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.