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.
The past few days I have overheard my husband and his friends’ grumblings about “how their weekend was “wrecked,” and how “now they are going to have to drive to Vero, and can’t fly….” Finally, I asked: “what’s going on?”
So my husband, Ed, gave me the public documents…
Apparently, this Saturday and Sunday, March 28-29, 2015, a “Temporary Flight Restriction” (TFR) will be in place over Palm City for security measures as a ” VIP” will be visiting Palm City.
“The FAA has issued a flight advisory to alert pilots of an upcoming presidential temporary flight restriction (TFR) over the Palm City, Florida, area on March 28 and 29,” the Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association (AOPA) advisory reads.
Basically, a TFR is two circles in the air, as shown above, an “airspace,” that under Title 49 of the United States Code, the US Government may pursue criminal charges if a pilot is illegally in that space, and in fact, the US Government may use deadly force against airborne aircraft, if that aircraft poses a threat….yes, like an F-16 can shoot you down…
Thus—“I think we’ll dive…..”
F-16s aside, how quaint, that possibly the President of the United States will once again be in our parts during releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
Lake Okeechobee discharges were happening when he visited in 2013 as well. But that year it was even worse as the river was toxic and signs were posted from the Martin County Health Department stating DO NOT TOUCH THE WATER.
Ironically, the C-23 canal, another polluting canal like the C-44 that is not attached to Lake Okeechobee, boarders The Floridian, were I’d imagine President Obama may be playing golf….? And although the C-23 is not connected to Lake Okeechobee, its polluted agricultural and urban runoff is killing our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon as well.
Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe President Obama is going to play golf with Congressman Murphy? Soon to be US Senator Murphy….Maybe they can discuss the purchase of US Sugar option lands south of the lake to store, clean and convey water south to dying Everglades National Park? Maybe they can discuss the EPA and FDEP and their responsibility in documenting the destruction of our river and reef aquatic preserves? Or maybe even trying to “protect” them? What a thought.
The FAA has issued a flight advisory to alert pilots of an upcoming presidential temporary flight restriction over the Palm City, Florida, area on March 28 and 29. The FAA started reaching out to pilots in the area March 20 in an effort to decrease the number of TFR violations that typically occur in the state with such a high density of flight activity.
As of publication, a notam had not yet been released detailing the specifics of the upcoming Palm City TFR, but it will have the usual 30-nautical-mile-radius outer ring and inner 10-nm-radius general aviation no-fly zone, and it will extend from the surface up to but not including 18,000 feet. Gateway procedures for aircraft that need to operate at Witham Airport (KSUA) are detailed in the flight advisory. Melbourne International Airport (KMLB) and West Palm Beach Airport (KPBI) have been designated as TSA “security screening sites” for aircraft that need to fly into Witham during the TFR’s effective times, according to the flight advisory.
I always enjoy looking at old photographs, and fortunately my mother and father have acquired hundreds through their history work. Many of them spawn memories of what for me was a “simpler time and place” in Martin County history—as I was a child.
My mother probably took me to the “Bathtub Beach,” with family and friends, for the very first time, when I was an infant, but in my first memories of the place I was probably four or five years old.
I can remember my mother parking along the road and all of us walking– carrying all of our towels, buckets, and nets to catch tropical fish in the reef (to be returned) and my looking down and seeing bright, yellow beach-sunflowers— the sand was SO hot, you wouldn’t believe it, and there were stickers. Hundreds of stickers that stuck in your feet and you had to stop and pull them out as the sun beat down on you like a flashlight.
I remember, it became a game with me to see if I could walk in the burning sand from the road, along the path, to the beach without any shoes. I remember jumping in the cool water and swimming to the reef and sticking my homemade net into a hole to catch a little fish and a moray eel came right out and put its scary face up to my mask!
I remember the simplicity of these times, and the beauty of this place that is no longer wild like it was then, but is still equally remarkable.
The photo above shows Seminole Shores, that became “Sailfish Point” and a formalized county beach–“Bathtub Reef Beach.” Even at the time of this photograph there were “issues:” the photo is labeled “Washout.” As we all know, today, this area is still eroding away and the county must spend substantial amounts of monies in partnerships with the state of Florida to “re-nourish” this area. See chart below for all Martin County, provided for me by Martin County.
When I really think about it, every era of history has its difficulties. It is never simple.
The aerial photos I am sharing today were taken not long after the atrocities of World War II. I was born in the social and political unrest of the 1960s…Today has its own set of problems whether it be the possibility of terrorists training in Treasure Coast airports; our eroding beaches; the “tipping point” that has occurred with releases from Lake Okeechobee and the area canals into our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon; our struggles with the US Sugar option land purchase; or the next population explosion that our state is counting on….
Nonetheless, it is rather amusing to me, that after all these years, some things remain the same: it is still beautiful here; I still love the fish; and somehow sometimes I still feel like I am running on the hot sands to see how long I can stand it, having to stop to pull out those irritating stickers; and every once in a while, I stick my net into a hole, and out pops a moray eel…. 🙂
I must begin by saying that my recent blogging has been somewhat “uncomfortable” for me, as I was raised to act like a “lady,” and recently I feel more like a fighter pilot.
Politics sometimes makes “being a lady” a difficult goal, so I do apologize to anyone, such as my mother, who may be offended by my relentless “fighting” blog posts recently regarding the importance of state purchase of the 46,800 acres of option lands for sale by US Sugar Corporation.
As a warning, mom and others, today’s blog post will be more of the same, as a “type of war” has started.
—-A war of information. A war to influence our governor and legislature….a war over how to use Florida’s Amendment 1 monies….a war to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, Caloosahatchee, Everglades, and drinking water for South Florida, or just to keep the “status-quo…”
In order to explain this, I will share what has happened over the past few days…
On Wednesday, February 18th, Eric Draper, the Executive Director of Florida Audubon, (http://fl.audubon.org) was quoted in a “Sunshine State News” piece as saying (regarding the flow way south) “—it will never happen, it’s pie in the sky…”
Knowing Mr Draper and knowing that words in news articles often are twisted for effect, I wrote Audubon immediately asking about the situation. Mr Draper replied with an apologetic email and a letter he had written that day to Governor Scott in support of purchasing the option lands. See below:
In my effort to promote the idea of an EAA reservoir and distinguish that from the hard to explain Plan Six I unwittingly played into a storyline not my own. I found the story confusing and somewhat unrelated to what I was trying to say. Nevertheless, I am sure that folks are disappointed to hear me discount the flow way and that was not my word or intent. As an 30 year advocate for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee I feel strongly about moving water south. Audubon will continue to work on getting the US Sugar land purchased for the purpose of establishing a CERP reservoir.
I apologize to both of you and to all the supporters of the idea of Plan Six and a flow way.
Eric Draper Executive Director
I believe Mr Draper did not mean for his words as they were reported. Speaking with the media is sometimes tricky business and anyone who speaks to them long enough will feel that he or she has been “misquoted.” Mr Draper’s work is one of the main reasons Amendment 1 passed in the first place, and you can see by his letter above to Governor Scott he supports buying the option lands.
OK, one bomb down…Two to go….
So then on Saturday, Feb 21st, I get an email from my Florida League of Cities colleague, Teresa Heitman, who is a councilwoman for the City of Naples. She simply forwarded me an email she had received from US Sugar Corporation. You can click on the image below to read it, but basically it says: “Send the Water South?” “Not so fast”…and gives three articles supporting why the option lands should not be purchased, why the “enviros”are nuts, and one of the articles quoted is the one quoting Eric Draper that I mentioned above!
As an aside, and as an elected official myself, I must say that I find it in poor taste that this email was sent from US Sugar Corporation directly to an elected official. Maybe Council- woman Heitman is on a “mailing list” for US Sugar, but this seems doubtful to me.
How many other elected officials were sent this email and why is US Sugar sending it out?
On the other hand, it kind of made me feel good when I saw it–like they were threatened by the grassroots river movement here along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades in general. Kind of ironic to think that US Sugar would need to influence elected officials with direct emails; seems like they already do that with everything else they do like spending millions of dollars on lobbying politicians…….sending this “tiny” email makes them look kind of desperate….
—obviously we have more influence than we realize….
Also, the thought of a “David and Goliath” fight is very appealing to me, as in that story, as we all know, David wins…
Below is part of the email from US Sugar, just so you can see it. I also made sure the hyperlinks worked in case you want to read the “email bombs” being sent out.
Buy the land? Send the water south? Not so fast…
In case you missed it, please find below highlights from a few recent articles discussing the constraints, risks and concerns with purchasing the U.S. Sugar land option to create a flow-way to send water south to the Everglades:
You can access the articles in their entirety by clicking on the hyperlinked titles. 1. Officials to enviros: Buying land, moving lake water south has risks
By: Christine Stapleton, Palm Beach Post February 12, 2015
The 60-second TV spot starts airing 2-22-15 and sponsored by the Everglades Trust (http://www.evergladestrust.org) is running on cable and broadcast stations in Tampa Bay, Orlando, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Tallahassee.
The scrip reads:
“Decades of uncontrolled pollution in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee is endangering our health, killing our wildlife and threatening our drinking water.
Four years ago, the sugar industry signed a binding written contract to sell us land to clean up their pollution, and for a reservoir to protect our water.
It’s been called the most critical piece of land ever for Everglades restoration. Last November, 75% of Floridians voted YES to Amendment 1, making vital land purchases for the Everglades a part of the Florida Constitution.
Now, it’s up to the Governor to back it and the Legislature to fund it.
Call the Governor, call your legislator, and tell them to buy the land. Build the reservoir. And save Florida’s drinking water. Now, while there’s still time.
So I think that this is a war of sorts. Between US Sugar and the Everglades Trust. For most readers of my blog interested in saving the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, our ideology is that of the Everglades Trust….
In closing, when you have some extra time, please write to Governor Scott below, and sign the petition above, asking to support the purchase of option lands. And feel good about the influence you are already having in the war to save the Indian River Lagoon!
After the horrendous “Lost Summer of 2013,” and public outcry, more water has been sent south to the Everglades by the Army Corp of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District in 2014/15 than in the past ten years. But we are still drowning…
With this in mind, the Everglades Coalition’s 30th Annual Conference (http://evergladescoalition.org) was a whirlwind; its theme “Send it South: Water for America’s Everglades.”
Let’s begin, by looking at some water/land maps and think about the big picture.
The image below is a “simplified chronology of water management changes,” and shows the canals and structures that waste water to the ocean destroying our precious estuaries. This map was shared by Robert Johnson during the coalition meeting. It made a big impression on me, because it gives historical perspective, is simple, and is clear.
The red lines are canals that drain lake Okeechobee. We know them well: the Caloosahatchee (C-43); the Miami: the North New River: the Hillsboro: the West Palm Beach; and our own St Lucie (C-44). The grey shows the Herbert Hoover Dike built around Lake Okeechobee in the 1930s after the terrible hurricanes of the late 1920s; the Eastern Protective Levee is also in grey, on the far right, and basically is like a giant underground wall between the Everglades and eastern coastal development; the Everglades Agricultural Area Levee System, which I think is the grey line depicting a structure built south and almost around the Everglades Agricultural area; the Water Conservation Area Levees (WCAs-areas where water slowly travels south after being cleaned in Storm Water Treatment Areas (STAs) above them) are the grey lines around the WCAs; and last on this chart, the South Dade Conveyance System…
There are other canals as well. Thousands of miles of them….
These canals make our lives a living hell along the Indian River Lagoon, and must be re-plumed, but we must note that they also have allowed South Florida to rise above the poverty of our ancestors, and to develop some of the world’s most “productive” sugar and vegetable farms. Too bad they had to build their riches south of Lake Okeechobee blocking the flow of the lake! Also, much of this drainage system has allowed development of the east coast of south Florida, inside the Everglades’ boundary which is in yellow on the map above and red below.
The red line, shows were development has “crept into the Everglades.” This is obviously a problem for sending water south. Therefore, whatever is created to “send more water south,” must be created so as to avoid destroying lives or property.
So narrowing this down to “our” needs, how does one build a way to send more water south? And aren’t we already doing that? Let’s look at the projects being built first before we conclude our goals for more storage.
There are many projects on the books to help with sending water south: some include CERP (http://www.evergladesplan.org/about/about_cerp_brief.aspx) and CEPP…(http://www.evergladesplan.org/docs/fs_cepp_jan_2013.pdf), in fact parts of the Tamiami Trail are being raised right now, but according to many experts at the coalition, one thing is missing, enormous amounts of LAND. Land would help these projects come into being. There must be land to hold some of the tremendous amounts of water, and to clean it. Also realistically, the above projects will take generations to complete. Land purchase or no land purchase.
One thing is for sure, more land south of the lake would help the situation tremendously. As even a five year old can see, lack of lands south of the lake is the true disconnect. But where is there that much land and what are our options?
Below is a map of “Option 1,” and “Option 2”, lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area, lands that US Sugar agreed to sell in 2008. These lands remain for sale.
Perhaps US Sugar rather not sell these lands anymore. In 2008 they were going broke, but today, ironically after an infusion of cash from the South Florida Water Management District that was given to buy the paired down 26,800 acres purchased, and since the economy has improved since, US Sugar is thriving again.
But a “contract is a contract,” and thus there remains a contract allowing for the state of Florida to buy the option lands.
Would purchasing these slow everyone down even more, taking moneys and energy away from other projects?
Hmmmm? Maybe, but according to some very seasoned River/Everglades Warriors, it is worth it.
At the Everglades Coalition meeting Nathaniel Reed, Maggie Hurchalla, Mary Barely, former governor Bob Graham, and Mark Perry gave the group a “call to action” to purchase these option lands. It is a lofty goal and one that would change the game forever.
But there is not much time, and the legislature is in committee meetings “now.” (January through Feburary) and convenes (starts) March 3, 2015, and then ends in May! A rabbit race!
There is not a second to spare.
So long story short, there may be options as far a purchasing the sugar lands, but there is no option when it comes to advocating for such. Should this be your goal, you must start today! Start writing and calling below and thank you for being a part of history!
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.