Tag Archives: revolution

Trying to Understand the Structure of the SFWMD within Government, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Florida Statutes books on shelf. Public photo.
Florida Statutes books on shelf. Public photo.

If there is one thing I have learned in my seven-year stint in local government, it is that for the public, the structure of government and how it works is unclear. In my opinion, this happens due to many reasons, but first and foremost is because government as a whole is terrible at being open and explaining itself, perhaps preferring to function behind a shroud of confusion. Also, governments’ sense of responsibility to communicate with the public is often nonexistent or skewed at best… plus communicating is expensive…This situation is compounded by the fact that every year there are new laws, and every few years new elected officials coming in….so the public is constantly having to “catch up.”

To make a point, let me give a simple example from the Town of Sewall’s Point, where I live and am a town commissioner. Prior to 2006 the town did not have a full-time town manager. In 2006 the town charter was amended by the commission creating a manager/commission form of government as opposed to commissioners being in charge of different departments. I was elected in 2008. For years, many citizens did not know this change had occurred, and their expectations were functioning off the old system and their expectations were not met. They came into the commission meetings very upset. The town did not “advertise” the charter changes. I was too new to really understand what was going on….it took me a year or so to figure it out, and the public—

People are too busy trying to live their lives, raise their children, and “put bread on the table,” to follow every move of government be it local, state or federal. Add to this that government itself is a terrible communicator, and what happens? The mechanisms are not in place for government to work….This is how I see it anyway. The answer? Better communication and learning to understand how things work.

A few months ago when the South Florida Water Management District was ignoring a desperate and pleading public that had come before them begging for the purchase of the US Sugar Option Lands through Amendment 1 monies, to help save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and Calooshatchee, I drove to West Palm Beach and met with high level officials. They were very nice but it was a frustrating meeting. Basically I asked them, “What are you doing?” “Why are you acting like this?”

The answer?

“Commissioner, you know the power isn’t in our hands anymore anyway…”
“What do you mean?” I inquired.

A conversation around the table ensured:

SFWMD: “Well after the debacle that occurred 2008-2010 with then Governor Charlie Christ, the recession, and the attempted buyout of all of US Sugar’s lands, basically a water district was trying to purchase a corporation…..the Florida Legislature got fed up.  So later,  in section 373.556 of Florida Statutes, the Florida Legislature made sure the District would never be in a position to do that again….Significant legislative changes have occurred related to water management budgeting with substantial ramification for Water Management District land transactions. In 2013, Senate Bill 1986 provided that certain District land transaction should be subject to the scrutiny of the Legislative Budget Commission. As this bill renewed the authority of the Governor to approve or disapprove the SFWMD budget, as with all water management budgets of the state, we can no longer do things we have done in the past like oversee giant land purchases using the monies from our ad-valorem taxes…There is a lot more to it but that’s the main difference now. You are talking to the wrong people….”

I stood there just staring…..”I didn’t know this gentlemen, so how do you expect the public to know this ? Are you telling me, the SFWMD has no power to purchase those Sugar Lands?”

“I am telling you the legislature is in charge of the budget and we don’t have enough money to buy the lands, and couldn’t without their approval….”

“So why don’t you explain that to the public?” I asked.

Stares….

Long awkward silence….

The reply was more or less: “It’s best not to get involved in such a discussion…..”

I lectured them on the importance of communication and education and said they certainly still have influence even if they say they “do not” …..but this did go over particularly well… the meeting ended. I shook their hands. I felt like an idiot. I drove home.

Since that time I have been trying to learn more…..So I read about the history of the Water Management Districts in Florida.

Florida's five water managements districts map DEP.
Florida’s five water managements districts map DEP.

To me it seems that originally when the water management districts were created in the 1970s they were allowed to levy taxes from the public in order to be an independent entity of water knowledgeable citizens  advising the governor as to how best manage water resources.  Also, the Dept of Environmental Protection was just evolving at this time so when the water districts were formed they did not work “under” or “beside” the DEP like today.

Over time, the laws have changed and our water management districts  have become an arm of the governor and his or her people in the state legislature. The SFWMD is and has been losing its power. Especially since 2013. This  loss of influence has politicized the structure of Florida’s water management districts to a level that “the people” no longer have a voice locally with their districts, and they don’t know they are now expected to go to their state legislature;  and even if they did, their local delegation is one in hundreds in that structure  that would need to be convinced to change water policy (for land purchase south of Lake Okeechobee for the health of the estuaries, for instance.)

I have learned too through this journey that really today about ten people run our state: Right now it is our governor, Rick Scott: cabinet members, Adam Putnam, Dept of Agriculture; Pam Bondi, Attorney General; Jeff Atwater, Chief Financial Officer; “leadership,” Speaker of the House: Steve Crisafulli; President of the Senate, Andy Gardiner; and the committee heads of the senate and the house which are only a few “tapped” people. (People who have agreed to conform or are smart enough to walk the razors’ edge.)”Leadership” keeps all elected officials  in line by allowing them, or not allowing them, to be on, or to chair, certain committees, or by allowing, or not allowing their bills “to be heard”… also by discouraging new candidates from running for office if this is against “leaderships’ master-plan.” This behavior is worse in the republican party than the democratic party, but they are all encouraging conformity rather than leadership.

So how can we best communicate with our government?

Hmmmm?

Let’s keep educating ourselves,  and can anyone say “revolution?”

Seal of Florida
Seal of Florida

 

 

2013 DEP letter explaining changes to SFWMD structure: (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/watman/files/017_Land_Acquisition_Revised_Guidance_032713.pdf)

2011 DEP letter leading up to changes in 2013 letter above:(http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/watman/files/004_land_acquistion_042511.pdf)

DEP Florida’s Water Management Districts:(http://www.dep.state.fl.us/secretary/watman/)

SFWMD, Florida’s oldest water management district: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Florida_Water_Management_District)

Florida Statures Section 373 (http://www.leg.state.fl.us/STATUTES/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0300-0399/0373/0373ContentsIndex.html&StatuteYear=2014&Title=%2D%3E2014%2D%3EChapter%20373)

Agriculture, the Governor, the Florida State Legislature, “Blood is Thicker than Water,” St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Historic photo, Ca. 1800s, courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Thurlow Archives.)
Historic photo, ca. 1850s, Martin County,  courtesy of Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Thurlow Archives.)

I come from a historic agricultural background, on both sides of my family, so I feel like I can criticize it.

My Thurlow great-great grandparents grew thistles in New York, and my Henderson great-grandparents, from a long farming line, settled in Madison, Florida. My grandfather, Russell Henderson, was a well-respected soli-scientist and taught in the Agriculture Department at the University of Florida, even getting a mural painted including him by citrus legend, Ben Hill Griffen…

I ate boiled peanuts while learning about different crops and cows during my summer vacations as a kid while visiting Gainesville.  I understand the connection and importance of agriculture to the success of both my family and to our country.

Gov Broward for which Broward County is named, led in draining the Everglades. (Public photo.)
Florida’s Gov Broward for which Broward County is named, led in leadership to “drain the Everglades,” for agriculture and development. (Public photo.)

Nonetheless, as a product of the Florida Indian River Lagoon region since 1965, I have chosen to focus my energies on “natural preservation.” This is often at odds with agriculture and development’s values.

Again, I respect agriculture; it feeds us….

I just think some aspects of the industry have gone “too far,” and are too coddled by our state, especially regarding the pollution and water resources destruction caused by their now “agribusiness giant-ness.”

Although Agriculture is a “giant,” today the number one income for the state of Florida is tourism. (http://www.stateofflorida.com/Portal/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=95)

Nonetheless, agriculture has a stronghold on our state government beyond comprehension, beyond tourism, or “quality of life or quality for tourists.” Agriculture/sugar brags that agriculture “feeds the world,” not just the state. I guess this is good, but why should my state and local area be “raped and polluted” to feed the world?

Money…

Power…

Greed…

History…

No where is this more evident than the in Everglades Agricultural Area where the sugar industry “reigns king.” As of late, the sugar industry is not supporting the purchase of option lands that are FOR SALE. They have been able to convince the governor, and so far the state legislature, that is it unwise to purchase these option lands to start creating an EAA reservoir to store, clean and convey more water south to the Everglades to begin the journey of saving the Everglades as well as the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and also the Caloosahatchee River. These estuaries and the people and businesses that live along them sufferer from the 1920 redirection of Lake Okeechobee’s waters east and west for the creation of the Everglades Agricultural Area or EAA.

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. (SFWMD map, 2010.)

Honestly, I am not sure why sugar is so against this land purchase. Their land is for sale! Is because they are making money now and not going broke as they were in 2008 when the option lands deal was legally arranged? Or they do just want to hold out for more money on those lands in the future? In any case, they are doing everything they can NOT to allow the option land purchase to occur as part of the 2015 legislatures’ ability to use Amendment 1 monies while the “environmentalist” community begs….and lake O is getting higher every day.

We all know that the sugar industry gives millions of dollars a years to government officials to secure their interests. This is important, but it is not most important.

What is important for all of us to realize is that the influence of the sugar industry and agriculture in general is much deeper than money. It is blood. And this why our fight for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon requires new blood. A revolution of sorts. Don’t get scared by these words. Nothing is more “American.”

Let’s study the history of sugar and the state of Florida’s pact:

In a 1911 Washington DC publication, of the 62nd Congress, document no. 89, entitled:

“Everglades of Florida.” —-Acts,  Reports, and other Papers, State and National, Relating to the Everglades of the State of Florida and Their Reclamation,”

—we see that even in is  the first documents of the publication produced in  1845, the year of Florida’s statehood, there was a  resolution “recommending the adoption of measures for reclaiming the Everglade land in that state.”  (By 1847 in a letter from Washington DC’s Honorable James D Westcott, Jr. to the Secretary of the Treasury and shared with the Florida legislature….)

It reads in response to the idea of draining the lands south of Lake Okeechobee…

“What would be the value of the now subaqueous lands, reclaimed by such work, I will not pretend to say….all of those (military men) who have resided in this vicinity, and who have repeatedly informed my that many of these lands would be the best sugar and richest lands in the United States.”

This publication reprinted as SOUTH FLORIDA IN PERIL, can be purchased at Florida Classic Library in Hobe Sound. (http://www.floridaclassicslibrary.com) It documents the early days of the 130 year tie between the federal, and state government as they all organized together with the agriculture industry to create the state of Florida, a sugar haven, that reached its true peak in the 1960 and 1970, with the exclusion of Cuba’s goods…

Here we are today, almost fifty years later and Cuba is perhaps reopening…and our state water issues in south Florida are out of control.

Agriculture's UF UFAS sites to help with research for agriculture improvement. ( Source, UF/IFAS.)
Today’s agriculture UF IFAS sites to help with research for agriculture improvement. Note sugarcane research center in EAA.(Source, UF/IFAS.)

Anyway, the book goes on for 203 pages documenting the state and federal governments’ support for agriculture in the Everglades and “how rich they would all become…”

That they were successful, I am happy; however; they OVER DID it, over-drained it, and refuse to see their own destruction, and their unfair advantage.

Blood is thicker than water….but “blood can’t be blood” without water…time for a change.

Stats of Sugar in Florida, 1991, Source Hazen and Sawyer, 1993)
Stats of Sugar in Florida, 1991, Source Hazen and Sawyer, 1993.)

__________________________________________

Governor Broward ca. 1911: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon_B._Broward)

Florida Dept of Agriculture: (http://www.freshfromflorida.com)

Fresh From Florida/Agriculture is the cornerstone of Florida’s 500 Year History: (http://www.freshfromflorida.com/News-Events/Hot-Topics/Agriculture-is-the-Cornerstone-of-Florida-s-500-Year-History)

IFAS Everglades Sugar Research Center, Bell Glade: (http://erec.ifas.ufl.edu/about/mission_statement.shtml)

IFAS/UF: (http://ifas.ufl.edu/about-IFAS.shtml)

Department of the Interiors (DOIs) report on EAA and historical destruction of Everglades: (http://www.doi.gov/pmb/oepc/wetlands2/v2ch7.cfm)

Florida’s  Agricultural  Museum: (http://www.myagmuseum.com/floridaagriculture.html)

“Florida’s major field crop is sugarcane (mostly grown near Lake Okeechobee), which enjoyed a sizable production increase in the 1960s and 1970s, following the cutoff of imports from Cuba.” (http://www.city-data.com/states/Florida-Agriculture.html)