SFWMD Recommends Against Approval of Sugar Hill, An Aerial Tour, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Water Structure
Flying west towards Clewiston and the proposed Sugar Hill development, along the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee, looking north, one sees wet lands inside of the lake, the rim canal, a water structure, a southerly canal, agriculture lands, and highways…(All photos, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.)
Black Gold.
An open field exposes the land’s black gold. Pahokee area heading to Clewiston.

On Sunday, a beautiful day, Dr Shawn Engebretsen flew my husband and I, in his Piper Lance, to get a “higher view” of the  proposed Sugar Hill Sector Plan around the area of Clewiston in Hendry County and to get a shot of its heart, Airglades Airport.

I decided to continue this planned trip even though on Friday, October 3rd, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) sent a letter to the state land planning agency “recommending against approving the proposed Sugar Hill Sector Plan, DEO #14-3SP, as it does not provide sufficient information to show that future Everglades restoration efforts will not be harmed…” The letter goes on to give additional comments on flood protection, pollutant loading , irrigation sources, and ecosystem restoration.

Kudos to the SFWMD!

Nonetheless, we must keep a close eye on this the project as it still has other state reviews and could resurrect itself at any time depending on timing, politics, and money.

So let’s go!

The most interesting way to fly to Clewiston from Witham Airfield in Stuart is to follow the C-44 canal from the St Lucie River to Lake Okeechobee and then fly to the southern edge of the lake. In doing so one sees the towns/cities of Canal Point, Pahokee, Bell Glade and South Bay on the easterly and southern side of the lake and Clewiston and Moore Haven further west.

It is a huge place out here and time and space somehow seem enlarged, like in the American West. The distances are vast and it takes a while to get one’s bearing.

After about thirty minutes, passing Pahokee and Bell Glade, hugging the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee and looking out toward the horizon one finally one sees, emerging out of the smoke of its processing plant, the historic city of Clewiston.

Lake Okeechobee.
Lake Okeechobee, cities and agricultural lands.
Circling over the city of Clewiston, the headquarters of US Sugar.
Circling over the city of Clewiston, the headquarters of US Sugar.

In the photo above one sees the sugar processing plant (smoke), the old Clewiston Airport which is no longer functioning, parts of the city and the agriculture lands south. The sector map below shows this same area but looking straight on. Clewiston is the gray square at the edge of the lake.

Sugar Hill Sector Plan map, Clewiston area. Courtesy of Miller, Legg.
Sugar Hill Sector Plan map, Clewiston area. Courtesy of Miller, Legg.

Continuing, the next landmarks out in this open agricultural land, one sees the Airglades Airport and Highway 27 turning north. This area would be the “heart” of a Sugar Hill development. Right now there is just the air strip and miles and miles of agricultural lands. I believe many in this area are citrus.

Airglades Airpot
Airglades Airport and surrounding agricultural lands.
Looking south to Highway  27 turning north.
Looking south to Highway 27 turning north-miles of agricultural fields.
Map of Airglades Airport and surrounding proposed development. (Courtelsy of Miller /Legg.)
Map of Airglades Airport and surrounding proposed development. Note curve in highway 27 at top left side quickly turning north. Courtesy of Miller /Legg.

The third area on the far western edge of the proposed Sugar Hill development has Lake Hipochee as a landmark. Lake Hipochee was the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee River that Hamilton Disston put a canal through and dynamited its waterfall in order to lower Lake  Okeechobee in the late 1800s.  Although the lake appears as “a lake” on maps it has been destroyed by drainage and is now a sprawling wetland.

Lake Hipochee
Lake Hipochee with canal to Lake O.
Lake Hipochee with encroaching agriculture lands.
Lake Hipochee wetlands area with encroaching agriculture lands.
Lake Hipochee and agricultural lands south
“Lake Hipochee” and agricultural lands south into proposed SH sector lands.

So hopefully this little tour has helped you get your bearings and not totally confused you.

Why do we need to know about this?

Basically many of these option lands need to be purchases by the state by October, 2015 for Everglades restoration and or trading for other lands, to create a “flow way south.” Otherwise certainly, in time, there will be one more sprawling city in the area of the historic Everglades blocking it regaining a healthy future and water supply for south Florida. Personally I believe the way to build an economic future for the people south of the lake is through Everglades restoration not development.

But presently, the state does not want to buy these lands as they say there is not enough money to manage them and the purchase would impede on the continuation of projects already in progress.

I believe this to be true, but sometimes you’ve got to take advantage of an opportunity before its gone. Sometimes you just have to “do it,” or you never get another chance.

Entire map of proposed Sugar Hill area.
Entire map of proposed Sugar Hill area. Lake Hipochee is the blue dot in the very upper left corner that is cut off.






10 thoughts on “SFWMD Recommends Against Approval of Sugar Hill, An Aerial Tour, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

  1. You’re making history lady!! We’re in a force, a fight, a spirit that we will all look back someday in our old age and say we did it!! We actually stayed steadfast and beat the giant. I believe and have great hope -and I know the oldest fighters have hope!! (Mark Perry) for one.
    God bless you,

  2. Although we treat the recent Sugar Hill talk like a surprise or new development, it’s actually been trial ballooned by Big Sugar twice before.

    And we should remember that the Water Management District very enthusiastically voted to buy and did contract to buy (and still has an option) to buy the U.S. Sugar land. What changed were the people running the district, under Scott and folks like Sen. Negron. Negron was against the flowway all along.

  3. Jacqui,

    Excellent educational presentation!

    I believe most of the “smoke” you see coming out of the sugar mill is just steam.

    W.E. “Ted” Guy, Jr.

    643 SW Fuge Rd

    Stuart, Fl 34997

    (772) 287-4106 (home)

    (772) 485-1866 (cell/car)


  4. Highly substantive in educating the public on a complex interdisciplinary subject. Creative, analytical, and environmentally empowering. “Belle Glade” has an “e” at the end like a sweet Southern “belle.” I love your blog.

    Reid Friedson
    Professor & Consultant

Leave a Reply