Scott offers surprise solution to Lake Okeechobee pollution fight


Amid opposition to land sales, fears of job losses and legislative deadlock, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday offered a surprise solution to the waterway pollution from contaminated Lake Okeechobee discharges.

The governor asked state lawmakers to allocate $200 million to fix the Herbert Hoover Dike by 2022. And he called for using the A-2 reservoir to store water.

Doing both, he said would address nutrient overloads in rivers, canals and estuaries that have led to environmental disasters, such as the algae that washed up on some Martin County beaches this past summer.

“I am tired of waiting,” the governor said. “I want to keep solving this problem. I want to get this done.”

Nonetheless, with his proposal, the governor waded into a contentious issue.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, support a $2.4 billion plan to buy 60,000 acres of farm land for a water reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. They say doing so would solve pollution in the coastal estuaries to the north.

If there aren’t enough willing land sellers, their legislation (SB 10) would seek to buy 153,000 acres of land from U.S. Sugar Corp. under an option entered into in 2010.

That proposal has elicited significant pushback from a coalition of Everglades Agricultural Area farmers. The group, which formed in January, includes more than 60 mostly family owned farms and related businesses — farms that supply much of the nation’s winter vegetables, including sweet corn, radishes, green beans, celery, lettuce and leafy greens, as well as rice, grown in rotation with sugar cane. The farmers say the land acquisition would kill jobs.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran issued a statement saying the governor’s offer was “not a new development,” according to a News Service of Florida report.

“We’re just beginning initial budget negotiations now and this proposal, along with many others, will be the subject of House and Senate negotiations,” said Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.

Negron expressed a key reservation about the governor’s plan — namely, the state picking up the tab for something that should be paid for by the federal government.

“I want to make sure we do not spend hundreds of millions of dollars of (state) general revenue funds on what is unquestionably a federal responsibility,” Negron said in a statement.

Still, the EAA Farmers group said they were “pleased” on Monday.

“We are pleased to see this discussion shift from political propaganda to focus on fact-based solutions and real collaboration with the state’s federal partners,” said Danielle Alvarez, spokesperson for EAA Farmers, in a statement. “Like the governor, EAA farmers continue to support the comprehensive, science-based restoration blueprint found in CERP to address environmental preservation north, east, west and south of Lake Okeechobee in a way that protects local agriculture, homegrown food and rural jobs.”

Another group, Guardians of the Glades, also applauded the governor’s efforts.

“I listened to the governor’s press conference and am excited to hear him announce that he wants to help solve the problem,” said Tammy Jackson-Moore of the Guardians of the Glades. “We all know that the [dike] repairs are necessary for the safety of those of us that live in the Glades.”

She added that use of the A-2 as a reservoir is acceptable because it is already owned by the state. She said her organization’s concern was “taking privately owned lands, which meant the loss of thousands of jobs, when the state already owns more than 100,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

She said Guardians of the Glades would still like to “see a water project that captures and treats lands north of Lake O before it flows south into the Lake.”

Others were cautious. Kimberly Mitchell of the Everglades Trust said she wants to see the actual plan.

The warnings of potential job losses by massive buyouts of farm land for water reservoir was a factor in his decision to offer his plan, Scott said. The governor has been particularly focused on jobs and economic growth in his two terms, and in Monday’s announcement he stressed that preserving jobs was a priority along with leaving a “pristine environment for future generations.”

However, the governor defended the Negron legislation, nonetheless. “There is a lot about this bill that I like,” he said. The governor dismissed suggestions that there is a need to use bonds for money.

A spokesman for Florida Sugarcane Farmers applauded the governor’s move.

“In advocating for up to $200 million in dike repairs and using existing state-owned lands for future water projects, Gov. Scott has shown he understands the importance of protecting lives and saving jobs by taking such a responsible position,” said Ryan Duffy in a statement. “We hope Florida leaders will follow his lead and act to get the repairs expedited and use existing state-owned lands for Everglades restoration.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Sessions declines to recuse himself from probe into Trump lawyer
Sessions declines to recuse himself from probe into Trump lawyer

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided against recusing himself from the investigation into President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, but will consider stepping back from specific questions tied to the probe, according to a person familiar with the matter.  By contrast, Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian...
Amazon’s critics get new life with Trump’s attacks on the company
Amazon’s critics get new life with Trump’s attacks on the company

One of Amazon’s antagonists seized the moment last month with an unusual newspaper advertisement addressed to President Donald Trump. The ad, from a nonprofit that advocates less government, attacked a Defense Department technology contract that Amazon intends to bid on, calling it a lucrative handout for the company.  A top think tank critic...
Democrats fear Grassley special counsel bill amendment will let GOP tip off Trump about Mueller probe
Democrats fear Grassley special counsel bill amendment will let GOP tip off Trump about Mueller probe

Democrats are warning that the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman's proposed changes to a bill to protect special counsels from undue firing would give the GOP the ability to tip off President Donald Trump about developments in Robert Mueller's probe of him — the latest flash point on the legislation's rocky road to a committee vote, expected...
Trump in Palm Beach: Sheriff’s OT bill for feds $3.3 million and growing
Trump in Palm Beach: Sheriff’s OT bill for feds $3.3 million and growing

President Donald Trump greets motorcycle cops from the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Palm Beach Gardens at Palm Beach International Airport on Sunday. (Melanie Bell/The Palm Beach Post) Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies who help protect President Donald Trump...
After Parkland shooting, NRA posts biggest fundraising haul in nearly 20 years
After Parkland shooting, NRA posts biggest fundraising haul in nearly 20 years

The National Rifle Association's Political Victory Fund raised $2.4 million in donations in March, setting a 21st-century fundraising record for the group in the month after a gunman killed 17 students and educators at a high school in Parkland, Florida.  The unprecedented fundraising haul came as gun control advocates, led by student survivors...
More Stories