Yesterday I heard the line at a play, "A bad teacher is one who tries to make sense of everything". Earlier in the day I had been thinking of Henry Dean, the former director of the South Florida Management District, quoted in a recent Miami Herald report on his objection to the US Sugar deal supported by Gov. Charlie Crist. Mr. Dean is not a teacher. He is now a consultant whose clients include billionaire Fanjul sugar interests who oppose Charlie Crist. The Fanjuls are pouring money into the campaign of his Senate opponent, Marco Rubio, and also helping raise funds for Kendrick Meek, the Democratic challenger for the US Senate seat vacated by Mel Martinez.
Mr. Dean is paid handsomely to represent those predetermined conclusions that he stood for, as the top official for the key state agency charged with protecting the Everglades. The Fanjuls became extraordinarily wealthy manipulating US farm policy related to sugar growing and organized to support an Everglades restoration plan in the 1990's that was destined to fail because it relied, entirely, on risky and unproven technologies like drilling 300 wells to store rainwater for future retrieval. The plan, supported by the Clinton White House, completely bypassed evidence that the wells would not work.
Today, the Fanjuls are spending substantial sums to bust up the alternative: a plan by Governor Crist to return 70,000 acres of land used for sugar farming to the purposes of Everglades restoration. The only restoration that has ever made sense has been to purchase enough land from the former Everglades and match square miles with water storage necessary to hold and to eventually clean water so that when it is returned to the Everglades, at the right time and in the right volumes, a semblance of normalcy will restored to the landscape that defines Florida. And so, 'a bad teacher is one who tries to make sense of everything' reminded me how many decades the public has been lead around in circles by flawed logic that moves always in the direction of Big Sugar.
The Fanjuls have always opposed any Everglades restoration that uses sugar lands for public benefit, whether or not they own it. Unless, that is, they are paid the billions that they believe their own land is worth as a matter of private property rights. They oppose the US Sugar deal not because it costs too much-- nearly twice the going price for agricultural real estate according to experts-- but because it costs too little. What they support is a plan that cannot work. The concept they endorsed-- a work-around of their property called aquifer storage and recovery-- was supported by the South Florida Water Management District at the time and federal authorities who completely bypassed the US Geological Service; the sole federal agency with the science and expertise to stand up and say that it didn't make sense. Because of this work-around, the Everglades restoration plan became a national poster child for fitting science to meet predetermined conclusions. And the public lost more than a decade to false directions and other expensive work arounds.
The MIami Herald reported, "Henry Dean, a former district executive director who is now a consultant for Florida Crystals and the Florida Sugar Cane Cooperative, said the cuts "would have devastating effects." In 2001, at a meeting I attended with Mr. Dean and environmentalists, Mr. Dean promised that he would provide a conceptual alternative to Everglades restoration, because-- environmentalists urged him to acknowledge-- the plan based on risky technologies involving underground wells for water storage and billions of dollars did not make sense. There was, by the way, a real teacher on the side of environmentalists at that meeting: Dr. Harold Wanless, chairman of the Department of Geology at the University of Miami. Dr. Wanless had gone to Tallahassee to try to persuade legislators that the plans they supported-- at the behest of Big Sugar-- would not work.
After that 2001 meeting Mr. Dean promised he would get back to us with an alternative, but years passed by and he never did.