Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron is wasting no time in asserting his new power, and influence, by pressuring the Florida Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee to pass Senate Bill SB10, which, if passed by the full senate and house, and signed by the Governor, will put Florida $1.2 billion further in debt, and leave federal taxpayers on the hook for an additional $1.2 billion.
In furtherance of his campaign rhetoric to clean up the environment and redirect Florida’s east and west waterways to the south with billions of taxpayers dollars, Senate president Joe Negron has proposed senate bill SB10 to acquire 60,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee to build a massive water retention reservoir in an effort to capture and store polluted water flowing from the northern Florida watershed and redirect it away from the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and into the Everglades.
When asked which Florida companies would be at risk of loosing their land through government seizure, Negron replied, “Florida Crystals Corp. owns about 60 percent of each parcel while U.S. Sugar Corp. owns about 30 percent of one and King Ranch owns 30 percent of the other. The remaining 10 percent in each parcel has various owners.”
SB10 is estimated to cost at least $2.4 billion in land acquisition and construction costs, but many people believe the costs could climb to well over $4 billion. The bill requires Florida and the federal government to split the cost of the project, so Congress would also have to approve the project if the Florida legislature gives it the green light.
Although Florida TEA Party leaders and conservative organizations had announced their plan to attend and to speak at the committee meeting, they were banned from speaking but other groups were allowed to speak and present their one-side and distorted representation to the committee.
Recently tea party and conservatives launch a website, FloridiansAgainstWaste.org, to put pressure on Sen. Negron and conservatives in the Florida Senate and House.
The Florida Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee passed SB10 after a day of highly publicized protests and a packed committee room from mainly Everglades Foundation members and the other activist organizations that supported the bill and also supported Negron in his accent to power.
Everett “Dirksen” Wilkinson, tea party leader and activist, said “Having witnessed the testimony of so many concerned officials and citizens from across Florida, I am disappointed at the committee’s motion to support a 2.4 billion dollar bill that neither acknowledges the resulting economic devastation to affected communities nor addresses the immediate environmental crisis facing our State. Further, it puts no force toward imperatives that have already been determined as essential to addressing the need, which includes the critical restoration of the Herbert Hoover dike. The reality is we see this as an extremely fiscally irresponsibly strategy that will destroy so much of the local agricultural economy on which we depend and that doesn’t hold to account the existing projects that require completion and urgent State attention. As conservatives, we must oppose this bill. It’s money we don’t have and don’t need to spend for something that won’t fix the problem. Sen. Negron should be ashamed of this bill. We owe taxpayers better legislation.”
The Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida issued a statement saying the proposal represents a loss of jobs and economic activity to the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee. “Taking another 60,000 acres of productive and sustainable farmland out of the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) will without a doubt close down our sugar mill and put us out of business,” said Barbara Miedema, vice president of Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida.
Even though Joe Negron controls much of what happens in the Florida Senate, he also needs to get the approval from the House of Representatives and Governor Rick Scott. Governor Scott has repeatedly reiterated his desire to focus on the environmental projects that are already underway instead of starting new projects and buying more land.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli rejected the idea of buying more land for Everglades restoration, saying the state should better manage the property it has before buying more.
State Rep. Dane Eagle, believes both the state and federal governments should focus more on projects already underway, rather than taking on new projects, stating “It is extremely important, however, that we maintain focus on the unfinished projects we have already undertaken in the Central Everglades Restoration Plan. These projects were designed to stop discharges from Lake Okeechobee and utilize 120,000 acres of land we have already acquired.”
The South Florida Water Management District recently rolled out preliminary data from its plan to clean up the water coming from Lake Okeechobee and from the north of the lake through a combination of one or more reservoirs plus 1,000 and 3,000-foot-deep wells. Jim Moran, chairman of the district’s Water Resources Advisory Commission, said “Multi-faceted storage north of Lake Okeechobee provides a cost-effective, flexible strategy to meet environmental and water supply goals in the South Florida”.
SB10 does not warrant an investment of billions of dollars. The proposed reservoir would be able to hold only 120 billion gallons but that’s only a small percentage of the 740 billion of gallons of Lake Okeechobee water that flowed into the estuaries in 2016. A Corps of Engineers spokeswoman in Jacksonville said the Negron proposal was not discussed with the agency in advance and that more time is needed to analyze it before they could even comment on it.
The current Federal and State Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program has resulted in the reduction of phosphorus levels in the Everglades by 55%, even though the requirement as per the Everglades Restoration Program was only 25%. Today, phosphorus levels throughout the Everglades National Park are only 4 parts per billion. This is a historic low and far below state requirements of 10 parts per billion. Several decades ago, water phosphorus levels were in the triple digits, which highlights the fact that the Federal and State Everglades Restoration Program is working and should not be altered or tampered with, especially without proper oversight from the federal government.
SB10 is an incredibly expensive land grab that makes no hydrologic, environmental or economic sense. It will only disrupt the environmental programs that are already approved and divert resources from projects and efforts that are working. The science doesn’t support the purchase of the southern land. State and federal agencies don’t want it. Agricultural producers oppose it, and those of us who want our tax dollars spent wisely oppose it.