Tag Archives: Sugar hill

SFWMD Recommends Against Approval of Sugar Hill, An Aerial Tour, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Water Structure
Flying west towards Clewiston and the proposed Sugar Hill development, along the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee, looking north, one sees wet lands inside of the lake, the rim canal, a water structure, a southerly canal, agriculture lands, and highways…(All photos, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.)
Black Gold.
An open field exposes the land’s black gold. Pahokee area heading to Clewiston.

On Sunday, a beautiful day, Dr Shawn Engebretsen flew my husband and I, in his Piper Lance, to get a “higher view” of the  proposed Sugar Hill Sector Plan around the area of Clewiston in Hendry County and to get a shot of its heart, Airglades Airport.

I decided to continue this planned trip even though on Friday, October 3rd, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) sent a letter to the state land planning agency “recommending against approving the proposed Sugar Hill Sector Plan, DEO #14-3SP, as it does not provide sufficient information to show that future Everglades restoration efforts will not be harmed…” The letter goes on to give additional comments on flood protection, pollutant loading , irrigation sources, and ecosystem restoration.

Kudos to the SFWMD!

Nonetheless, we must keep a close eye on this the project as it still has other state reviews and could resurrect itself at any time depending on timing, politics, and money.

So let’s go!

The most interesting way to fly to Clewiston from Witham Airfield in Stuart is to follow the C-44 canal from the St Lucie River to Lake Okeechobee and then fly to the southern edge of the lake. In doing so one sees the towns/cities of Canal Point, Pahokee, Bell Glade and South Bay on the easterly and southern side of the lake and Clewiston and Moore Haven further west.

It is a huge place out here and time and space somehow seem enlarged, like in the American West. The distances are vast and it takes a while to get one’s bearing.

After about thirty minutes, passing Pahokee and Bell Glade, hugging the southern edge of Lake Okeechobee and looking out toward the horizon one finally one sees, emerging out of the smoke of its processing plant, the historic city of Clewiston.

Lake Okeechobee.
Lake Okeechobee, cities and agricultural lands.
Circling over the city of Clewiston, the headquarters of US Sugar.
Circling over the city of Clewiston, the headquarters of US Sugar.

In the photo above one sees the sugar processing plant (smoke), the old Clewiston Airport which is no longer functioning, parts of the city and the agriculture lands south. The sector map below shows this same area but looking straight on. Clewiston is the gray square at the edge of the lake.

Sugar Hill Sector Plan map, Clewiston area. Courtesy of Miller, Legg.
Sugar Hill Sector Plan map, Clewiston area. Courtesy of Miller, Legg.

Continuing, the next landmarks out in this open agricultural land, one sees the Airglades Airport and Highway 27 turning north. This area would be the “heart” of a Sugar Hill development. Right now there is just the air strip and miles and miles of agricultural lands. I believe many in this area are citrus.

Airglades Airpot
Airglades Airport and surrounding agricultural lands.
Looking south to Highway  27 turning north.
Looking south to Highway 27 turning north-miles of agricultural fields.
Map of Airglades Airport and surrounding proposed development. (Courtelsy of Miller /Legg.)
Map of Airglades Airport and surrounding proposed development. Note curve in highway 27 at top left side quickly turning north. Courtesy of Miller /Legg.

The third area on the far western edge of the proposed Sugar Hill development has Lake Hipochee as a landmark. Lake Hipochee was the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee River that Hamilton Disston put a canal through and dynamited its waterfall in order to lower Lake  Okeechobee in the late 1800s.  Although the lake appears as “a lake” on maps it has been destroyed by drainage and is now a sprawling wetland.

Lake Hipochee
Lake Hipochee with canal to Lake O.
Lake Hipochee with encroaching agriculture lands.
Lake Hipochee wetlands area with encroaching agriculture lands.
Lake Hipochee and agricultural lands south
“Lake Hipochee” and agricultural lands south into proposed SH sector lands.

So hopefully this little tour has helped you get your bearings and not totally confused you.

Why do we need to know about this?

Basically many of these option lands need to be purchases by the state by October, 2015 for Everglades restoration and or trading for other lands, to create a “flow way south.” Otherwise certainly, in time, there will be one more sprawling city in the area of the historic Everglades blocking it regaining a healthy future and water supply for south Florida. Personally I believe the way to build an economic future for the people south of the lake is through Everglades restoration not development.

But presently, the state does not want to buy these lands as they say there is not enough money to manage them and the purchase would impede on the continuation of projects already in progress.

I believe this to be true, but sometimes you’ve got to take advantage of an opportunity before its gone. Sometimes you just have to “do it,” or you never get another chance.

Entire map of proposed Sugar Hill area.
Entire map of proposed Sugar Hill area. Lake Hipochee is the blue dot in the very upper left corner that is cut off.
Key.
Key.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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