Friday, October 03, 2014

Big Sugar on the march before the November election … by gimleteye

Remember how in 2008 then Governor Charlie Crist announced the most ambitious land purchase in Florida history, to convert sugar lands into water storage and cleansing marshes to repair America's Everglades? The land in question belongs to U.S. Sugar, the duopoly that includes neighbors/competitor Florida Crystals.

It is not clear that the deal was anything more than a political trap for Crist, who instantly ran into a buzz-saw of criticism at the time.

Big Sugar is out to get the highest possible price for its property, now that it has effectively mined out most of the topsoil in the Everglades Agricultural Area. It is attempting to forecast a business model growing sugarcane on limestone cap rock, or, converting its lands to suburban sprawl.

In the meantime, with hundreds of millions of taxpayer subsidies lining its shareholders' pockets, Big Sugar executives have plenty of time to plot new schemes to pressurize the legislature and executive branch (ie. Gov. Rick Scott) while the grass grows tall.

One of the reasons Big Sugar was so eager to dismantle community planning and growth management in Florida -- achieved under Gov. Rick Scott's reign of cluelessness -- was exactly to speed through "sector plans" like the 18,000 acre travesty proposed for Hendry County.

There used to be a legal process for community activists and environmentalists to follow, but the extremist right put an end to that.

Voters have a chance to redress the imbalances in November, if they vote.

For immediate release:
Contact: Cris Costello, 941-914-0421 (Ft. Myers)
Julia Hathaway, 202-315-8211 (Ft. Pierce)

Coastal community leaders demand rejection of Big Sugar City

Ft. Myers and Ft. Pierce, FL – Oct. 1, 2014 - Environmentalists, community activists, elected officials, chamber of commerce officials, realtors and business owners held simultaneous press conferences/rallies outside of Florida Department of Environmental Protection offices in Ft. Myers and Ft. Pierce today to demand that U.S. Sugar’s city walling off the Everglades from Lake Okeechobee be rejected.

The speakers warned that the massive city planned south of Lake Okeechobee could sabotage efforts to protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and to restore the Everglades. It would ensure continued environmental and financial devastation for coastal communities as water from the Lake continues to be released east and west during the rainy season instead of being sent south the Everglades.

“The proposed Sugar Hill Sector Plan would impact the State’s ability and contract right to purchase these lands to be used for moving water south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and stopping the destructive discharges to the coastal estuaries,” said Mark Perry, Executive Director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.

U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brother's "Sugar Hill" would create a massive, sprawling city between the Everglades and its water source, Lake Okeechobee. The 67-square-mile project would bring 18,000 new residential units and 25 million square feet of commercial, industrial, office and retail buildings directly into the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Mark Anderson, Ft. Myers business and property owner, and representative of the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce said: “Endless studies have confirmed the importance of restoring the connection from Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades to create a southward flow of water between the two. The studies are conclusive: it is now action that is needed to acquire the land needed for restoration and not development.”

"The Florida Department of Environmental Protection should formally advise the Department of Economic Opportunity to reject the Sector Plan because of its adverse effect on the Florida Everglades and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, and the flood control, water supply and economic functions they provide to nearly 8 million Floridians,” said Julia Hathaway, organizer for the Sierra Club in West Palm Beach.

Dave Kirwan, Board Member of Reef Relief and a Cape Coral resident stated: “The Sugar Hill Sector Plan is a very bad idea for water quality and the environment of South Florida. Everglades restoration and improving the water quality of Florida Bay is critical to protecting and preserving Florida’s Barrier Reef; the only living coral reef in North America and the third largest in the World.”

A statement by Paton White, President of the Audubon Society of the Everglades said: “Clearly, the fast-tracking of such an ambitious and unprecedented development plan needs to slow down. We call on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to strongly oppose this short-sighted and inadequately researched plan when they make their comments this week to the Department of Economic Opportunity.”

Organizations involved in today’s events in Ft. Myers and Ft. Pierce included: Sierra Club, Indian River Keeper, Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce, Rivers Coalition, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, Reef Relief, Treasure Coast Progressive Alliance, Martin County Chapter of the Native Plant Society, River Kidz, Responsible Growth Management Coalition, Inc., and Audubon Society of the Everglades.


Sugar Hill Myth vs. Fact Sheet:

Comments to SFWMD/DEP Sept 10:

Comments to SFWMD/DEP Sept 26:

ALL option lands map:

2015 Option lands map:

Jonathan Ullman
South Florida/Everglades Senior Field Organizer
Sierra Club
300 Aragon Ave., Ste. 360
Coral Gables, FL 33134

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you to all the volunteers and professionals that work tirelessly to protect the Everglades and Florida's scenic beauty.