I likened it to watching someone step on a roach. It was terrible. With the a motion from Kevin Powers, the South Florida Water Management District just squashed it.
Last Thursday, on May 14th 2015, the SFWMD, with absolutely no mercy at all, killed the option land contract to purchase 46,800 acres from US Sugar Corporation. This option land purchase has been the greatest hope for local environmentalists, the River Warriors, the Everglades Foundation, and many others to lay ground for a future that would not discharge so much fresh, polluted, water from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
The hope was that a reservoir could be built on this land to then store, clean and convey water south to the Everglades.
Well, it’s dead. No use bemoaning the situation. Let’s brush ourselves off and keep going. Even though the SFWMD killed this option, there are still others.
The best thing to do now is to “read up” and get smart about at what is “on the books” because a reservoir in the EAA is on the books as part of the Central Everglades Restoration Plan known as CERP. It may not be as good as the 46,800 acre option, but it would be something… And we must enlist Senator Joe Negron as he is our only Indian guide. ((http://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/s32)) To include a land purchase for this reservoir, whether it be in the Everglades Agricultural Area or not, through bonding of Amendment 1 monies is our war plan.
Negron’s idea is to crank up talking to scientists and experts on the best property currently available to build a reservoir. We need about 50 to 60,000 acres, as set out in the 2000 CERP…
The dysfunctional 2015 Florida State Legislature is not a great horse to bet on, but we have no other choice. Let’s saddle up and move on.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…)
Overall EAA option lands:
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.
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.