Thursday, May 12, 2016

The South Florida Water Management District Should Stick To Science, Not Propaganda ... by gimleteye

Since historic January rainfalls deluged and overwhelmed South Florida, the South Florida Water Management District has launched an unprecedented public relations effort, including direct attacks on critics. The state agency's enterprise smacks of the same principles of manipulation in defense of autocrats everywhere. Yes, Putin. We get that. But not in Florida, please.

In the past, the District's arrogant, high-handed treatment of citizens was confined to lightly-attended meetings of the District governing board (Gov. Rick Scott appointees) or at panels where citizen input was solicited then trashed. That changed with the January's flooding that put Florida's rivers, bays and estuaries under extraordinary stress and unmasked the super-sized role of Big Sugar and its polygamous marriage with incoming Senate president Joe Negron, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott.

This year's rainfalls drove the point home: buy Big Sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee, send clean, fresh water south. The 2014 constitutional amendment, Amendment One, approved by a whopping 75% of Florida voters, instructed the legislature to tap a new source of taxation that, over a 20 year period, would yield nearly $1 billion per year. No one wants to "take" Big Sugar lands without compensation, citizens said: just buy them out.

In 2015, an option to buy a portion of U.S. Sugar lands -- owned by the Flint, Michigan family of Charles Stuart Mott -- expired. Gov. Charlie Crist negotiated that deal in 2008, leading the Fanjul Big Sugar billionaires to fund the campaign of his opponent in the 2010 US Senate race, Marco Rubio. Scott's political appointees on the District governing board refused to exercise the option and then the rains began to fall, exposing the desperate need to exercise the option they had just refused.

A year ago, in April 2015, supporters of the buyout implored the GOP-led legislature to act on the option. Nothing happened. The option lapsed (although another one also is still in effect until 2020), then the rains began to fall. In January, four to five times the normal average of rainfall coated both Florida coasts with slime, thanks to the deeply polluted Lake Okeechobee. Fish kills and photos of environmental destruction followed. Billions of dollars of coastal property values have been put at risk in areas of the state that have been reliably GOP supporters.

Instead of fixing its history of errors in water management, state government -- through the South Florida Water Management District -- doubled down on what is wrong. Today, the District is jointly messaging with Big Sugar, using tax dollars. To have a government agency so blatantly engaged in industry propaganda is unprecedented in Florida.

Exactly one year ago, Sierra Club issued the following press statement, "Dozens of elected leaders ask Governor and Legislature to purchase sugar lands: Senator Joe Negron praised at Stuart & Captiva events."
As toxic green algae once again spoiled the St. Lucie River, elected officials, community and business leaders, chamber of commerce officials, and environmental activists in Lee and Martin counties ratcheted up demands to stop dumping water to the coasts and buy sugar land to send it south to the Everglades instead.

At events in Stuart and on Captiva Island, advocates released letters signed by 25 municipal and county-level elected officials and resolutions approved by 11 counties and cities resolutions asking Florida Governor Rick Scott and Legislative leaders to fund the purchase of 46,000 acres of land owned by the US Sugar Corporation. Signatories included mayors, council members and commissioners from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Lee, Collier, St. Lucie and Martin counties, including the City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado .

Leaders also thanked Senator Joe Negron for his plan to introduce legislation that could fund the U.S Sugar purchase through Amendment 1 and urged him to keep going until the job is done.

The events focused on ecological and economic loss backed by a Florida Realtors study that showed that polluting the St. Lucie had resulted in millions of dollars in home value losses.

The Stuart event had 90 attendees. Participants waved signs and unfurled a banner saying “With Joe we stand, let’s buy the land” that was signed by rally attendees and will be delivered to the Senator once he is back at his district office between the regular and special legislative sessions. Speakers included Martin County Commissioner Ed Fielding and City of Stuart Commissioners Troy McDonald and St. Lucie Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky.

Meanwhile, 50 people attended the Captiva event. There were 20 speakers included Marty Harrity owner of Doc Fords restaurant, Sandra Stillwell of Stilwell Enterprises, David Jensen of Jensen’s Marina, Paul McCarthy of Captiva Cruisers, Shane Spring from VIP realty and Nancy McPhee from the Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Last week, the Army Corps stopped dumping water from Lake Okeechobee because water leading to the St. Lucie was covered in green slime. It has since been tested positive for blue-green algae and health advisory signs have gone up.

There has been broad public support for exercising the 48,600 acre purchase option in the US Sugar contract, but Governor Rick Scott and the Legislature have so far failed to act. As polluted water is dumped to the coasts, the Everglades’ multibillion dollar restoration project is starving for water. The solution, according to the scientific community, is to pursue 48,600 acres of sugar land to store and clean the water.
Gov. Rick Scott, Putnam, and Negron ignored the plea of more than 200 scientists in 2015: buy the land, send clean, fresh water south. The latest news is that toxic blue green algae is back -- with the potential to cause life crippling illnesses including brain disease -- , and about to be dumped from Lake Okeechobee into Florida estuaries by the District and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Fido by Kait Parker
Following the rainfall in January, civic groups gained traction in Florida through social media like Facebook. Groups like and the SWFL Clean Water Movement energized hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

This Florida Arab Spring was scarcely noted by the press or media, but it had a significant impact during the Florida GOP presidential primary when favored son U.S. senator Marco Rubio was trounced by Donald Trump. News was getting out, and not the way that Big Sugar planned.

The backlash by Big Sugar billionaires, the main beneficiaries of the failed water management regime in Florida, has been predictable. The industry is using the same scripts developed in the 1990's when a movement sought to levy a penny-per-pound tax on sugarcane to pay for its pollution of the dying River of Grass.

This time is different: contrary to Big Sugar's assertions, the Everglades Foundation has nothing to do with the emerging opposition. Unpaid social media has proven effective in by-passing conventional pay-to-play media messaging.

The failure of the Florida legislature, of Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, and of Governor Rick Scott to exercise the U.S. Sugar option in 2015 is directly responsible for today's outrage: "if you had bought U.S. Sugar lands, we would be on the way to a solution of the inequities surrounding Lake Okeechobee pollution." It didn't happen in 2015, and then the rains began to fall.

Instead of admitting failure, Florida under Gov. Rick Scott is doubling down; launching unprecedented, coordinated attacks through the South Florida Water Management District at the same time that Big Sugar is flooding the airwaves and newspapers with full page ads. In a press statement yesterday, the District wrote:

Today, the Caloosahatchee River Watch group is holding what was advertised as a public forum to discuss the C-43 Reservoir project. However, this "forum" will consist solely of one-sided detractors in pursuit of an agenda without facts to support it. Caloosahatchee River Watch did not contact the South Florida Water Management District that designed and is building the reservoir, to invite any of the agency's noted scientists and engineers to explain its benefits. Any complete and fair discussion of this reservoir must include relevant facts.

Relevant facts include: buy Big Sugar lands, send clean, fresh water south. But that is not what the District wants the public to hear. The District has turned into the propaganda arm of state government.

In recent months, Big Sugar has; hired paid actors to attend District events to promote its agenda, swamped local TV news and state newspapers with advertisements, used political operatives to slime opponents.

Gov. Scott and Ag. Secretary Putnam may be afraid for their political futures as a result of the fury their actions have triggered among constituents. The South Florida Water Management District should stick to science, not antagonizing taxpayers.


Anonymous said...

It is time to take back our state from corrupt politicians and the gutless wonders who do their bidding at Water Management.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. Finally someone speaking out.

Anonymous said...

Millennials. They don't buy ca ca of corrupt politicians, but they are not informed of these facts. They were watching cartoons when Crist cut the Sugar Deal, its not a known history for them. But they out number Baby Boomers and can control the electorate. Its all about messaging to the Millennials.

cyndi said...

Thank you. The propaganda needs to stop. If big sugar has enough money to buy an incredible amount of ad space on the tv and in our papers they also do not need their subsidies. If SFWMD is complicit in spending our tax dollars on propaganda they need to be fired.

Chas said...

SFWMD = Sugar Farmers Weapon of Mass Destruction

Robin Hilliard said...

I simply can't believe the negative hype about U.S. Sugar. 99% of anti-sugar comments are nothing but mean-spirited personal attacks. That kind of approach made me look at sugar more favorably and I'm finding that they are NOT responsible for all the hell breaking loose in South Florida waterways.

marcd1 said...

Buying U.S. Sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee to send clean water south is not logical. There's already publicly-owned land south of the lake that can be used. The public land has an area of approximately 100,000 acres where U.S. Sugar's land is only 46,000 acres – far too small to handle the task. Buying it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Anonymous said...

marcd1...what? where exactly is that publicly-owned land, and is it suitable to store major amounts of water? And since when does US Sugar only own 46,000 acres?