Friday, July 08, 2016

Time For Eminent Domain In Big Sugar Lands ... by gimleteye

After reading the Everglades Trust letter dated July 6 to Gov. Rick Scott calling for eminent domain in the Everglades Agricultural Area, I was curious how many years I've written on the issue; a legal taking in the Everglades Agricultural Area in order to provide enough storage capacity to prevent Florida's estuaries from being bombed with toxic puke from Lake Okeechobee and eventually, to be able to send clean, fresh water south.

Many years. Here is one from December 2013:

The Palm Beach Post editorial board published the best Everglades related editorial of the year and it warrants wide circulation. The editorial is a little fuzzy on the lawsuit settlement that resulted in an agreement to invest nearly $900 million in Everglades treatment marshes. The lawsuit that triggered the settlement was initiated by the group where I serve as volunteer board president, Friends of the Everglades.

At any rate, the point is clear: Big Sugar's domination of political processes only strengthened under the disastrous term of Gov. Rick Scott and an extremist GOP legislature willing to do the industry's bidding at every single turn. The Democrats, for their part, are far from blameless. Gov. Charlie Crist and his predecessor, Jeb Bush, paid lip service to environmental and growth management policies that could have buffered the industry's influence. Never happened. (Gov. Scott's most egregious action was to authorize the elimination of the science capacity of the South Florida Water Management District: in other words, to ensure that the disastrous results of his Everglades policies could not be measured meaningfully.)

A former Friend of the Everglades' staffer, Joe Podgor, coined the following: "The Everglades is a test. If we pass, we get to keep the planet." What Podgor meant was that restoring the Everglades is not only achievable; all the players, the pieces of the puzzle, are visible and measurable in South Florida. If we can't fix the Everglades, what can we fix?

Apparently, nothing.

That's why on this blog, I embrace the mantra: Big Sugar poisons people, poisons Democracy, and poisons the Everglades.

Voters should demand a "no sugar money" pledge from elected officials, with the same force as other pledges like Grover Norquist's because if sugar's domination of Tallahassee and Washington doesn't represent taxation without representation, I don't know what does.

Editorial: Deal for sugar land bad for public, but still in the public interest
Updated: 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 | Posted: 7:18 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013

By Randy Schultz - Editorial Writer

We see again that however important Everglades restoration is to Florida, it will happen on the sugar industry’s terms.

In mid-2012, Gov. Rick Scott sold the Obama administration on a new state plan for saving what remains of the Everglades. Gov. Scott had no environmental credentials, but he wanted out from the 1988 lawsuit that forced the state to start cleaning water that runs from sugar cane fields into the Everglades. A special tax on the 16 counties of the South Florida Water Management District and on the farmers in the Everglades Agricultural Area finances projects to store and treat such runoff.

For Gov. Scott to please the White House and the federal judge overseeing the lawsuit, the state needs more land for those projects. A key piece is roughly 4,600 acres owned by Florida Crystals and Gladeview Holdings. It would double the size of a treatment area for water that goes into the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County. Florida Crystals and Gladeview would trade that land for 8,600 acres the state owns.

Knowing how much the state needed the land, however, Florida Crystals also demanded a 30-year lease to keep farming about 8,000 acres of state land. The 1994 Everglades Forever Act limits such leases to 20 years, so the land can be available sooner for restoration work. But the sugar industry has far more power in Tallahassee than environmental groups, and in January Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet approved the longer lease. That action prompted a lawsuit by the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Two weeks ago, The Post’s Christine Stapleton reported that the water management district missed the Sept. 30 deadline to close on the deal acquiring the Florida Crystals/Gladeview land. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the five water management districts, blamed the federation’s lawsuit and extended the deadline to Jan. 30.

That blame is misplaced. Last spring, as part of what disingenuously labeled environmental regulation bill, the Legislature codified those 30-year leases by blocking any lawsuits to overturn them. More likely, Florida Crystals and Gladeview are holding out for even more favors, though Ms. Stapleton showed how the deal already is a lopsided one, with the public getting the short end by about $25 million.

When the companies demanded the longer leases, the state could have started eminent domain proceedings to take the land, with an arbitrator determining the price. But though the sugar industry has caused much of the pollution in the Everglades, the industry’s campaign donations in Florida and Washington insulate it from such challenges — even as The Washington Post reports that the federal program to support sugar prices costs the government $300 million each year and raises prices for consumers.

Still, the water management district should meet the new deadline, with no more favors for the industry. The land is vital to Everglades restoration, and Everglades restoration is vital to Florida.

Randy Schultz
for The Post Editorial Board

One of the great outrages of our era in Florida is the failure of Florida's governing majority to heed the call of so many, including 207 scientists in 2015 pleading with the Rick Scott administration to initiate large-scale land purchases in the EAA through exercising its option to buy U.S. Sugar Corporation lands.

Here is the text of the Everglades Trust letter to Gov. Scott:

July 6, 2016

The Honorable Rick Scott, Governor
State of Florida
PL 05 The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399

Dear Governor Scott:

As Florida’s chief executive officer, you hold the power to initiate the solution to the ongoing collapse of vital areas of South Florida, as well as the Everglades eco-system, due to continual discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee to the east coast and west coast and a woefully inadequate supply of clean freshwater to the Everglades and Florida Bay in the Florida Keys.

The time is now to prepare for the reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, in the EAA. It has been 16 years since the State of Florida agreed to this project. You, alone, possess the authority to make it a reality.

As you are aware, a storage reservoir in the EAA has been an integral part of CERP since its inception. More than 200 independent scientists have determined it is the only way to reduce the harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges, hydrate the central Everglades wetlands and stabilize the salinity levels within Florida Bay, while ensuring the safety of the source of water supply for 8 million Floridians.

We respectfully request you begin a 30-day process of personal meetings with the four or five major landowners south of Lake Okeechobee to determine their willingness to donate, sell or convey the 60,000 acres necessary to implement the EAA reservoir solution. Of course, you still have the right to exercise the current option to purchase US Sugar’s land, which expires in 2020.

However, if after 30 days you are unable to find a willing seller or sellers, please immediately begin the process of eminent domain, recognizing that this necessary tool of government will provide compensation to the affected landowners. The circumstances are as dire as that statement suggests.

Thank you for your careful consideration of our request and your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Kimberly Mitchell
Executive Director

1 comment:

JollyMonSouth said...

And the price support is the dagger....