One of the great things about living in the town you grew up in is watching people you know “grow-up,” and be recognized for their contributions to the Treasure Coast community.
One of these people, for me, is Mark Perry, who I have known since my earliest memories. Today, Mark is the Executive Director for Florida Oceanographic Society, (http://www.floridaocean.org), the epicenter in Martin County for education, protection, and advocacy for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. He has been leading the organization for 35 years…
Mark is older than me. I was born in 1964, and I believe Mark is about ten years my senior. When you’re a kid, that’s “a lot.” But it’s just enough to for constant admiration “from younger to older.” I have been admiring Mark Perry my entire life…
Mark, his brother Chris, and his parents Clifton and Mimi Perry attended St Mary’s Church as my family did and does today. I first met Mark at St Mary’s…I was probably 3 or 4 years old.
As I grew up, I remember my parents talking about the “older kids” in the youth group getting to go on a canoe trip down the Peace River, chaperones, sleeping bags, marshmallows, etc….It was the 1970s….I wanted so badly to be older and get to do the “cool” things the older kids did, but I was just a “kid,” and had to stay home…
Over the years, my parents kept me abreast of the Perry family and what was always most interesting to me was Mark’s journey with Florida Oceanographic, an organization his father helped found in 1964 that was originally located in my childhood neighborhood of St Lucie Estates, along Kruegar Creek, in Stuart. I often visited there on my bicycle.
Over the years I grew up, moved away, attended University of Florida, lived and worked in California, Germany, and Pensacola, and when I came home in 1997 to Stuart, to continue my teaching career, Florida Oceanographic had expanded from that neat place I saw on my bicycle to become the showcase institution it is today–-An organization that symbolizes the love and fight for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon-and the life of Mark Perry.
Tonight at FAU/Harbor Branchs’, “Love Your Lagoon” gala, (http://www.indianriverlagoon.org/Love-Your-Lagoon-Dinner-.html) Mark Perry will be honored for his St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon work. It is the foundations’ fourth annual, and those who preceded Mark in being honored are: 2012, Nathaniel Reed; 2013, Bud Adams; 2014, Alma Lee Loy.
Mark follows in big footsteps, and he has filled them, “completely.” Thank you Mark Perry for a lifetime of admiration, respect, and guidance in our love and fight to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon!
Do you remember the historic Everglades restoration plan entitled the “Reviving the River of Grass?” In all honesty, “I do, but I don’t,” as I was just jumping into the boiling pot of small town politics at this time having run for my Sewall’s Point commission seat in 2008.
From what I recall, this was an amazing time, in that it appeared possible for the state of Florida to purchase lands south and around Lake Okeechobee so that overflow waters could flow south of the lake and thus not cause such incredible destruction to the St Lucie/Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatcee estuaries.
The short version of this deal and how it changed is as follows:
2008: included 180,000 acres for 1.34 billion; 2009: included 73,000 acres for 536 million with option for remainder; 2010: 26,800 acres was bought for 194 million in cash, with option/s to purchase remaining 153,200 acres.
The clock is still ticking on these option lands and although it is not on the state’s agenda to buy these lands at this time, the recent sector lands’ land use change/s proposal has brought the US Sugar Lands Option and Everglades Restoration back into the limelight.
Even though our governor and state legislature would consider it a headache, now would be a good time for the people to push for the purchase of these lands.
Let’s learn about them and let’s begin by reviewing the history according to the deal’s biggest player, US Sugar Corporation:
“2008 through 2010 was a bittersweet time for U.S. Sugar – a company that has been farming in the Lake Okeechobee region for more than four generations. It was during this time period when the Company agreed to sell a considerable amount of its sugar cane and citrus acreage to the South Florida Water Management District for the “River of Grass” restoration project. U.S. Sugar is firm in its belief that the sale was for a good cause and is proud to be part of this historic opportunity to make extraordinary progress in Everglades restoration and restore much of the natural footprint of South Florida.”
History of the Agreement
2008 In June of 2008, an announcement was made that the South Florida Water Management District would purchase 187,000 acres of U.S. Sugar’s land (292 square miles or three times the size of the city of Orlando) located in environmentally strategic areas that would help restoration efforts for Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and the Everglades. Under the terms of the original agreement, sufficient land would also be available for critical water storage and treatment as well as for allowing sustainable farming in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades to be sustainable.
Over the course of the next two years, modifications were made to the agreement. In May 2009, an amended agreement provided for the initial purchase of close to 73,000 acres for $536 million, with options to purchase the remaining 107,000 acres during the next ten years when economic and financial conditions improve.
2009 In 2009, a proposal for a scaled down acquisition was made due to the global economic crisis. Under the new contract, U.S. Sugar agreed to sell 72,500 acres of the Company’s land for approximately $530 million to the SFWMD. While the SFWMD finalized plans for the land, the Company would continue to farm the 72,500 acres through a 7-year lease that may be extended under certain circumstances. The agreement also provided the SFWMD with an option to acquire the Company’s remaining 107,500 acres for up to ten years.
2010 On August 12, 2010, a second amended agreement was reached for the South Florida Water Management District to buy 26,800 acres of land for $197 million along with the option to acquire 153,200 acres in the future.
In October 2010, the agreement for 26,800 acres was finalized and the following month the Florida Supreme Court struck down a challenge to the land acquisition stating that the purchase of U.S. Sugar lands fulfills a valid and extremely important public purpose in providing land for water storage and treatment to benefit the Everglades ecosystem and the coastal estuaries.
The next part gets confusing, and I don’t think I understand it all, but I will try to share what I think I know. This is the part about the Sugar Hill Sector Plan controversy and how it relates to the US Sugar Option and Everglades restoration.
First: So in 2010 the state purchased two huge pieces of land. This purchase, totaling 26,000 acres, is shown in black in the map above. I believe they are the piece in the upper right east corner and the piece below the lake all the way at the very bottom left.
Second: There was a 10 year option negotiated between US Sugar and the State of Florida to buy the remaining 153,000 acres. This is still out there.
Third: Another element of this option mentioned above is a “2 year non-exclusive option” to buy 46,000 acres by October 12, 2015. This requires the purchase of 46,000 acres of land and it is shown in the map above; the four arrows point to these lands. One of these arrows is pointing to the lands that are the proposed Sugar Hill Sector Plan Lands in Hendry County; it is the second arrow from the left.
Confused yet? Don’t feel bad, I always am!
So it is these sector lands that the second arrow on the left side points to that are the proposed Sugar Hill development in Hendry County. These are the lands causing much controversy because they are located inside “option lands.”
Hendry County wants their land use changed for future economic development; for that I cannot blame them, this is the job of every commission. Nonetheless, the issue for the state and for those of us inundated with toxic waters from Lake Okeechobee every few years is that these lands were set aside for the “River of Grass Restoration Project.”
If the land use is changed from agricultural to residential/commercial its price will be much higher and realistically never purchased by the state of Florida for Everglades restoration.
To keep going with this, the map above shows that the possible US Sugar land purchase option lands and the Sector Plan lands of Sugar Hill. You can see in the black lined areas that there is an overlap by approximately 13,250 acres. These are the acres that are requesting land use change that are located within the option lands. So if it is only part of the lands, why the problem?
According to Mr Mark Perry of Florida Oceanographic who provided the maps for this blog entry, ”
The issue here is that the subsequent 2-year, non-exclusive option —46,000 acres (by October 12, 2015) must be bought in total and with changing “land use” on part of the lands, it may pose a problem for the State purchase.”
At this time many conservation groups led by the *Everglades Foundation have sent letters to Governor Scott stating stating:
“We are concerned the proposed land purchase can be jeopardized by a recent 43,000 development plan (The Sugar Hills Sector Plan…) We encourage your administration to revue the impact this Sector Plan may have on the ability of the state to move forward with the land purchase with special attention given to the fiscal impact a land use change could have on the market value of the option lands…”
Only time shall tell if development interests or Everglades restoration wins out. One way to help is to write Governor Scott at the website below. Thank you trying to learn all this and for continuing to fight for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
*It was pointed out to me that it was the Sierra Club, not the Everglades Foundation that sent a letter inclusive of many environmentalist groups. The Everglades Foundation did send a letter but just from their board. Thank you Chris Maroney.
Florida Oceanographic was started in 1964, the year of my birth. When my parents moved to Stuart, I was eight months old. After living with or near my grandparents, the family built a house on Edgewood Drive in St Lucie Estates. As soon as I was old enough to ride my bike, one of the coolest things around was Florida Oceanographic at the mouth of Krueger Creek, where Mr Rand, an eccentric, wealthy businessman lived or had the headquarters to his corporation.
Another part of growing up was going to St Mary’s Church. And as a kid I always looked up to the older kids and two of the most prominent were Mark and Chris Perry. Their parents lived in Snug Harbor and looked like movie stars to me. Mark and Chris were simply “cool,” while I was a little twerp. My mom always told me Mark worked or helped at Florida Oceanographic, this made me pay more attention to the water and research of such.
In time Mark became the head of Florida Oceanographic. I went away to University of Florida and other places for over 17 years and when I returned the new location of the institution on Hutchinson Island was even more compelling. Mark’s leadership had built the institution and given a voice to the Indian River Lagoon and offshore reefs in way never done locally before, inspiring a new generation of people.
To celebrate Florida Oceanographic, is to celebrate the life of Mark Perry. No one has given a lifetime of service to the areas’ lagoon and ocean in the way Mark Perry has. Fifty years later and he remains one of the people I still admire most and feel he has influenced my love and protective attitude towards our local waters; I bet he’s influenced you too. Go visit today and give Mark Perry a bear hug in the name of the Indian River Lagoon!