Monday, May 04, 2015

Another year of rampant pollution: river activists and the Everglades are collateral damage of a political system organized to protect polluters and their massive wealth ... by gimleteye

In February Sunshine State News, partly funded by Big Sugar, quoted Florida Audubon's spokesperson Eric Draper in "Lake Okeechobee to Everglades Flowway Will Never Happen":
Sending water south from Lake Okeechobee to meander naturally through the Everglades -- the "flowway" endorsed by the Everglades Foundation as the only way -- "will never happen, it's pie in the sky," admitted one of Florida's leading voices on environmental policy.
Although Audubon is deeply involved in Everglades restoration, its role as the go-to political source for environmental compromise is controversial. Draper's statement landed with a dull thud especially among civic activists fighting the massive releases of toxic waters into the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee.

The abrupt cancellation of the state legislative session meant that barring a last minute intervention by Gov. Rick Scott -- as in, "Scott riding to rivers' rescue" -- there will be no let up in either toxic waters spewing into Florida waterways or the massing of protests by river activists that are setting state GOP leaders on edge.

Draper subsequently apologized to the river activists, but the damage was done. How? The legislative session is a fast-moving train. Audubon helped frame the debate over the use of Amendment 1 funds to purchase Big Sugar lands (ie. they would not be used) and set the stage for compromise: to bargain with polluters who control the legislature.

Sunshine State News, again:
"Participating with about 400 other Florida residents in a "clean water" rally at the base of the Old Capitol steps in Tallahassee, Draper said, "The sugar industry should see there's an additional need for land for reservoirs and they should agree to some of the land proposal," he said." (EOM, bold script)
What Draper was suggesting was that there was a fallback position from the 46,800 acre purchase. It is not clear who Audubon had consulted with, before making that point. Perhaps no one at all. Draper's suggestion to move away from the full purchase of the 46,8000 under option by the state from US Sugar fails to inform that the 46,800 acres was already a defeatist compromise from the 130,000 plus acres in the original deal struck between US Sugar and former Gov. Charlie Crist.

To understand the high stakes, watch a recent video by River Warriors upstream from Miami.

Why is the acquisition of US Sugar lands falling apart? Two answers.

From a cynical point of view, it is clear that all Big Sugar cares about is maximizing its profit for its shareholders. If that means destroying billions of dollars in real estate values and quality of life and forcing costly drinking water on millions of Floridians, so be it. Since the real estate markets rebounded from the Great Recession in 2008, Big Sugar is once again poised to create cities from exhausted farmland, where shareholders can make ten or one hundred times the return compared to growing sugarcane. That simply follows the Florida maxim that a farmer is just a real estate developer waiting for the right price.

An even more cynical view is that the US Sugar deal provided the grand opportunity for the top political players in the state to kick Gov. Charlie Crist out of office and to solidify their lock on a US Senate seat for Marco Rubio. Think that's an exaggeration? Both Jeb Bush and Rubio did Big Sugar's bidding in the early 2000's -- again, using the cover of Audubon of Florida -- to change state water law permitting pollution that violated earlier laws including the plan to restore the Everglades approved by Congress and the president only a few years earlier.

Back in February, Audubon could have made clear to Gov. Scott and legislators that there was no backing down on 1) buying ALL the 46,800 acres in the option to purchase US Sugar lands and 2) that whatever additional measures are necessary -- including eminent domain -- must be on the table in order to save Florida's rivers, estuaries and Everglades and 3) that the "take no money from sugar" pledge is a good place to start bringing equity back to Florida's Everglades.

Read the letter by scientists to Gov. Rick Scott sent last week, pleading the facts and the case for full purchase of the option to buy US Sugar lands that expires in early October. There is no time to lose. The floodgate for pollution are wide open by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Palm Beach Post
Editor's note: Six scientists with expertise on the Indian River Lagoon and Everglades wrote this open letter to the governor. We are publishing this edited version with their permission.
May 1, 2015

Dear Governor Scott,

This eleventh-hour plea is to seek your leadership for the state of Florida to exercise the contract option to purchase 46,803 acres from U.S. Sugar south of Lake Okeechobee before October 12, 2015.

This is a time-limited opportunity, and the acquisition and subsequent utilization of this land to store and treat discharges from the lake will expand your legacy by providing benefits to roughly 50 percent of Florida residents.

Significant economic, environmental and water supply benefits include the following:

1. New jobs in restoration-project construction and management;

2. Creation of an emergency relief outlet to protect the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike during high lake stages, thereby increasing safety of residents and property adjacent to the lake;

3. Increased flow of lake water south into the remnant Everglades, and hence: more natural water flow into water-starved Everglades National Park and Florida Bay; recharge of drinking water aquifers of millions southeast Florida residents; and reduction of saltwater intrusion into wellfields.

4. Significant reduction of polluted lake discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, estuaries and coastal waters, which would: restore ecological values to these ecosystems; restore jobs lost by lake discharges in the fishing (commercial and recreational), boating, and tourism industries; help rebuild lost real estate values for homes in the affected regions; and restoration of lost boating, fishing and swimming habitats.

Sufficient scientific and engineering justification exists for the acquisition and utilization to store and treat discharges from the lake.

The recent University of Florida Water institute report confirmed what every major evaluation has previously concluded: achieving substantial reduction in lake-triggered discharges to the estuaries and improvements for the dry-season Everglades will require upwards of 100,000 acres or more of additional land between the lake and the Everglades.

Funding is available. The State had the opportunity to purchase this land in October 2013 at $7,400 per acre, and the cost of delaying this acquisition is significant. South Florida Water Management District staff estimated the increase in cost to the public at between $150 million and $350 million.

The State has two available funding mechanisms: 1. direct cash purchase utilizing Amendment 1 funds, or 2. issuance of Certificate of Participation bonds. Either of these costs would fit well within your recently announced 20-year $5 billion Everglades initiative.

In summary, our request is for you to take a leadership role for the state of Florida to purchase the available option lands from U.S. Sugar before October 12, 2015.

The acquisition and subsequent utilization of this land to store and treat discharges from the lake will provide significant economic, environmental and water-supply benefits to millions of current and future Florida generations.

This action has scientific and engineering justification, and the state has available funding options. What is missing is leadership. For the sake of our people, economy and environment, please lead this effort to acquire the available land.


Joseph L. Gilio (retired professional wetland scientist, founder and past president of Wetlands Management Inc.; 30 years experience)
Kenneth Ammons (president Ammon Water Resource Engineering, former deputy executive director of the South Florida Water Management District; 37 years experience)
Gary Goforth (founder and past president of Gary Goforth Inc., former chief consulting engineer for the South Florida Water Management District; 36 years experience)
Mark Perry (executive director of Florida Oceanographic Society, 36 years experience)
Thomas Van Lent (director of science and policy, The Everglades Foundation; 35 years Everglades experience)
Donald Wisdom (retired colonel, Army; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district engineer for Jacksonville District (1975-78), consulting environmental engineer; 40 years experience)


Anonymous said...

Audubon never saw a compromise it couldn't make.

Tom Morris said...

Who even buys into those "cities"? Most of them are nothing more than a housing development and some national chain retail locations tacked onto a freeway interchange. There are no places for actual productive business. Is the goal more just to have a bunch of residential properties to sit on and flip, like the condos that never got finished in Downtown Miami and existed only to have their presale deeds flipped for a few years?

Anonymous said...

Draper isn't the big bad guy here, but he often has trouble staying upright on the white horse. I have yet to hear from an enviro who feels satisfied with the level of leadership. Time for a new rider.