Politically-motivated special interests are spending millions trying to convince the legislature, the Governor and Florida taxpayers that a $500 million land grab has something to do with Everglades restoration.
By Jacob Engels
In recent days, a guest column appeared at the Orlando Sentinel pages entitled: “Scott’s Legacy? Restore flow, stop discharges to Everglades”. Written by William Balgord, the column painted an ugly picture of environmental catastrophe caused by discharges of water into the Everglades from Lake Okeechobee.
While Balgord’s characterization of well-known impacts conveniently ignores the considerable progress — at great expense and effort — that has been made toward restoring Everglades water quality, the real problem with his column is his contention that spending $500 million of our tax dollars to buy 46,000 acres of farmland south of Lake O will magically solve the problem. It won’t. The scientists know it. The professional water managers know it. Serious environmentalists know it, and taxpayers know it.
Balgord even goes further to suggest that spending all that money to grab 46,000 acres for the government — plus as much as $2 BILLION more to build a reservoir on that acreage — will somehow cement the Governor’s “legacy” of restoring the Everglades. In fact it’s too little water for too great a cost.
Buying into a politically-driven land grab will do no more for Governor Scott’s legacy than it will do for the Everglades. The Governor’s legacy is just fine. He has pledged to finish the real work of Everglades restoration, and has backed up that pledge with proposed funding to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Rick Scott does not just talk the talk on Everglades Restoration-he walks the walk with $900 million to finish the job.
Everyone, including the Governor, agrees on the importance of restoring and protecting water quality in the Everglades. To suggest that a $500 million land grab is somehow equivalent to securing anyone’s Everglades legacy simply ignores reality — not to mention science, hydrology and hard-earned consensus among the professionals who are actually doing the work of restoration.
In 2013 the Everglades Foundation said in their annual report that finishing the CEPP and the completion of Resovoirs C-43 and C-44 were the solution to the Lake discharge problem. No mention of the 46,000 acres south of the lake. Now the Foundation would have us divert money from finishing the very projects they identified as vital.
Reality is that the environmental and water experts who have developed the Everglades restoration program have identified and agreed upon more than 40 priority projects that need to be completed. Exercising the U.S. Sugar option to buy landsouth of Lake O isn’t on the list — for several good reasons.
Mr. Balgord correctly points out that, seven years ago, U.S. Sugar and the State agreed to create the “option” to buy these and other lands. But that’s just what it was: An option. Today, with the benefit of more science, more negotiation and achieving expert consensus, exercising that option isn’t a priority for anyone who is really serious about Evergladesrestoration.
The reason it isn’t a priority is simple. As the Everglades Foundation itself has made clear, the real solution to reducing the impacts from Lake Okeechobee discharges is completing the Caloosahatchee Reservoir and Indian River Lagoon projects to capture, store and clean those discharges. Buying 46,000 acres of land elsewhere isn’t part of the plan, and would only take money away from the completion of those two essential projects — which the experts have identified as the real keys to protecting the “precious estuaries” Mr. Balgord talks about.
Politically-motivated special interests are spending millions trying to convince the legislature, the Governor and Florida taxpayers that a $500 million land grab has something to do with Everglades restoration. It doesn’t. Mr. Balgord appears to have drunk the Kool-Aid.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org