Sugar sweetens the deal with the Florida Legislature

Few of us give a great deal of thought to the fact that the water we drink, the water we use in our daily showers, is delivered to us as a river flowing south through the Everglades into the county wells in West Miami-Dade.

The problem: As the population of Miami-Dade, Broward and the Florida Keys continues to grow, the Everglades river flow has been reduced to 25 percent of its original size. Some 75 percent has been converted into farmland, primarily by U.S. Sugar. Bad enough that the flow of water from the north is restricted by the farming, but the nitrate fertilizers applied to enhance cane growth flow back into the Everglades creating staggering problems to plant life as well as Florida Bay to the south.

The State of Florida has for years been buying small parcels of land south of Lake Okeechobee, adding the land back into Everglades’ marsh helping restore the flow of water. This is a start, but not sufficient to bring us back to where we need to be. In 2008 U.S. Sugar and the State of Florida, under the guidance of then Gov. Charlie Crist, entered into an agreement to sell to the state 185,000 acres for $1.75 billion — $50 million in cash and $1.7 billion in bonds.

In the meantime U.S. Sugar could continue to plant and grow sugar at no cost to the company for the next five years.

For five years U.S. Sugar management has touted their agreement to sell as an example of responsible environmental stewardship. The land thus purchased would be converted back into marsh land and greatly improve the flow of water south.

Unfortunately, the nation fell into a recession and the deal was reduced to 72,500 acres with a price of $536 million and subsequently down to 26,800 acres for $197 million. The money was never restored after the economy recovered.

Then in 2014, seeing the flow of water declining and the population ever increasing the voters of Florida approved by a 75 percent “yes” vote for Constitutional Amendment 1, which will dedicate a source of revenue that will provide more than $5 billion for Everglades restoration over the next 20 years. Florida only requires 60 percent voter approval to amend the state’s constitution.

Amendment 1 sets aside 33 percent of doc-stamp revenue over the next 20 years to fund future purchases. Thirty three percent should generate approximately $300 a year to fund future purchases.

Now the problem is U. S. Sugar wants to walk away from its binding contract to sell. They prefer to build 18,000 homes and 25 million square feet of stores, offices and other commercial properties as opposed to selling to the state.

Sugar lobbyists are telling members of our House and Senate, through words and $550,000 in campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans to stall and let the contract to sell expire in October of this year. In its place the House has proposed spending $10 million and the Senate version proposed spending $17 million as opposed to the $300 million anticipated by the environmentalists who back Amendment 1.

Little attention is being paid to the Everglades purchase as the eyes of Florida residents are focused on the pending budget and the battle over accepting or not accepting federal government funding for an expanded Florida Medicaid program.

If the purchase of farm land doesn’t go through as anticipated it seems that the battle between the voters of Florida and the members of our House and Senate will end up in court, fighting the very people we elected to run our government.

This is basic survival. Water is not a Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, citizen or visitor need. Life cannot be sustained without water. Get on the phone, email, text your elected representatives and tell them to cut out putting their political futures ahead of the state’s needs. They too might end up taking showers with bottled water.

We appreciate your opinions on this column whether in agreement or disagreement. Send your comments to (fax number) 305-662-6980 or email to Kenneth.Bluh@ColumbusCL.com. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of this newspaper, its editors or publisher.


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About the Author

Kenneth Bluh
Kenneth has been writing a column for Community Newspapers since 1989 when he first wrote about the incorporation movement in UMSA (Unincorporated Municipal Services Area). His columns cover the political scene in Miami-Dade and Tallahassee. Educated at the Wharton School in Philadelphia, Kenneth has been a member of the banking/mortgage lending profession in Florida since 1962. Contact him at kbluh@americanbsm.com or 786-247-0547 where he manages American Bancshares Mortgage LLC’s Reverse Mortgage Department.

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