A few months ago I met Donald Neal. I was at the “Laurence E. Will Museum of the Glades” in Belle Glade. I saw him first from afar, and I knew, even though I did not know who he was, that he was someone special, someone I wanted to meet. His graying hair in dreads ….donning a carelessly worn paint be-speckled dress shirt and trousers looked so stylish a New York fashion designer would have certainly found a “new look.” His eyes seemed to contain generations of local history: drainage, planting, harvesting, deathly hurricanes, flooding, backbreaking work, destruction of the environment, the good and evil of money, prejudice, love, hate, sugarcane, water, and hope.
Today I will share some of his paintings that are on display at the Museum of the Glades and I encourage you to make the drive yourself. After years in the spotlight and then in the darkness, Donald is making a comeback. I think he’s going to make it big again as the time for Donald’s message seems just about right…
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I completed a book entitled “Okeechobee Hurricane,” by Lawrence E. Will. The book contains old photographs and provides eyewitness accounts of the great storms of both 1926 and 1928. As we have leaned somewhere between 1500 and 3000 people were killed in the 1928 storm alone. A majority are buried in a mass grave that created a graveyard here in Martin County, at Port Mayaca. There were many farming families, but most of the dead were black migrant workers who had no warning of the storm. Mr. Will relays the horrific stories of these pioneer farming families surviving from Kreamer Island, Torry Islands, Chosen, Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay, Bean City, Sebring Farm, Ritta, and Okeechobee.
Pahokee does not have its own chapter but is included in Lawrence Will’s rebuttal of a Palm Beach Times article entitled “The Lost Settlement of Pelican Bay, “a settlement lying between Pahokee and Belle Glade where it had been reported 400 people “must be dead, and 250 of them are now unreachable…”among other things, Mr Will argues that many floated in from miles away and were not from the ‘Pelican Bay’ sugar company camp…
I have to say, although I learned a ton, I am glad I am finished with the book. It was difficult to read so many stories of death. That no one has made a full length feature film of this surprises me: the breaking of the state dike; 7-11 foot rising waters; people fearfully clinging to rooftops with children in hand in 150 mile an hour winds; falling over and gasping for breath while trees and houses floated by or pushed one under. Hair caught in the gates of the locks…More than once, Will refers to the breaking of the dike causing a “tidal wave” coming all at once and travelling from Chosen outward to Belle Glade, like a tsunami.
On page 35 he writes:
“The levee, extending along the southern and part way up the eastern shores of the lake, had been constructed between 1923 and 1925 and had been rebuilt where damaged in the blow of 1926. The dike was built to prevent farm lands from being flooded by high lake levels, it was never intended as a protection from hurricanes. Had there been no levee to pile up the water, there would have been no loss of life in either the hurricane on 1926 or 1928. On the other hand, without the protection against flooding of crops it is extremely doubtful that the Glades could have attained its high state of productivity.”
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
*Thank you to the book Black Gold and Silver Sands, by James D Synder, and the Palm Beach Historical Society as sources.
Today I will continue my series “Who Owns the Land South of Lake Okeechobee? Mapping out the Future of Water.” Hurricane Matthew caused a slight interruption, but now we shall continue. 🙂
Here we go!
Number two on the TCRPC map (above) is Okeelanta Corporation. “Okeelanta is a division of Florida Crystals, the word is a combination of two made into one. “Okee,” coming from “Okeechobee,” and “lanta,” coming from “Atlantic.” Cleverly named for a location between Lake Okeechobee and the Atlantic Ocean. Okeelanta was a historic town founded by writer and politician Laurence E. Will’s father. The town stood about one mile below South Bay. It was destroyed in the 1928 Hurricane: http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/okeelanta
I’m not sure if the company Okeelanta is named after the town, but I believe it was bought, and I know it is now owned by the Fanjul family of Cuba who owns Florida Crystals. As many of us know, the Fanjul family came to South Florida because of Fidel Castro’s 1959 Marxist Revolution. The family moved to Florida along with other wealthy, dispossessed families. Here with the support of the US Government the Fanjuls rebuilt their fortune as the US grew to be a leader in the world sugar trade, at the expense of the Florida Everglades.
In regards to the map, it must be noted that compared to US Sugar Corporation, the Fanjul family are relative”newcomers.” This is why their land holdings are further south of Lake Okeechobee. They acquired lands as the industry expanded after 1960.
Sometimes I say “until the Cuban Revolution there were only 100,000 acres of sugar cane in the EAA.” This is probably off, but you get the point. As Laurence E. Will in his historic book noted in a previous post: “After the Cuban Revolution, for a short time our government permitted the unrestricted panting of sugar cane…”
Again I stress that the expansion of these lands by the US Government is what allowed this area to be convered from Everglades to sugar fields, and it is only our state and national governments that can encourage and fairly compensate land owners for lands purchased in the EAA to allow water storage in an area that should never have been 100% developed in the first place. We have to encourage land owners to please be a part of the solution of allowing storage of excess water and helping more clean water move south…
According the TCRPC map Okeelanta owns 86,793 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area, (EAA.) A lot!
I have colored in the #2s with orange highlighter so you can see these lands more clearly and how the intersect with Senator Joe Negron’s circles for possible proposed land acquisition. Remember that 9 days ago I colored in United States Sugar Corporation’s (USSC) lands in purple crayon. They are #1.
So now we can clearly “see” what lands are owned by USSC and by Okeelanta.
“Okeelanta Corporation, a sugarcane company, engages in farming, milling, packaging, and distributing sugar cane. It has a 67,000 acres facility that includes cane fields, a mill, refinery, packaging and distribution center and a power plant. The company was incorporated in 1984 and is based in West Palm Beach, Florida. Okeelanta Corporation operates as a subsidiary of Florida Crystals Corporation.”
As we shall see in future posts, the Fanjul holdings have various names, thus they own more land than noted in the map above. Like them or not, the family is clever just like the name “Okeelanta” and infamous for their political influence. The two most well known brothers are noted for ties to different political parties: Alfonso Fanjul, Democratic Party while Pepe, contributes to Republican Party. For the record the other brothers names are Alexander and Andres. And they have a sister. Her name is Lillian Banjul Azqueta and she is president and founder of New Hope Charities.
As controversial as the family is, they do a lot of good for the poor Glades communities and they own what we want. We must work together for a better water future for Florida that includes our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Post Hurricane Matthew, I am sharing Dr Gary Goforth’s “Updated Lake Okeechobee Discharges to the Estuaries and Everglades,” dated yesterday, October 10, 2016 as sent to state and local officials, as well as the press. Many helpful visuals are attached.
Dr Goforth continues to lead in documenting the destruction of what was once lauded as North America’s “most biodiverse estuary,” our beloved St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon…
Through shared knowledge, we advocate for a better Florida water future.
More than 204 billion gallons of polluted Lake water has been discharged to the St. Lucie (25% of total Lake discharges); more than 456 billion gallons of polluted Lake water has been discharged to the Caloosahatchee (55% of Lake discharges). By contrast, only 20% of Lake discharges has been sent to the south, with only 6% sent to the STAs/Everglades.
Ag runoff continues to contribute significant amounts of flow and pollution load to the St. Lucie: 39% of flow, 53% of total phosphorus and 42% of total nitrogen.
I added a chart comparing monthly Lake flows to the STAs – 2016 releases to STAs has been significantly less than 2014 and 2015.
Martin County was fortunate to “dodge the bullet” of category 4 Hurricane Matthew, but as long as the St Lucie Indian/River Lagoon is attached to Lake Okeechobee via the C-44 canal, the river cannot. She is shot in the chest each time.
These photos taken yesterday morning by my husband, Ed, show the discharges, like blood, gushing out of the St Lucie Inlet. Melodramatic personification? Perhaps, but true.
A press release by the Army Corp of Engineers on October 7th stated:
“Lake Okeechobee continues to rise; today’s stage is 15.93 feet…
The Corps has resumed discharges from Lake Okeechobee after suspending them during the storm. Water managers have removed target flows and will release as much water as practical through Moore Haven Lock (S-77) located on the west side of the lake, and the Port Mayaca Lock (S-308) located on the east side of the lake…
‘We anticipate inflows to the lake will increase as a result of Hurricane Matthew,’ said Col. Kirk. ‘Therefore, we must maximize outflows in order to slow the rise in the lake and be as prepared as possible for additional hurricane season uncertainty…”
“Additional uncertainty?” Not for the river.
As the Corp has been discharging from the lake since January 29th, 2016 and now the gates are wide open to save life and property south of the lake, the St Lucie did not really dodge a bullet at all. She is hemorrhaging once again.
Until Lake Okeechobee is redirected south as God designed, “dodging a bullet” in Martin County remains an illusion.
A tidal wave….always a scary thought, and usually associated with the ocean, however, tidal waves or “seiches,” can occur in enclosed bodies of water as well, such as a lake— like that of “big water,” or Lake Okeechobee.
As we have entered hurricane season and live in Florida, the most vulnerable state in the nation for strikes, it is important that all of us in the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon/Lake Okeechobee region know our evacuation plan should one be necessary….
A while back, I wrote about my frightening experience with a storm in the proximity of Lake Okeechobee and my friend, Dr Gary Goforth, wrote me back. Today I will share his thoughts on the subject of “tidal waves” in Lake Okeechobee.
Since “we” first walled the lake for agriculture in the 1920s, “white man” has changed the dynamics of both water and of storms….Recently, the ACOE has spent over 65 million dollars to repair the aging dike. As you know, nature evolved so Lake Okeechobee’s overflow waters would slowly flow south to the Everglades. This is no more, and her overflow waters are directed with great destruction through the Northern Estuaries…
Your comments on the “tidal waves” within the Lake inspired me to chart the fluctuations in water levels in the Lake resulting from the 2004 hurricanes Frances and Jeanne…
The attached images below show two charts and a reference map.
The first chart shows the fluctuation in Lake stage as Hurricane Frances slowly moved through the area and the 2nd is a similar chart for Hurricane Jeanne. An interesting feature is that as the storm approached the Lake, strong north winds blew the water to the southern rim against the HHDike (as reflected by the rising red line: water level along the south shore) and simultaneously moved water away from the northern sections of the Dike (as reflected by the descending blue line: water level along the north shore). This phenomenon contributed to the catastrophic flooding south of the Lake in the 1926 and 1928 storms as the muck dike failed. For Hurricane Frances, the water level along the south shore rose by more than 5 ft as the eye approached!
As the eye of the storms passed over the Lake, the wind quickly changed direction and the water that was piled up along the south shore moved to the north rim of the Dike (rising blue line). For Hurricane Frances, the water level along the north shore rose by 10 ft or more when the winds shifted! For Hurricane Jeanne, which was moving faster than Frances, the water level on the north shore rose by more than 4 ft per hour – I suspect it looked like a slow-moving tidal wave coming towards the Dike!
For both storms, the water levels overtopped the stage gauges at both stations – so the fluctuations were actually greater than depicted in the charts!