Tag Archives: Destruction of the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon

The Seeds of U.S. Sugar’s Success, Canal Point, SLR/IRL

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Sugar ration ad WW1

Before we begin today’s lesson, two major changes must be recognized. First after almost a year, the ACOE halted the destructive Lake Okeechobee discharges to the St Lucie River. These releases began January 29th, and lasted through November 4th, 2016.

And on Tuesday, November 8th, Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election over Hillary Clinton, an election considered the most remarkable and unpredictable in over 100 years…

Now back to our Road Trip series:

Most recently we have traveled to Canal Point, the first town south of the Martin County line on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. This almost forgotten little town has an amazing history, and holds the seeds of today’s expansive Everglades Agriculture Area and of  United States Sugar Corporation itself.

The easiest way to take this drive through history is a timeline. So let’s crank up the car and begin!

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Connors’ Hwy 1920s Florida Memory

1914-1918 – World War 1. Sugar rationing across the nation.

1917- The West Palm Beach Canal is constructed, intersecting at Canal Point, allowing transportation of goods and internal land development around Lake Okeechobee

1918-After the war, Congress holds hearings about concerns that the county should “never again” get into a position where domestic sugar production is just 1.7 billion. The United States Department of Agriculture opens a sugarcane research central at Canal Point that still operates today-a hundred years later.

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Original USDA lab/office, Canal Point (Wiki)
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2016

1920- The American Legion and Federation of Women’s Clubs mount a national lobbying campaign against the high price of sugar. West Palm Beach chapters lead in support of the effort.

1920- Englishman, F.E. Bryant, already a successful farming business man in Lake Worth, forms the Florida Sugar and Food Products Company working with G.T. Anderson at Canal Point. They buy land and build the first sugar mill by 1921 and encourage expanded sugar farming.

1922-Flooding of some cane fields…they plod on…

1923- 900 acres of sugarcane in Palm Beach County, 800 of it in Canal Point. This is a real success.

1924- Connors’ Highway constructed allowing access in and south of  Lake Okeechobee for more sugar farming and development

1924- More flooding of cane fields– a major set back so Bryant merges his faltering company into a “better capitalized” company in Clewiston. The name of this company is Southern Sugar Company.

1926- Hurricane

1926 Florida land booms slows, beginnings of the Great Depression for Florida

1928 Hurricane- an historic Category 4/5 hits Lake O area coming through West Plam Beach. Up to 3000 people die. Many are never found.

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Coffins at Canal Point, Florida Memory

1931 Businessman and General Motors executive, Charles Stewart Mott purchases Bryant’s failing Southern Sugar Company renaming it United States Sugar Corporation. This is the hugley successful and profitiable Clewiston “US Sugar Corporation” that we know today. http://www.ussugar.com

When I drove through Canal Point a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that this little town held so much history. A history that eventually and unintentionally led to the diking of Lake Okeechobee and the destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

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S-352 at Canal Point/WPB Canal

*Thank you to the book Black Gold and Silver Sands, by James D Synder, and the Palm Beach Historical Society as sources.

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C-23 and its Destruction of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Bessey Creek in 1965, is the exiting point for C-23 into the St Lucie River. The canal was  built between 1959 and  1961.
Bessey Creek and a newly constructed C-23 photographed in 1965. The creek  is the exiting point for C-23 into the St Lucie River. The canal was built between 1959 and 1961. As development of the surrounding lands has increased so has the pollution from the canal. (Photo archives of Sandra Thurlow)

There are three destructive canals that empty into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, C-44 built in the 1920s, and  C-23 and C-24, built later, between 1959 and 1961. They all over time have destroyed the health and integrity of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

C-23 is the canal that boarders northern Martin and southern St Lucie Counties. It was built by the Army Corp of Engineers as part of the Central and and South Florida Flood Control Project that came into being in a “second” gigantic  round of federal funds invested in Florida after a hurricane and extreme flooding in 1947 because, basically, people had built and started farming in areas throughout south Florida that were wetlands or swamps.  The goal of the canal was to divert waters that would have “gone south,” and possibly even north into the St John’s River to the eastern, coastal waters.  As usual, the ACOE  was very successful at the complete cost of the environment.

Thus the C-23 canal drains a 175 square foot basin that includes parts of Okeechobee and St Lucie Counties that originally did not run into the St Lucie River. Once drained, these lands were primarily developed into citrus groves and other agriculture . According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the “urban land use, at the eastern end of the basin, includes solid waste disposal; light industrial, and golf courses.”

C-23 is a filthy canal. It delivers suspended solids, nutrients, fertilizers, and pesticides such as ethion, norflurazon, simazine, bromacil. Metals such as copper and  lead have also been found in the surrounding sediments with concentrations high enough to “constitute toxicity” to fish, seagrasses,  and other animals. You may recall even recently in the news,  a sheepshead, with a huge pink tumor caught right in this area. DEP (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/southeast/ecosum/ecosums/c23.pdf); Tumored fish(http://martincountytimes.com/fish-with-large-tumor-on-head-found-in-palm-citys-bessey-creek-near-st-lucie-estuary)

My middle school aged niece, Mary, lives across the canal in North River Shores;  she chose to do her science fair project on the C-23 this year and found that the canal had the highest level of phosphorus of the three canals. As she grows up, her generation will be working to fix our and our grandparents’ over zealous accomplishments and mistakes. Although our federal, state and local government claims that we’re “working on getting the water right,” it seems like we could do more and a little faster to help them… 

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