Thursday, February 26, 2015

Big Sugar, The Big Squeeze, Estuaries and the Everglades … by gimleteye

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a picture of the Big Squeeze: wealthy farmers -- mostly through growing sugarcane -- in the Everglades Agricultural Area between Lake Okeechobee in the center of Florida holding hostage the fate of public lands including water conservation areas, (not in the picture), the remnant Everglades, and the value of bordering real estate and quality of life of residents. 

Bear in mind, looking at this map, that sugar is one of the most highly subsidized industrial crops in America. Taxpayer dollars not only support a commodity that harms public health -- sugar poisons people -- but is wrecking public lands and billions of dollars in real estate values.

The groups that supported then Gov. Charlie Crist's 2008 deal to buyout US Sugar lands (see the graphic below) then believed and still do, that the acquisition of a significant part of the EAA was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and worth the cost -- $1.2 billion at the time. As one can see from the map, the US Sugar lands may not be centrally located to the purpose of re-establishing cost-effective pollution control, but they are central to the political gridlock that is driving taxpayers to distraction.

Water from Lake Okeechobee is highly polluted by storm water runoff and agriculture. Since the polluted water doesn't adversely affect farming south of the lake, it flows unimpeded to sugar and other agricultural crops whenever and wherever it is needed. The Lake provides a storage basin during rainy season and a reservoir for irrigation during dry season. When the Lake levels rise too high, threatening the integrity of levy, massive volumes are pumped out to rivers of waste; the Caloosahatchee and Indian River.

What sugarcane production also does is vastly increase the levels of polluted water, flowing off farms through canals and feeding into the Everglades.

To fix the pollution of the rivers and  the Everglades to the south requires massive cleansing marshes and water management infrastructure. The question is where to put the infrastructure to effectively protect taxpayer investments in property and in the Everglades.

Advocates for the purchase of US Sugar lands -- a drastically scaled down option-to-buy by Gov. Rick Scott --  were hardly wild-eyed radicals. They understood other EAA sugar barons -- in particular, the billionaire Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach -- have property rights that must be dealt with; either through eminent domain powers of government or trading parcels. Without US Sugar lands, there is no trading. Without trading or otherwise compelling the strategic accumulation of lands, there is no solving Florida's water crisis and taxpayer woes.

This is not just a map detailing property ownership in the EAA, it is the map of political and environmental gridlock in Florida.


Anonymous said...

Not a fan but you hit the nail on the head with this one.

Anonymous said...

As noted in the article these lands were not needed to accomplish the goals of Everglades restoration. All that is necessary is end the sugar subsidies on all lands placed into sugar production since circa 1985. This would accomplish the removal of these lands for sugar production while leaving them in private ownership and on the tax rolls of local governments without costing the tax payers a dime. Thus leaving Amendment 1 funds in place to actually purchase critically endangered habitat as well as possibility funding the proper management and maintenance of existing public lands.

Anonymous said...

I think we should buy land in the Northern Everglades i.e. (Everglades Ag Area) to supply water to the Central Everglades now being used somewhat for water conservation areas and to the Southern Everglades where the National park is located. Restore as much of the flow of water from Lake Kissimmee to the Everglades National Park. Water resources belong to the whole state.

Anonymous said...

It should be acknowledged that none of the scientists working on Everglades "restoration" wanted this deal - not one of them. The SFWMD knew this would be a death knell for the projects already planned and ongoing. SWFMD staff tried to warn the environmental groups not to support this deal, but no one would listen and then to their (enviros) amazement and derision (but to no surprise of SFWMD employees) after the scaled-down deal was approved the SFWMD announced that they no longer could afford to work on several efforts including the EAA reservoir and the second phase of the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands. The fact is this was, and still is, a bad deal and not helpful to anyone except US Sugar, who was on its way to bankruptcy when Gov. Christ stepped in to save them. The Fanjuls laughed at this deal all along because the secret no one wants to acknowledge is that these lands aren't tradeable. They were and still are marginal ag lands and there is very little chance they would be ripe for a successful development beyond rockmining. So why would the Fanjuls give up better quality ag parcels for these lands which they could have had long ago? I shudder to think what would have happened to the current Everglades enhancement effort if the original $1.2 Billion deal had gone through instead of the scaled-down version. As staff tried to tell the environmental groups at that time, and I will reiterate today, save you political capital for an effort that will matter - this isn't it.