Tag Archives: Florida Legislature

“War–” US Sugar and The Everglades Trust, SLR/IRL

 

File photo, WWII bomber. (Public photo.)
File photo, WWII bomber, “flying over fields”. (Public photo.)

I must begin by saying  that my recent blogging has been somewhat “uncomfortable” for me, as I was raised to act like a “lady,” and recently I feel more like a fighter pilot.

Politics sometimes makes “being a lady” a difficult goal, so I do apologize to anyone, such as my mother, who may be offended by my relentless “fighting” blog posts recently regarding the importance of  state purchase of the 46,800 acres of option lands for sale by US Sugar Corporation.

As a warning, mom and others, today’s blog post will be more of the same, as a “type of war” has started.

—-A war of information. A war to influence our governor and legislature….a war over how to use Florida’s Amendment 1 monies….a war to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, Caloosahatchee, Everglades, and drinking water for South Florida, or just to keep the “status-quo…”

In order to explain this, I will share what has happened over the past few days…

Option Lands Map SFWMD River of Grass, Option 1 is 46,800 acres and shown in brown. (SFWMD map, 2010)
Option Lands Map SFWMD River of Grass, Option 1 is 46,800 acres and shown in brown. US Sugar and the state are resisting the purchase of  these lands with Amd. 1 monies…(SFWMD map, 2010.)

On Wednesday, February 18th, Eric Draper, the Executive Director of Florida Audubon, (http://fl.audubon.orgwas quoted in a “Sunshine State News” piece as saying (regarding the flow way south) “—it will never happen, it’s pie in the sky…”

Knowing Mr Draper and knowing that words in news articles often are twisted for effect, I wrote Audubon immediately asking about the situation.  Mr Draper replied with an apologetic email and a letter he had written that day to Governor Scott in support of purchasing the option lands. See below:

Eric Draper, Executive Director of Florida Audubon. (http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2013-06-26/news/sfl-about-eric-draper-south-florida-100_1_land-conservation-florida-house-florida-legislature)
Eric Draper, Executive Director of Florida Audubon. (http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2013-06-26/news/sfl-about-eric-draper-south-florida-100_1_land-conservation-florida-house-florida-legislature)

Dear Ed and Jacqui, (Commissioner, Ed Fielding not my husband Ed!) 🙂

In my effort to promote the idea of an EAA reservoir and distinguish that from the hard to explain Plan Six I unwittingly played into a storyline not my own. I found the story confusing and somewhat unrelated to what I was trying to say. Nevertheless, I am sure that folks are disappointed to hear me discount the flow way and that was not my word or intent. As an 30 year advocate for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee I feel strongly about moving water south. Audubon will continue to work on getting the US Sugar land purchased for the purpose of establishing a CERP reservoir.

I apologize to both of you and to all the supporters of the idea of Plan Six and a flow way.

Eric Draper
Executive Director

Audubon FLORIDA

Email from Eric Draper regarding article and quote. (2-18-15)
Email from Eric Draper regarding article and quote. (2-18-15)

 

Eric Draper, Florida Audubon's,  letter to Governor Scott. (2-18-15)
Eric Draper, Florida Audubon’s, letter to Governor Scott. (2-18-15.)

I believe Mr Draper did not mean for his words as they were reported. Speaking with the media is sometimes tricky business and anyone who speaks to them long enough will feel that he or she has been “misquoted.”  Mr Draper’s  work is one of the main reasons Amendment 1 passed in the first place, and you can see by his letter above to Governor Scott he supports buying the option lands.

OK, one bomb down…Two to go….

So then on Saturday, Feb 21st, I get an email from my Florida League of Cities colleague,  Teresa Heitman,  who is a councilwoman for the City of Naples. She simply forwarded me an email she had received from US Sugar Corporation. You can click on the image below to read it, but basically it says: “Send the Water South?” “Not so fast”…and gives three articles supporting why the option lands should not be purchased,  why the “enviros”are nuts, and  one of the articles quoted is the one quoting  Eric Draper that I mentioned above!

As an aside, and as an elected official myself, I must say that I find it in poor taste that this email was sent from US Sugar Corporation directly to an elected official. Maybe Council- woman Heitman is on a “mailing list” for US Sugar, but this seems doubtful to me.

How many other elected officials were sent this email and why is US Sugar sending it out?

On the other hand, it kind of made me feel good when I saw it–like they were threatened by the grassroots river movement here along the St Lucie  River/Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades in general. Kind of ironic to think that US Sugar would need to influence elected officials with direct emails; seems like they already do that with everything else they do like spending millions of dollars on lobbying politicians…….sending this “tiny” email makes them look kind of desperate….

—obviously we have more influence than we realize….

Hmmm?

Also, the thought of a “David and Goliath” fight  is very appealing to me, as in that story, as we all know, David wins…

US Sugar email 2-21-15.
US Sugar email forwarded to me 2-22-15.
US Sugar Corperation
US Sugar Corporation heading on email.

Below is part of the email from US Sugar, just so you can see it. I also made sure the hyperlinks worked in case you want to read the “email bombs” being sent out.

Buy the land? Send the water south? Not so fast…

Dear Teresa,

In case you missed it, please find below highlights from a few recent articles discussing the constraints, risks and concerns with purchasing the U.S. Sugar land option to create a flow-way to send water south to the Everglades:

You can access the articles in their entirety by clicking on the hyperlinked titles.
1. Officials to enviros: Buying land, moving lake water south has risks

By: Christine Stapleton, Palm Beach Post
February 12, 2015

South Florida Water Management District officials made no commitments to several dozen environmental activists who begged them Thursday to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration, and for the first time they laid out the hurdles and risks they face in making such a buy. (http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/frustrated-enviros-buy-land-to-clean-everglades-be/nj82R/)

2. Speaker Crisafulli: Don’t buy land south of Lake O

By: Christine Stapleton, Palm Beach Post
February 18, 2015

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, says he opposes the controversial land deal that would enable the South Florida Water Management District to purchase 46,800 acres of land south of the lake at fair market value. (http://postonpolitics.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2015/02/18/speaker-crisafulli-dont-buy-land-south-of-lake-o/)

3. Eric Draper: Lake Okeechobee to Everglades Flowway ‘Will Never Happen’
By: Nancy Smith, Sunshine State News
February 18, 2015

Sending water south from Lake Okeechobee to meander naturally through the Everglades — the “flowway” endorsed by the Everglades Foundation as the only way — “will never happen, it’s pie in the sky,” admitted one of Florida’s leading voices on environmental policy. (http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/environmentalist-lake-okeechobee-everglades-flowway-will-never-happen)

——–From an email from US Sugar Corporation sent out 2-22-15.

 

Two bombs down, one more to go! 

 

OK, so tonight, Sunday, February 22nd, a friend contacted me asking: “Jacqui, did you see the commercial? The “buy the land” commercial!” I said I had not, and read the link he sent.

Commercial for Saving Florida's Waters, purchase the US Sugar option lands. (2-22-15.)
Commercial for Saving Florida’s Waters, purchase the US Sugar option lands. (2-22-15.)

See commercial here: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8HmRTY2OI0)

Wow. What a commercial! A very big bomb!

The  60-second TV spot starts airing  2-22-15 and  sponsored by the  Everglades Trust (http://www.evergladestrust.org) is running on cable and broadcast stations in Tampa Bay, Orlando, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Tallahassee.

The scrip reads: 

“Decades of uncontrolled pollution in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee is endangering our health, killing our wildlife and threatening our drinking water.

Four years ago, the sugar industry signed a binding written contract to sell us land to clean up their pollution, and for a reservoir to protect our water.

It’s been called the most critical piece of land ever for Everglades restoration. Last November, 75% of Floridians voted YES to Amendment 1, making vital land purchases for the Everglades a part of the Florida Constitution.

Now, it’s up to the Governor to back it and the Legislature to fund it.

Call the Governor, call your legislator, and tell them to buy the land. Build the reservoir. And save Florida’s drinking water. Now, while there’s still time.

Sign the petition here SAVING FLORIDA WATER: (http://savingflwater.com)

Article Tampa Bay Blog: (http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/a-new-tv-campaign-presses-for-purchase-of-us-sugar-land/2218650)

So I think that this is a war of sorts. Between US Sugar and the Everglades Trust. For most readers of my blog interested in saving the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, our ideology is that of the Everglades Trust….

In closing, when you have some extra time, please write to Governor Scott below, and sign the petition above, asking to support the purchase of option lands. And feel good about the influence you are already having in the war to save the Indian River Lagoon!

Write Governor Scott here: (http://www.flgov.com/contact-governor/)

Colorized version of file photo, bomber WWII. (Public .)
Colorized version of file photo, bomber over farm lands, WWII. (Public .)

 

Sugar Hill Sector Plan/Airglades Airport’s Location and How it Affects the Indian River Lagoon

Sugar Hill Sector Plan and Airglades Airport's location in reference to Lake Okeechobee, (Maps, iPhone, 2014.)
Sugar Hill Sector Plan and Airglades Airport’s location in reference to Lake Okeechobee, (Maps, iPhone, 2014.)

Since last week, you may have seen press on “Sugar Hill and Airglades Airport,” a land use change proposal located in Hendry County southwest of Lake Okeechobee. This is a highly controversial, approximately 67 square miles, of present “farmland” that could change to residential, (up to 18,000 homes), and commercial lands, built around an airport that is already in place with the potential to expand.

Just for comparison, the Airglades Airport runway is 5900 feet long while Witham Airport’s in Stuart is 5800 according to my husband Ed. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airglades_Airport)

Anyway, this morning I do not have time to debate this issue in detail, but I will say of course that it is a true “game changer.” I wanted to SHOW where these lands are located in reference to lands that are still available for purchase by the state of Florida due to an option you may have heard of as well.

If purchased, these “option” lands would be key in Everglades restoration from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and restoring some pathetic remnant of its historic flow.

Presently, the state does not want to buy these lands because politicians claim there is no money to maintain them and if they were bought the lands will just end up “sitting there,” at great expense until a possible time they could be utilized in the future, like 2060.

This argument may sound “reasonable” but in order to save the Everglades and the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, purchasing these lands is critical and should be done “now” because if these lands are not purchased “now,” as the Sugar Hill Sector Plan shows, their land use could be changed  and then the lands will be too expensive for the state to ever purchase. Market value for agricultural lands is less than residential. Sometimes life demands you spend money now to save in the future.

So, just so we know where we are talking about, where are these Sugar Hill and Airglades lands located? See map below.

Airglades Airport and the Sugar Hill Sector plan are located south west of Clewiston by about five miles on the west side of Lake O along Hwy. 27.
Airglades Airport and the Sugar Hill Sector plan are located south west of Clewiston by about five miles on the west side of Lake O along Hwy. 27.

They are located on Highway 27 west of Clewiston. Highway 27 runs through the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee connecting both coasts. The Airglades Airport and Sugar Hill Sector Proposal are located right before the highway shoots north. See red dots above and below. The 67 square miles of Sugar Hill Proposed Sector lands are “around” the airport. I do not know exactly where, but I would think mostly south.

At closer view, one can see the Airglades Airport  amongst the sugar fields.
At closer view, one can see the Airglades Airport amongst the sugar fields.

Now if we look at a partial map of the option lands we can see that the Airglades Airport and Sugar Hill Sector Proposal are located in lands that were designated for purchase to one day benefit Everglades restoration for posterity. (Dark green is of “most importance” and yellow is of “importance,” both are option lands…)

Map showing option lands close to Clewiston.
Map showing option lands close to Clewiston.

Overall EAA option lands:

Option Lands marked for purchase for Everglades restoration under former gov. Charlie Crist. The deal fell apart due to politics and the financial crisis of  2008--a much smaller land purchase ensued.
Option Lands marked for purchase for Everglades restoration under former Gov. Charlie Crist. The deal fell apart due to politics and the financial crisis of 2008–a much smaller land purchase ensued.

OK…so how would this fit into the Plan 6, River of Grass restoration? Please keep in mind Plan 6 and all “plans” are fluid as they have not happened yet…The amount of water we are talking about it almost beyond comprehension and requires great areas of land beyond lines on a sheet of paper. So even though this Plan 6 chart concentrates flow between the Miami and New River Canals the lands west of this area where Sugar Hill would be located are part of the overall restoration plan for this area as we can tell from the option lands maps above.

Plan 6.
Plan 6.
Plan 6, River of Grass.
Plan 6 flow, River of Grass.

In conclusion, and to repeat myself:  all the lands marked as option lands are important for the overall Everglades/Northern Estuaries restoration project. The Sugar Hill Sector Plan, if successful, is setting a precedent for changes in agricultural land use in Florida. There may be no turning back on this at this point as the Scott Administration gutted the Department of Community Affairs  that used to keep such land use changes in check.  As usual the state of Florida has put development  before restoration of natural lands and water’s protection.

When Florida’s future waters are  just one big toxic algae bloom, and people do not want to live here, I wonder if some of our politicians will wish they had voted another way? Oh but they will be dead like me, so I guess it doesn’t matter….

It does matter. It matters almost more than anything in the world. Please make your voice known and let’s leave something to the children of the future other than cookie cutter homes.

_________________________

Tampa Bay Times Article, Sugar Hill: (http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/us-sugar-plans-development-on-land-florida-wanted-for-everglades/2196332)

Understanding Appropriations for the IRL & Okeechobee Basin, Fiscal Year 2014-2015

Florida League of Cities, 2014. (Photo FLC/Negron)
Florida League of Cities, 2014. (Photo FLC/Negron)

Senator Joe Negron, Senate Appropriations Chair, and leader of the “Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee,” brought home more money for the IRL compared to any other water body in the state: $231,998,021. Our springs comrades  who have been publicly fighting ten years longer than us, brought home 30 million. Tallahassee is wondering who this new kid on the block is, us….

Appropriations chart IRL/L.O. Basin 2014/15. (Senator Negron's  Office)
Appropriations chart IRL/L.O. Basin 2014/15. (Senator Negron’s Office)

Whether you are a fan or not, it must be noted that Senator Negron stuck his neck out, possibly compromising his senate presidency, to get our “name on the map” as far as Tallahassee  goes. Prior to last year, most “good ‘ol boys in Tallahassee would have said, “Indian River Lagoon…Hmmmm? Creature of the Indian Lagoon, ain’t that a movie?”

Nonetheless, I do not pretend to think that these monies alone will cure the lagoon’s ills, as the gorilla in the room has not been addressed “head on and in its entirety:” the releases from Lake Okeechobee through S-308 and S-80. I believe this will come in time if we keep fighting.

In my opinion, the biggest part of change is the first step. With the outrage of the public over the “Lost Summer’s” toxic St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, and the support of Senator Negron, one of the few  people in a the legislature with the seniority and status to act somewhat independently of demanding party pressures to conform, we have taken the first step forward to fixing the lagoon. Actually, a leap.

WE MUST CONTINUE, YES! But let’s be happy that we have made public progress on a state level more than ever before, and let’s look at what we received, as we should be aware of the gift of public monies from people all over our great state and be full of gratitude. 

It’s a lot to go over, but it is important, so I will simply go down the list and summarize. Let’s look at the map as well. Please remember the SLR/IRL is part of the greater Everglades system, from the Kissimmee River area in Orlando, south to the Tamiami Trail in Dade, and beyond to Florida Bay.  So anything done to help “the system,” helps us move water south, and with our health as well.

Fascility and Infrastructure Location Map Index, 2014. (Senator Negron's Office)
IRL/L.O. Fascility and Infrastructure Location Map Index, 2014. (Senator Negron’s Office)
Key to star/locations on map.
Key to stars/locations on map.

Here we go!

1. $32,000,000 for Water Quality storage in Storm Water Treatment Area 1 in Palm Beach County. Water storage is key to stop releasing so much into the estuaries.

2. $3,000,000 for Best Management Practices (BMPs) for farmers in the St Lucie, Lake O, and Caloosahatee watersheds. It is difficult to swallow more public money going to help farmers with pollution runoff, but there is no other way to do this. We must continue to help fund them, big or small. This is a historical issue as they have been here since the 1800s in many cases. I look at it like “grandfathering” with an extra requirement, as in real estate. The good news is that as time goes on, agriculture businesses will have higher standards to avoid pollution fertilizer, pesticides and fungicide runoff that is killing our waterbodies. Hopefully we can make changes before the rivers and springs die off completely.

3. $40,000,00  for the C-44 Storm Water Treatment Area/reservoir in Martin County. This will offset local drainage farm and urban runoff along the C-44 canal, not water from Lake Okeechobee. We must clean our local runoff as well as it is responsible for around 50% of the destruction to our estuary and on an everyday basis.

4. $2,000,000 CERP Picayune Strand east of Naples in Collier County. This area is important to the southern glades and needs monitoring and vegetative management for water flow and storage and improvement. Hopefully it will help some panthers too!

5. $5,000,000 C-111 South Dade. This is a crucial water delivery system to allow more water to “go south.” A  must.

6. $5,000,000 Kissimmee River Restoration. The all time worst thing ever done in Florida other than dike Lake O and redirect the water to the estuaries, was to straighten the Kissimmee River. (Hold my tongue!) Restoration of the ox bows must continue. So far the ACOE has restored about 22 miles of the 56 miles of what was once 153 miles of gorgeous serpentine like, vegetative, wildlife filled, cleansing waters.

7. $18,000,000 C-43 STA along Caloosahatchee River. This is the equivalent of C-44 STA/reservoir for the Caloosahatchee.  Only fair. C-43 is a must. They take up to three times the polluted runoff from Lake Okeechobee that we do!

8. $20,000,000 IRL muck removal in northern lagoon. The northern IRL has lost 60% of their seagrasses and has 2 Unexplained Mortality Events including manatee, dolphin, and pelican die offs. Give them what they need! Sediment/muck fills the lagoon over the years from canal runoff covering seagrasses; when stirred up, it releases legacy pollution. GET THE MUCK OUT!

9. $2,075,000 Lake Worth Lagoon. Lake Worth does not get the attention it needs being in development happy Palm Beach County. This area was once full of sea grass and life but not after years of receiving dump water from Lake O, like us, but through a different canal. Local advocate, Lee  Shepard, is a great advocate for this part of the lagoon. Let’s help!

10. $4,000,000 Water Quality research for  Harbor Branch and ORCA. Although it is hard to justify “more tests,” as we can all see the lagoon is dying, these new, scientific studies will help us find sources to our pollution issues that the legislature can’t ignore.  Septic leakage,  especially, is difficult to trace without such systems. LOBOS and Kilroys, please help us!

11. $1,000,000 Oyster recovery programs for St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Millions of dollars worth of  oysters, natural and deployed by government programs, died during the fresh water discharges of 2013 and years before. One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day. Government in action….

12. $90,000,000 NUMBER ONE NECESSITY  is raising the Tamiami Trail in Dade County so water is not blocked off from going south. They should raise the whole  road as the road built in the 1920s cuts off the flow of water south to the Everglades  for the entire state. (Another environmental nightmare to fix.)

13, $2,7769,585 This money will be used for pump improvements etc to move more water south and cut away vegetation blocking water “going south,” or hold water in the C-43/44 reservoirs that would go into the estuaries.

14. $2,076,728 The Loxahatchee is one of two “Wild & Scenic Rivers” in the state of Florida and home to tremendous amounts of wildlife. Helping with storm water runoff and preservation is key for the health of this important part of the Everglades System.

15. $2,076,718 The St Lucie Rivers Issues Team has a long history of working with local governments for “close to home” projects along the SLR/IRL. Kathy LaMartina at its helm, South Florida Water Management District. Thank you!

Grand total= $231,998,021

I am  grateful to the state legislature, especially Senator Negron, and I must note Governor Scott did not veto one line. But please know everyone, the “fight for right” along the Indian River Lagoon has just begun!

 

 

 

 

Florida’s Legislative Session, How Can it Work for the Indian River Lagoon?

"Save our River," River Kidz FDOT recycled art sign, now in Washington DC, office of Congressman Patrick Murphy. (Photo JTL)
“Save our River,” River Kidz FDOT recycled art sign, now in Washington DC, office of Congressman Patrick Murphy. (Photo JTL)

After six years as a locally elected official, one thing is clear. I still do not really understand how the Florida Legislature works or how to make it work for me, but I’m getting there.

I thought with the Legislative Session convening, today, March 4, 2014, I would try to share what I do think I know or what I think I have figured out.

First of all, the basics. The legislature is composed of two “houses:” the House, that consist of 120 members http://www.myfloridahouse.gov

and a  Senate, that is composed of 40 members http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Senate. Each represents a district according to population.

The House leadership includes Speaker of the House; Speaker pro tempore; Majority Leader; Minority Leader and committee chairs. These House seats come up for reelection every two years. Not fun.

The Senate leadership consist of the President of the Senate; President pro tempore; Majority Leader; Minority Leader and  committee chairs. Senate seats come up for reelection every four years, so you can at least get something going before you have to jump back into the reelection circus.

There are term limits for both the house and the Senate but because they are defined as “consecutive” you can take a break and then jump back in….

So what have they been doing? Well, recently they have been in Tallahassee and had “House and Senate Interim Committee Meetings.” The dates of those meetings were as follows:  September 2013, 23-27; October 7-11; November 4-8; December 9-13;  January 2014, 6-10; 13-17; February 3-7; 10-14; and 17-21.  So what do they do at these “interim meetings?” In their committees they formulate the bills that individuals will sponsor and try to get passed starting today, March 4th, when the session officially begins. This year the last day of session  is May 2nd.  So it is two months of “mayhem …”

A bill can start in the House or the Senate but it has to have a “companion bill” to move forward and be voted upon. Hundreds of bills are brought before the legislature each session but only a fraction will make it into law. You can imagine there are many different interest throughout our varying state…

As the session continues, it is difficult to keep track of everything and bills usually get packaged along with others, sometimes with others that have nothing to do with them. As a locally elected official, this frustrates me as I feel every bill should be considered separately as local ordinances are. Well, this is not the case, and allows for negotiating– better said, “if you help me, I’ll help you,” which at the end of the day is not so bad. What is bad, is that the people, the voting public, have almost no way of keeping up with all this hop-schotching, so we are 100% dependent on our elected officials and those watching out for us at home. To complicate issues further, elected officials are pressured, and blackmailed, mostly by their own party, to do what they need to do to make a deal work or “we won’t let your bill be heard” or “you’ll never get to chair a committee,” especially if you are a freshmen or relatively new to the pecking order.

It takes years to develop the seniority to do what you want, so to speak. Senator Joe Negron http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Negron a good example, as he served in the House before he served in the Senate, then he became the head of the Appropriations Committee (they all sit on committees in some capacity ) and his recent  position has a lot of influence and power. Senator Negron could not have started the “senate Select Committee on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee” years ago; he has earned his position to do such.

So how do you stay on top of all this  politicking ? It  is kind of like holding an angry cat. Hold on tight but be prepared to get scratched. Go on line to the state website and get on email alerts and call your local delegation: here in Martin, St Lucie and Indian River: Senator Joe Negron; Representative Gayle Harrell and Representative Mary Lynn Magar; Representative Debbie Mayfield; Representative Larry Lee,  and tell them you expect them to support  St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon policy and whatever else is important to you; tell them you appreciate what they are doing, and that you are paying attention to reports in the newspaper as far as how they vote. Most of all, be supportive so they support you. And be sure to tell them “good luck not getting scratched.”