lands. Yet district board members won't consider even a tiny tax increase to ensure that vital projects keep going. While no one will confirm it on the record, the reason almost certainly is that Gov. Crist campaigned on a no-new-taxes platform, and even a needed tax increase could hurt his chance of becoming John McCain's running mate.

But come on. The water district's current tax rate is 62 cents per $1,000 of taxable value - $124 on a home assessed at $200,000. A return to the 2006 rate of 69 cents would cost that homeowner another $14. Going to 80 cents, which the district can do without legislative approval, would cost another $36.

The district's answer is that the federal government finally should start to pay its 50 percent share for Everglades restoration. If Florida is a battleground state, John McCain and Barack Obama might indeed make a commitment - as President Bush did - and actually honor it - as President Bush hasn't.

But Florida can't just assume that Washington would come through. As promising as the U.S. Sugar deal sounds, the state was just as enthusiastic in 2004 about its Acceler8 plan to fast-track restoration.

The district also contends that with the U.S. Sugar land, other projects - such as that key reservoir - might not be needed. There is a separate lawsuit over that reservoir. During a hearing on it Thursday, U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks asked whether the suit was being overtaken by events. Maybe so.

Or maybe the water district is trying to do too much with too little. The district's final budget hearing is in late September. If a tax increase is necessary to buy U.S. Sugar and continue vital projects, that extra $14 would be worth it.


Anonymous said...

It is like the blogger says. The only items are politicians are interested in are those that will mean personal money for them. I truly hate those crooks! I no longer dive.

Anonymous said...

Mensa, and that is why I don't want to go into politics. In your eyes, there are no good politicians, right? Having said that, you still make good points.

WHo was it that said "Florida is defined, largley, by its waters" or something to that affect, when arguing against drilling off shore.

Floridians, pay attention. We are squandering paradise. Have we forgotten just how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place. Those reefs terrible. It hurts my heart to look at them.

Anonymous said...

You nailed it GOD, as a community (except maybe the Keys) we're so disconnected from the ocean. The concept that Biscayne National Park is a National Park because of corals is....well, largely a joke now.

I hope folks will tune-in to WLRN radio' 'Topical Currents' on Wednesday, July 23rd at 1pm to hear me, Pews Ocean Commission Chairman Leon Panetta and NRDC Oceans Initiative Director Sarah Chasis discuss the concept of a National Ocean Policy - something along the lines of a National vision for our oceans much as we have for Air & Water with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

Anonymous said...

i snorkel in Biscayne National Park. That stuff in your photo is all you see. It covers all the sea grass.

Anonymous said...

use those pictures in your emails to get fishermen to sign the Florida Hometown Democracy thing. Connect the dots, if you have to. Sheet flow of water is being disturbed with development to the west. That has a direct affect on the Bay and the reefs. I have emailed some fishermen and used these pictures and it is working. We need signatures in District 21 by the way, but feel free to cast a wide (fishing) net. :)

Anonymous said...

There aren't many of us "goverment scientists" and the problem is NOT that we spend our time "giving each other awards" and talking about the reef. The problem is most people, politicians included, simply don't listen, or worse, discount our findings (even the blatantly obvious ones). Just like the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If MANY people start to make an issue of it, then it will be in the interests of the powers that be to listen. If you're going to cast blame, don't put it on the scientists, who've devoted their lives to their work and easily spend 60-80hrs/week trying to do something about it! And if you're upset that our environment has been trashed, and you're not actively doing something about it, you're probably just as much to blame as the politicians.