Thursday, January 11, 2018

What Senate President Joe Negron Should Do About The Lemon Reservoir Plan ... by gimleteye

It will cost $2 billion. It won't clean water for the Everglades and it won't protect the upstream estuaries. All the plan for a massive new reservoir will do is cement the prerogatives of the state's powerful cartel, Big Sugar.

The reservoir plan was the most important piece of work that emerged from the Florida legislature last year; an initiative at the insistence of then in-coming Senate president Joe Negron because the previous year, toxic puke from Lake Okeechobee had coated his constituents in a bath of guacamole thick algae. The lake (thank you, climate change) had risen alarmingly high in dry season. Something had to be done. Now that details are emerging, the accolades are dying too.

I don't want to get into the weeds on what the legislature passed and Gov. Scott signed into law. Basically, they agreed to create the largest man-made structure in Florida: a mini-Lake Okeechobee south of the 500,000 acres where sugarcane is grown. They want to do it on public land to clean up private industry's pollution because -- well -- that's how we roll in Florida.

What I want to focus on is Rod Tirrell.
Activist Rod Tirrell in an undated photo. (Courtesy, Matt Schwartz)
Rod was an Everglades warrior. He passed away this week, far too young, leaving behind school-age twins in Broward County. In the late 1990's Rod -- a volunteer board member of the Broward Sierra Club Group -- was part of a team of Club activist leaders struggling to come to terms with the Clinton administration and Lawton Chiles plan to save the Everglades. It was called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and became law of the land in 2000.

Rod argued strongly that Sierra Club should NOT support the plan because it failed to include a way to store and treat enough of Big Sugar's pollution to solve the problem of dirty water contaminating the Everglades and Florida Bay. That's the same problem we face today.

Back in the mid-1990's, most mainstream environmental groups, led by Audubon, said: this is the best we are going to get. Senator Bob Graham and Floridian, then EPA administrator Carol Browner said, this is the best you are going to get. The debate raged within Sierra Club ranks for years. Sierra Club was persuaded by its allies; "Let's take this now and live to fight another day."

Rod wasn't involved with Sierra Club when last year environmentalists said the same thing in support of what emerged from the sausage grinder in Tallahassee. He never lost his love for the Everglades but drifted away from Sierra Club after its decision to support CERP in 2000.

Today, the same environmental groups are in a crisis over the Negron plan which started with best intentions and turned into a lemon.

This week, the water management district -- whose board is appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, now the undeclared Republican candidate for US Senate -- released a glossy, PR heavy "plan" in Tallahassee. It is basically for a man-made reservoir as much as 19 feet deep. Its walls will have to be thirty to forty feet high to prevent over-topping in case of hurricanes.

Although district scientists pledge it will work, remember Rod Tirrell: two decades after governmental agencies all agreed that 10 parts per billion phosphorous pollution must be achieved for the Everglades to survive, it still hasn't happened. As the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians pointed out in an acidic letter to the governor and legislature yesterday, the only way you can claim things are going great with water quality in Florida is to make up the numbers.

So here is what the governor and legislature need to understand: you can waste a year doing more "planning" how to fit 10 gallons of sludge into a one gallon bucket or you can go back and fix last year's bill.

A fix would require Senate president Joe Negron to do heavier lifting than any Florida leader has ever done in opposition to the sugar cartel.

The fix would require stripping from the current law, the provisions that prohibit eminent domain (yes, the same eminent domain that President Trump will need to use to build that wall), that prohibit the state from negotiating with unwilling sellers, and the provision for the C51 reservoir that awarded one billionaire family, the Fanjuls, a path to use their land to sell dirty rainwater/ flood runoff to Floridians for water supply. These three poison pills found their way into last year's law because Big Sugar squeezed the legislature. Scott and the cabinet agreed to be squeezed. And Democrats in the state senate helped because they too love to be squeezed by Big Sugar.

We've already heard Big Sugar's answer to its critics, "Take your seat at the back of the bus. Be grateful you have anything at all." Like Rod Tirrell, many who love Florida's water, Florida's quality of life, and depend on a healthy, vibrant tourism industry have been at this a long time. It costs nothing to tell the truth about a piece of legislation. Rod Tirrell wouldn't have it any other way, and that is why he was a real Everglades warrior.


Geniusofdespair said...

Omg Rod passed away? I am so sad.

Anonymous said...

Great piece,Alan. So sorry to hear about Rod. Hope everyone reads the Miccosuki letter. It is right on point. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Great piece,Alan. So sorry to hear about Rod. Hope everyone reads the Miccosuki letter. It is right on point. Keep up the good work.

Cyndi said...

Part of EVCO cris costello held a panel. Video on my facebook page.

Zach Tirrell said...

As one of Rod’s two “school-age twins”, I’d just like to say thank you for paying homage to my father. He loved the environment with all his heart and it means a lot that you took the time to honor him for his work.