Javascript DHTML Drop Down Menu Powered by
Go to the Everglades-Hub homepage

     Search Site:

EvergladesHUB Home > News > Archives > MARCH 2010 - TEXTS

yymmdd Click the Title for ORIGINAL article web-page (LINK)

Judge's order to build Everglades reservoir imperils sugar land buy – by Curtis Morgan
March 31, 2010
The federal judge overseeing Everglades cleanup issued a ruling Wednesday that could be the final nail in the coffin of Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial Big Sugar land buy.
Chief U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno ordered regional water managers to restart construction on a stalled $700 million reservoir near the borders of west Broward and southwest Palm Beach counties, saying he has waited long enough and was ``now uncertain as to what role the downsized land purchase will play in Everglades restoration.''
The ruling was a major victory for the Miccosukee Tribe, which has argued that the $536 million deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp would siphon money from existing projects and delay Everglades restoration, possibly for decades.
Attorneys for the South Florida Water Management District had argued the state was close to completing $1.1 billion in projects and that the 73,000 acres of sugar farms and citrus groves could greatly expand cleanup efforts.
The district halted work on the $700 million reservoir, first citing a separate lawsuit by environmental groups, then Crist's controversial sugar land deal. In 2003, Moreno assumed oversight of the 21-year-old settlement that forced Florida to reduce pollution flowing into the Everglades.
Read more:


Sea grass protection tangled up in offshore oil drilling – by Dan DeWitt
March 31, 2010
Last year, we wrote about the mapping of an under-appreciated natural treasure: a 380,000-acre sea grass bed — the second-largest in the nation — off the coast of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
About 270,000 acres of this underwater savanna are classified as dense, according to the Southwest Florida Water Management District scientists who studied it. And all the good things sea grass does, dense sea grass does exceptionally well.
Such as: holds the sea bottom in place like lawns hold the soil in our yards; absorbs carbon dioxide and releases dissolved oxygen; provides food and habitat for poster-worthy plant eaters such as manatees and green sea turtles, as well as for countless smaller creatures that are fodder for tarpon, grouper and other commercially valuable predators.
That's just a summary. When naturalists start listing the benefits of sea grass, you get the impression that, without it, we'd no longer have the gulf. We'd have a less-saline Dead Sea. And, on the coast, a dead economy.
It's hard to imagine that any responsible citizen could object to adding this expanse of sea grass to a long list of aquatic preserves in the state. But powerful state lawmakers could, and did. Watch how this played out last week and you understand why calling the legislative process "broken'' has become about as controversial as calling concrete "hard."
On Friday, Rep. Ron Schultz, R-Homosassa, was finally able to get a hearing for his bill creating the preserve before the Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Committee.
Led by Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, committee members postponed the deciding vote, effectively killing the bill because they aren't scheduled to meet again.
Kreegel, who argued that establishing the preserve would interfere with offshore drilling, is a political ally of the Legislature's leading drilling advocate, incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.
"I have no doubt leadership squashed this bill,'' Schultz said.
Last week, Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas wrote about lawmakers pushing a brand of conservatism that, I think, is hard to distinguish from dumping on the public's interest. Anti-corruption measures are out. So is increased government transparency. Tax relief for big business is in, along with drilling for oil in state waters within 10 miles of the coast.
True, the risk of a spill big enough to destroy significant chunks of sea grass is small, according to a recent report from the nonpartisan Collins Center for Public Policy. But the available reserves in Florida waters are also tiny, the report says. They wouldn't produce enough gasoline to supply the nation for a week. They wouldn't lower energy prices or help us break our dependence on foreign oil.
The amount is so small, in fact, that a lot of people think the oil industry is seeking permission to drill close to shore only to make the federal ban on tapping larger deep-water reserves seem absurd.
Drilling in Florida waters "doesn't make any economic sense,'' Schultz said. "It does, however make all kinds of sense if you want to make it impossible to continue the ban on drilling in federal waters in the eastern gulf.''
Would our Legislature really be party to such a cynical ploy? Is concrete hard?


EPA proposes water-quality standards for Florida
Greenhouse Management & Production
March 30, 2010
EPA will hold 3 public hearings in Florida in April to receive more public input on its proposed water quality standards for the state.
EPA has proposed numeric nutrient water quality standards for lakes and flowing waters, including canals within Florida. The federal agency has proposed regulations to establish a framework for the state to develop “restoration standards” for impaired waters.
EPA issued the proposed rule under section 303(c)(4)(B) of the Clean Water Act. The determination states that numeric nutrient water quality standards for lakes and flowing waters and for estuaries and coastal waters are necessary for Florida to meet the requirements of Clean Water Act section 303(c).
EPA signed the proposed rule addressing lakes and flowing waters on Jan. 14, 2010. The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 26. The agency held public hearings in Florida in February and is planning to hold 3 additional public hearings in April to receive more input from Floridians on the proposed standards.EPA has extended the public comment period for the proposed rule to April 28, 2010.


Obama to Open Offshore Areas to Oil Drilling for First Time
New York Times – by John M. Broder
March 30, 2010
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.
The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.
Under the plan, the coastline from New Jersey northward would remain closed to all oil and gas activity. So would the Pacific Coast, from Mexico to the Canadian border.
The environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska would be protected and no drilling would be allowed under the plan, officials said. But large tracts in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska — nearly 130 million acres — would be eligible for exploration and drilling after extensive studies.
The proposal is to be announced by President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Wednesday, but administration officials agreed to preview the details on the condition that they not be identified.
The proposal is intended to reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation.
But while Mr. Obama has staked out middle ground on other environmental matters — supporting nuclear power, for example — the sheer breadth of the offshore drilling decision will take some of his supporters aback. And it is no sure thing that it will win support for a climate bill from undecided senators close to the oil industry, like Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, or Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana.
The Senate is expected to take up a climate bill in the next few weeks — the last chance to enact such legislation before midterm election concerns take over. Mr. Obama and his allies in the Senate have already made significant concessions on coal and nuclear power to try to win votes from Republicans and moderate Democrats. The new plan now grants one of the biggest items on the oil industry’s wish list — access to vast areas of the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling.
But even as Mr. Obama curries favors with pro-drilling interests, he risks a backlash from some coastal governors, senators and environmental advocates, who say that the relatively small amounts of oil to be gained in the offshore areas are not worth the environmental risks.
The Obama administration’s plan adopts some drilling proposals floated by President George W. Bush near the end of his tenure, including opening much of the Atlantic and Arctic Coasts. Those proposals were challenged in court on environmental grounds and set aside by President Obama shortly after he took office.
Unlike the Bush plan, however, Mr. Obama’s proposal would put Bristol Bay, home to major Alaskan commercial fisheries and populations of endangered whales, off limits to oil rigs.
Actual drilling in much of the newly opened areas, if it takes place, would not begin for years.
Mr. Obama said several times during his presidential campaign that he supported expanded offshore drilling. He noted in his State of the Union address in January that weaning the country from imported oil would require “tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.”
Perhaps in anticipation of controversy, the new policy has been closely held within the administration. White House and Interior Department officials began briefing members of Congress and local officials in affected states late Tuesday.
It is not known how much potential fuel lies in the areas opened to exploration, although according to Interior Department estimates there could be as much as a three-year supply of recoverable oil and more than two years’ worth of natural gas, at current rates of consumption. But those estimates are based on seismic data that is, in some cases, more than 30 years old.
The first lease sale off the coast of Virginia could occur as early as next year in a triangular tract 50 miles off the coast that had already been approved for development but was held up by a court challenge and additional Interior Department review, officials said.
But as a result of the Obama decision, the Interior Department will spend several years conducting geologic and environmental studies along the rest of the southern and central Atlantic Seaboard. If a tract is deemed suitable for development, it is listed for sale in a competitive bidding system. The next lease sales — if any are authorized by the Interior Department — would not be held before 2012.
The eastern Gulf of Mexico tract that would be offered for lease is adjacent to an area that already contains thousands of wells and hundreds of drilling platforms. The eastern Gulf area is believed to contain as much as 3.5 billion barrels of oil and 17 trillion cubic feet of gas, the richest single tract that would be open to drilling under the Obama plan.
Drilling there has been strongly opposed by officials from both political parties in Alabama and Florida who fear damage to coastlines, fisheries, popular beaches and wildlife. Interior Department officials said no wells would be allowed within 125 miles of the Florida and Alabama coasts, making them invisible from shore.
The Interior Department and the Pentagon are discussing possible restrictions on oil and gas operations in some areas off Virginia and Florida, home to some of the nation’s biggest Navy and Air Force facilities. States are also likely to claim rights to the revenues from oil and gas deposits within 3 to 12 miles of shore and to some portion of lease proceeds, officials said.
Mr. Salazar developed the offshore drilling plan after conducting four public meetings over the past year in Alaska, California, Louisiana and New Jersey. The Interior Department received more than 500,000 public comments on the issue.
Mr. Salazar has said that he hoped to rebalance the nation’s oil and gas policy to find a middle ground between the “drill here drill now” advocacy of many oil industry advocates and the preservationist impulse to block oil exploration beneath virtually all public lands and waters.
He has called the offshore drilling plan a new chapter in the nation’s search for a comprehensive energy policy that can open new areas to oil and gas development “in the right way and in the right places,” according to an aide.
In many of the newly opened areas, drilling would begin only after the completion of geologic studies, environmental impact statements, court challenges and public lease sales. Much of the oil and gas may not be recoverable at current prices and may be prohibitively expensive even if oil prices spike as they did in the summer of 2008.
At the Wednesday event, Mr. Obama is also expected to announce two other initiatives to reduce oil imports, an agreement between the Pentagon and the Agriculture Department to use more biofuels in military vehicles and the purchase of thousands of hybrid vehicles for the federal motor pool.


Big Sugar sues to stop regulation under Clean Water Act
Palm Beach Post (blog) – by Paul Quinlan, Staff Writer
March 29, 2010
Two of the nation's largest sugar growers, Florida Crystals Corp. and U.S. Sugar Corp., are fighting a new push from the federal government to regulate them under the Clean Water Act.
The companies, which own 342,000 acres of land that was once part of the Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee, have filed federal suits that say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suddenly and improperly began requiring wetland destruction permits to converted their lands to non-agricultural use.
The requirement would allow the Corps to either block new plans or force the companies to pay for "mitigation," the preservation of wetlands elsewhere in proportion to those being destroyed .
It's a sign that federal officials have taken new interest in the future of the farming region, whose lands are seen as critical to Everglades restoration. At the same time, so have rock mining companies and other industries feared to be counterproductive to environmental goals.
In the suits, Crystals argues that the requirement has impeded plans to create a 100-acre ash dump for its cane-burning power plant. The company now trucks the soot 60 miles away. U.S. Sugar complains of the delay in commencement of rock mining by Stuart Mining Industries, which is leasing land from U.S. Sugar and could be paying rent and royalties if work had started.
The lawsuits have profound implications for Florida's 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area, land south of Lake Okeechobee that was flowing Everglades marsh before the government drained it half a century ago to create fertile farmland.
Crystals and U.S. Sugar argue that the implications extend far beyond South Florida's cane fields to the 53 million acres of U.S. farmland that was once wetlands. They call it a major policy shift that deserved public notice and comment.
"We have legislation here that's been promulgated by bureaucrats," said Dan Riesel, who represents Crystals. "They've done it in a way that is sort of clandestine."
Environmentalists counter that the move merely represents an interpretation of existing law. They say the wetland permit is necessary because the Everglades Agricultural Area, unlike other converted wetlands, requires the use of pumps, locks, levees and drainage canals to keep dry. Without active drainage, the land would revert to wetlands, the Corps argues in a 2009 memo cited by the U.S. Sugar suit.
"They're farming a riverbed that is pumped actively to remove the water from the land," said Eric Draper, lobbyist for Audubon of Florida.
The companies disagree and cite a 1993 Corps ruling that said farmland legally converted from wetlands in prior decades would not be subject to Clean Water Act requirements.
"It doesn't mean they can't have a mine and that they can't have a landfill," said Draper. "The real issue here is that there's going to be more mitigation. They don't want to have to mitigate."
In the suits, Crystals says the cost to offset destruction of one acre of wetlands in the region runs about $90,000. U.S. Sugar says the permits can cost, on average, $272,000 and take more than two years to obtain.
Corps and Department of Justice officials declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.


Court date looms in environmental dispute over siting of inland port project ...
Palm Beach Post – by Paul Quinlan
March 28, 2010‎
Florida Crystals Corp. has begun talks with state officials about relocating or tailoring its plan for an "inland port" industrial development in the Glades, which environmentalists and state regulators fear could disrupt Everglades restoration efforts.
The powerful sugar company, owned by the Fanjuls of Palm Beach, was chosen by the Port of Palm Beach to plan an industrial, warehousing and distribution center south of Lake Okeechobee, as an off-site expansion of South Florida's three seaports.
Proponents say an inland shipping center would help Florida capture some of the projected growth in mega-freighter traffic coming from Asia to the eastern U.S. via a soon-to-be-enlarged Panama Canal.
State environmental and growth management officials have rejected the Crystals plans, however, raising concern that an increase in truck traffic, gas stations and other spin-off developments could pollute nearby land slated for Everglades restoration.
Crystals is fighting back in administrative court, but has recently engaged in settlement discussions, which Crystals attorney Gary Hunter described as little more than "conversations." He said the company will continue talking but still intends to take its case to the judge at a May 17 hearing.
"Nothing has been finalized," said Hunter.
Local leaders and Crystals officials have touted an inland port as an economic lifeline that could bring more than 20,000 jobs to a Glades region wracked with 40 percent unemployment.
Environmentalists argue that an inland port would open up surrounding land in the 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area to further development, driving up the cost of restoration and potentially preventing it.
Land in the region — former Everglades that were drained to produce rich, muck-soil farmland — would be best used for responsible farming and Everglades restoration, the key to ensuring adequate water supply for 7 million South Floridians, environmentalists say.
The state's growth management agency, the Department of Community Affairs, filed the administrative challenge against Palm Beach County, after the county commission decided last fall to let Crystals build an inland port on 318 acres adjacent to its Okeelanta sugar mill and renewable energy power plant.
The growth watchdog group 1000 Friends of Florida has intervened on behalf of the state. The project should include input from more than just the county commission and port, attorney Richard Grosso said.
"The ultimate decision about what kind of port-related facility should be built, and where and how it should be built, ought be decided with all relevant agencies and interests at the table," he said.


Best chance for Glades
Tampa Tribune - Letter by THOM RUMBERGER
March 27, 2010
Regarding "To best restore Everglades, re-do U.S. Sugar deal" (Other Views, March 15):
Florida has one last, best chance to save America's Everglades forever. That is to purchase 72,000 acres of land currently owned and cultivated by U.S. Sugar.
Yet state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, in her piece, would have us squander this opportunity over petty jealously and intra-industry politics. To do so would be a terrible mistake that costs Floridians dearly for generations.
The Everglades system is one of the world's greatest natural treasures, despoiled by decades of ill-conceived drainage and farming practices. At the heart of the problem are the giant cane fields feeding Florida's sugar industry. Buying this land takes it out of sugar production permanently. That alone would eliminate much of the agricultural activity that now poisons the River of Grass.
Under the ownership and oversight of the South Florida Water Management District, the property will be an ideal and efficient location for water storage and treatment. This treatment is essential for removing harmful pollutants and nutrients from the water before it enters Everglades National Park. In fact, Florida will be ordered by the federal courts to clean up this water, so we will either invest in the land necessary to accomplish that or pay for many more expensive and untested procedures for many years to come.
If Dockery is serious in her desire to govern the Sunshine State, she would be well advised to support this plan now, while it can still be accomplished in negotiations with a single landowner. Otherwise, Florida may be forced to purchase the property through an exponentially more costly condemnation action. If U.S. Sugar sells this property off in parcels - as is likely if this purchase falls through - the state will face an even worse fiscal nightmare dealing with multiple property owners.
On the other hand, if we act now to purchase the U.S. Sugar property, we can jump-start the important work of Everglades restoration, not only saving money, but also putting thousands of Floridians to work. It will have the added benefit of providing and protecting the water supply for 7 million of our fellow citizens in South Florida.
As chairman of the Everglades Trust, I, too, was skeptical of this plan when it was first presented. After all, our organization spent years calling attention to the abuses of the sugar industry. But after reviewing the terms and conditions of the proposal, evaluating the appraisals, the economic benefits - and considering the bleak alternatives - we are convinced that this is our best chance to save America's Everglades.
It would be a heartbreaking irony if this unprecedented opportunity is spoiled. The fact is, Floridians want and expect better than that. When asked, an overwhelming majority say that restoring the Everglades should be one of the state's top environmental concerns.
But talk is cheap. Preserving this natural legacy means taking the kind of bold, decisive action this purchase represents.
If Dockery wishes to lead the state, she needs to stop following those who aim to kill this plan at any cost.
Thom Rumberger is chairman of the Islamorada-based Everglades Trust.

Find money for sugar deal: Projects may have to wait; taxes may have to rise
Palm Beach Post
March 27, 2010
Buying U.S. Sugar's land is more important to Everglades restoration than lesser projects under way. The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board must scrutinize the agency's budget and determine what to sacrifice to deliver the greater long-term benefit.
Board Chairman Eric Buermann understands this, despite withering criticism from opponents of the deal, particularly U.S. Sugar's rival — Florida Crystals. The critics cited a new list of projects the district could cancel or delay so the budget can absorb the deal's estimated $46 million annual debt service. Making the list, though, doesn't mean that the most popular projects would be cut. The governing board must decide in the next few months where the U.S. Sugar deal ranks.
To critics who argue that the district is spending too much and is too willing to delay other important projects to deliver a "sweetheart deal" to U.S. Sugar, Mr. Buermann has a credible response: "This is a once-in-a century opportunity," he said in an interview. "U.S. Sugar has been there since the 1930s. They don't let go of that land every day. This is the only land on the planet that will serve our purpose, and our purpose is a long-term public purpose. It's not a commercial purpose."
Mr. Buermann is correct that even if the district is paying more than it should, this deal must rank at the top. It's still unclear, however, if the district can cut enough to make up for falling property values. The district could raise more money with a tax increase. The agency's tax rate is so low that it could rise by one-third, remain under a legislative limit, and still not represent a dramatic increase for taxpayers. But with Gov. Crist running for Senate, the board he appointed — and it's a big improvement over the board of his predecessor, Jeb Bush — has refused to consider a tax rate increase.
Unless that policy changes, the district will have to cut good projects that aren't as important as buying first 73,000 acres and, ultimately, all of U.S. Sugar's land. The $536 million first phase, which includes citrus groves U.S. Sugar insisted on including, is the start of controlling land south of Lake Okeechobee critical to all Everglades restoration projects, even those that might be delayed.
If the deal implodes, Mr. Buermann warned, the first thing the district would look at is enforcing higher standards for farmers to reduce pollution in runoff headed to the Everglades. Consider that a warning to Florida Crystals. Another threat if the deal fails, one Mr. Buermann is not willing to make, would be for the district to seize land — farmed both by U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals — by eminent domain.
The district still has an out. If it can't find the money to do the deal, it can back out without penalty. As an alternative, the district could seek to buy less land now. But if this opportunity is lost, future, different critics will wonder how this water district board could have let a deal so important slip away.

Saturday letters: Human intervention needed to help heal the Everglades
March 27, 2010
I appreciate professor Jack Davis' historic perspective of the Everglades. However, regardless of how important a historical perspective is, it does not replace sound science. Although Davis accurately points out that nature can be a great healer, there are times when human damages to an ecosystem are so great that nature cannot heal itself. Strip mines are one such example. The Everglades are another.
Lake Okeechobee is so polluted from agricultural practices that releasing lake water into the remaining Everglades would destroy them. The Everglades Agricultural Area, where Gov. Charlie Crist is moving forward on purchasing more than 70,000 acres of land for restoration, has, in some places, lost almost six feet of soil. It is estimated that it would take hundreds of years for nature to fix Lake Okeechobee, and thousands of years to replace the soil losses in the EAA.
The Everglades ecosystem is also crisscrossed by more than 1,000 miles of canals. These canals create artificial waterways that never existed prior to human intervention. The so called Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie "rivers" are man-made. These canals take dirty Lake Okeechobee water and dump it into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, causing black water dead zones, fish lesions, and the destruction of oyster populations. In the far southern part of the peninsula canals whisk water away from Florida Bay, causing it to be saltier than the ocean during certain times of the year.
Unfortunately, humans have caused such major damage to the Everglades that humans must now intervene to restore the Everglades. The EAA land purchase will allow for the construction of reservoirs that will store excess water that is now destroying our coastlines. This stored water will be cleansed through man-made marshes, known as storm water treatment areas, which will remove the pollutants from the water, so that it can be used to replenish the Everglades and Florida Bay.
In addition, the Everglades restoration plan will protect water supply. South Florida averages 60 inches of rain annually. Can anyone remember the last time drought conditions didn't occur during our winter months? That is ludicrous. Water authorities in places like Reno, Nev., or Phoenix, Ariz., must find it incomprehensible that we experience drought conditions with such an abundance of water! The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration plan protects our water resources for humans and the environment.
Can the Everglades fix themselves ?  No. Can humans help restore the system ?  Yes.
Mark L. Kraus, Ph.D., chief operating officer, the Everglades Foundation Inc., PalmettoBay

Releases from Lake O recommended, but environmentalist says now's a bad time
TC Palm - Vero Beach Press-Journal
March 27, 2010
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced Friday afternoon that at 7 a.m. Saturday it will begin a series of three 13-day pulse releases from Lake Okeechobee east into the St. Lucie River estuary and west into the Caloosahatchee River.
But a Treasure Coast environmentalist says the nutrient-rich fresh water from the lake would cause serious damage to the brackish St. Lucie Estuary during the beginning of critical spring spawning.
Nanciann Regalado, a spokeswoman for the Corps, said the releases are necessary because water levels are rising uncharacteristically in the lake during what should be South Florida’s dry season. That raises the potential for erosion of the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds Lake O.
At the recommendation of the South Florida Water Management District, the Corps will release an average flow of 950 cubic feet of water per second through the St. Lucie Canal and into the St. Lucie River Estuary. The target flow into the Caloosahatchee will be 2,200 cubic feet per second.
A memo released Wednesday by the water district refers to the amounts of water to be sent into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers as “the maximum possible non-environmentally damaging releases.”
“Anything more than 300 (cubic feet per second) is damaging to the estuary,” said Mark Perry, director of the Stuart-based Florida Oceanographic Society. “That’s the amount of water it gets naturally from the surrounding watershed.”
Perry said the Corps released water from the St. Lucie Canal, which connects Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River, but not from the lake itself, into the estuary for about a week in mid-March. The releases dangerously lowered the salinity level in the estuary and turned the water chocolate brown.
“This is a particularly bad time for releases,” Perry said, “because we’re getting ready for oyster spawning, and lots of species of fish will be spawning this spring, too.”
Regalado said the Corps will monitor the salinity and water quality in the estuaries to ensure the releases don’t damage the environment.
“The whole point is to do smaller, lower-level releases now,” Regalado said, “so that we can avoid having to do big slugs later in the rainy season or in case of a big, approaching storm.”
Perry said he doesn’t buy that argument.
“Even if the Corps releases water now,” he said, “if we get a big rain later on, they’ll still give us another huge release. The pulse releases don’t drop the lake level enough to justify the damage they do to the estuary.”
Regalado said the releases are expected to drop the lake level 0.01 foot a day, or about 5 inches over the 39-day pulse period.
“Hopefully we’ll make some headway,” she said, “but it depends on how much rain and inflow we get.”


Sugar growers take new swipe at Crist's Everglades land deal
Sun-Sentinel - Andy Reid
March 26, 2010
A coalition of sugar cane growers is calling for an independent negotiator to rework Gov. Charlie Crist’s $536 million Everglades restoration land deal.
The deal calls for buying 73,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. farmland to build reservoirs and treatment areas that could restore water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.
Opponents, including the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, contend the deal costs taxpayers too much and would take money away from other long-stalled Everglades restoration projects.
The cooperative this week issued a press release renewing the group’s opposition to the deal and calling called for a “third party” to step in and take over.
“The only way to have real progress on Everglades restoration is to have an independent, scientific, knowledgeable and well-intentioned third party drive a process that is free of politics and self-serving interests,” cooperative CEO George Wedgeworth said in the written release.
Crist since 2008 has been trying to win approval of his plan to buy vast swaths of U.S. Sugar farmland that for decades have stood in the way of Everglades restoration.
Many environmental groups support the deal as a historic opportunity to acquire land in the path of restoration that U.S. Sugar once wasn’t willing to sell.
The agricultural community has opposed the deal, saying it props up U.S. Sugar at taxpayers’ expense and takes valuable farmland out of production – threatening agricultural jobs.
Crist twice has had to scale down the deal due to the economic downturn. The deal still faces a legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court on April 7. If it survives, the South Florida Water Management District – which leads Everglades restoration – must then line up financing.
The plan calls for the district to borrow the money, with South Florida property taxpayers paying off the long-term debt.
The district’s nine-member board, appointed by the governor, ultimately decides whether the agency can afford to proceed with the deal.


Death of coral reefs could devastate nations
The Associated Press – by Brian Skoloff
March 25, 2010
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Coral reefs are dying, and scientists and governments around the world are contemplating what will happen if they disappear altogether.
The idea positively scares them.
Coral reefs are part of the foundation of the ocean food chain. Nearly half the fish the world eats make their homes around them. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide — by some estimates, 1 billion across Asia alone — depend on them for their food and their livelihoods.
If the reefs vanished, experts say, hunger, poverty and political instability could ensue.
"Whole nations will be threatened in terms of their existence," said Carl Gustaf Lundin of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Numerous studies predict coral reefs are headed for extinction worldwide, largely because of global warming, pollution and coastal development, but also because of damage from bottom-dragging fishing boats and the international trade in jewelry and souvenirs made of coral.
At least 19 percent of the world's coral reefs are already gone, including some 50 percent of those in the Caribbean. An additional 15 percent could be dead within 20 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Old Dominion University professor Kent Carpenter, director of a worldwide census of marine species, warned that if global warming continues unchecked, all corals could be extinct within 100 years.
"You could argue that a complete collapse of the marine ecosystem would be one of the consequences of losing corals," Carpenter said. "You're going to have a tremendous cascade effect for all life in the oceans."
Exotic and colorful, coral reefs aren't lifeless rocks; they are made up of living creatures that excrete a hard calcium carbonate exoskeleton. Once the animals die, the rocky structures erode, depriving fish of vital spawning and feeding grounds.
Experts say cutting back on carbon emissions to arrest rising sea temperatures and acidification of the water, declaring some reefs off limits to fishing and diving, and controlling coastal development and pollution could help reverse, or at least stall, the tide.
Florida, for instance, has the largest unbroken "no-take" zone in the continental U.S. — about 140 square miles off limits to fishing in and around Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of islands and reefs teeming with marine life about 70 miles off Key West.
Many fishermen oppose such restrictions. And other environmental measures have run into resistance at the state, local, national and international level. On Sunday, during a gathering of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, restrictions proposed by the U.S. and Sweden on the trade of some coral species were rejected.
If reefs were to disappear, commonly consumed species of grouper and snapper could become just memories. Oysters, clams and other creatures that are vital to many people's diets would also suffer. And experts say commercial fisheries would fail miserably at meeting demand for seafood.
"Fish will become a luxury good," said Cassandra deYoung of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. "You already have a billion people who are facing hunger, and this is just going to aggravate the situation," she added. "We will not be able to maintain food security around the world."
The economic damage could be enormous. Ocean fisheries provide direct employment to at least 38 million people worldwide, with an additional 162 million people indirectly involved in the industry, according to the U.N.
Coral reefs draw scuba divers, snorkelers and other tourists to seaside resorts in Florida, Hawaii, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean and help maintain some of the world's finest sandy beaches by absorbing energy from waves. Without the reefs, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that cater to tourists could suffer financially.
Many Caribbean countries get nearly half their gross national product from visitors seeking tropical underwater experiences.
People all over the world could pay the price if reefs were to disappear, since some types of coral and marine species that rely on reefs are being used by the pharmaceutical industry to develop possible cures for cancer, arthritis and viruses.
"A world without coral reefs is unimaginable," said Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist who heads NOAA. "Reefs are precious sources of food, medicine and livelihoods for hundreds of thousands around the world. They are also special places of renewal and recreation for thousands more. Their exotic beauty and diverse bounty are global treasures."
Associated Press Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report from Washington.


Independent, Third Party Should Negotiate Everglades Restoration
PR Newswire
March 25, 2010
BELLE GLADE, Fla., March 25 /PRNewswire/ -- The following statement was released today by George H. Wedgworth, president and CEO of Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida regarding the controversial proposed acquisition of U.S. Sugar Corp. lands.
"Nearly two years after Gov. Charlie Crist announced his vision of a 'flowway' to reconnect the Everglades by acquiring all the assets of U.S. Sugar Corp. for $1.75 billion, it has become clear that the only way to have real progress on Everglades restoration is to have an independent, scientific, knowledgeable and well-intentioned third party drive a process that is free of politics and self-serving interests."
Wedgworth said, "Through the various iterations of the deal, the governor's agencies have revealed their backward attempts to use the deal to manipulate science rather than properly using science to drive a deal.  The only result of their actions will be to further delay real restoration projects like those developed through CERP."
A recent series of newspaper articles and editorials have come to the same conclusion:
Damien Cave & Don Van Natta wrote in the The New York Times: "Documents and interviews suggest that the price tag and terms of the deal could set back Everglades restoration for years, or even decades... State officials acknowledged that U.S. Sugar was 'pretty much in the driver's seat' and that the water management district will end up with six disconnected parcels, including all of its citrus groves... some of that land, which has been ravaged by canker, a plant disease, is useless for restoration... In the meantime, more than a dozen projects under way as part of a 10-year-old federal and district restoration effort have been suspended or canceled in anticipation of the cost of the United States Sugar deal."
Mike Thomas, an avid environmental columnist for the Orlando Sentinel wrote: "This is a true fiasco. The old plan to save the Everglades -- the one that was forever in the making and finally got under way -- was put on hold for Charlie's plan."
Orlando Sentinel March 24, 2010 editorial: "It's not viable any more. Not by a long shot. It's overpriced, unaffordable and, by itself, won't rejuvenate the Glades. The state needs to renegotiate the terms of its deal with U.S. Sugar, or opt out altogether."
South Florida Sun-Sentinel March 24, 2010 editorial: "Unfortunately, it didn't take long before what was said to be a breakthrough became a boondoggle. Once a boon for the environment, the deal is now plagued by growing, and very legitimate, concerns that the big beneficiary of the sale will be U.S. Sugar and not the Florida Everglades... BOTTOM LINE: Drop current U.S. Sugar deal."
Wedgworth concluded that science should drive decision-making for the Everglades in order for the ecosystem to benefit. "That won't happen unless a credible, independent party is brought in to examine what is ideally suited for the Everglades. Otherwise restoration efforts will suffer at the hands of political science and self-serving special interests."
SOURCE Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida


EPA Holds Additional Public Hearings on Proposed Water Quality Standards
EPA Press Release
March 24, 2010
Contact Information: Enesta Jones,, 202-564-7873
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is holding three additional public hearings in April to receive more input from Floridians on the agency’s proposed Florida water quality standards. The agency held three public hearings in Florida in February on the proposed standards. The standards will protect people’s health, aquatic life and the long-term recreational uses of Florida’s waters, which are a critical part of the state’s economy.
EPA is accepting public comments on the proposed standards through April 28, and is holding public hearings on the proposed rule in three additional Florida cities to obtain input and comments on the direction of EPA’s rulemaking. The additional hearings are scheduled for:
April 13, 2010: Fort Myers - Harborside Event Center ,
1375 Monroe Street, Fort Myers, Fla. 33901
12 p.m. to 4 p.m. ; 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
April 14, 2010: Tampa - Hilton Tampa Airport
2225 North Lois Avenue, Tampa, Fla. 33607
12 p.m. to 4 p.m. ; 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
April 15, 2010: Jacksonville - Clarion Hotel Airport Conference Center
2101 Dixie Clipper Drive, Jacksonville, Fla. 32218
1 p.m. to 5 p.m. ; 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
In 2009, EPA entered into a consent decree with the Florida Wildlife Federation to propose limits to this pollution. The proposed action, released for public comment and developed in collaboration with the state, would set a series of numeric limits on the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen, also known as “nutrients,” that would be allowed in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals.
Nutrient pollution can damage drinking water sources; increase exposure to harmful algal blooms, which are made of toxic microbes that can cause damage to the nervous system or even death; and form byproducts in drinking water from disinfection chemicals, some of which have been linked with serious human illnesses like bladder cancer. Phosphorus and nitrogen pollution come from stormwater runoff, municipal wastewater treatment, fertilization of crops and livestock manure. Nutrient problems can happen locally or much further downstream, leading to degraded lakes, reservoirs, and estuaries, and to hypoxic “dead” zones where aquatic life can no longer survive. High amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in surface water result in harmful algal blooms, dead fish, reduced spawning grounds and nursery habitats for fish.
The proposed action also introduces and seeks comment on a new adaptive management process for setting standards in a manner that drives water quality improvements in already impaired waters. The proposed new regulatory provision, called restoration standards, would be specific to nutrients in the state of Florida.
More on the proposed rule and public hearings:


New water regulations coming down from EPA
KeysNet - Kevin Wadlow
March 24, 2010
A proposed slate of federal water-protection rules for Florida could affect the Keys, say local officials.
"Our biggest focus will be on [Environmental Protection Agency] rules for coastal waters," said Jim Reynolds, executive director of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority.
Significant action on that section of the EPA's proposed rules covering allowable nutrient levels is not expected until 2011, Reynolds said, "but it's not too early for us to get involved."
Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi and Reynolds spoke to the Monroe County Commission last week about the pending EPA regulations, which would set specific limits on the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in various types of Florida waters.
The EPA this week agreed to delay implementation of the first section of the rules, primarily affecting Central and Northern Florida, after several members of the state congressional delegation protested that the rules are overly strict given the available science.
"The proposed rule is lengthy, technical, and will take time for experts, much less lay stakeholders, to understand its implications," says a letter sent by congressional delegation members to the EPA in February. "Moreover, there is some disagreement between scientists at the EPA and at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection regarding the data each entity is using."
"These regulations will impact every citizen, local governments and the business community," the letter said. "The more time and information the public has to understand these rules provides more time to plan and consider the costs and benefits of implementation."
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents the Keys, and state U.S. senators Bill Nelson and George LeMieux were among those signing the letter.
Regulations in the Keys eventually could cover stormwater runoff into canals, and use of deep-water injection wells.
"It's not us locally, but all of the South Florida Water Management District," Reynolds said. "Anything that costs the district a bunch of money could end up costing Monroe County residents because we pay taxes to the district."
The EPA action follows a settlement in a federal case filed by the Florida Wildlife Federation, alleging that the federal government was failing to properly apply Clean Water Act standards in Florida.
In January, the EPA announced it was "proposing water quality standards to protect people's health, aquatic life and the long-term recreational uses of Florida's waters, which are a critical part of the state's economy."
The EPA said nutrient pollution can damage drinking-water sources, and spur the growth of harmful algae blooms.
"Florida is the only state in the continental United States to have extensive shallow coral reef formations near its coasts," EPA Assistant Administrator Benjamin Grumbles wrote in January 2009. "This biological diversity relies on sufficient quality habitat ... including clear, transparent waters low in phosphate and nitrogen nutrients."
"Especially in the case of coral reefs and flora and fauna in natural spring environments, clear water with plenty of light and oxygen available is critical to the protection of the species that inhabit these locations."
State officials contend Florida has taken significant steps to reduce nutrient levels, and that levels proposed by the EPA may not be attainable.


Sugarcane okay in standing water, helps protect Everglades
March 24, 2010
A study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists shows that sugarcane can tolerate flooded conditions for up to two weeks. That's good news for growers who are using best management practices for controlling phosphorous runoff into the Everglades.
Phosphorous stays attached to the soil for a long time even with the moderate rates of phosphorous fertilizer applied to sugarcane in Florida. If growers immediately drain their flooded fields after heavy rains have stirred up the soil, then soil particles--with phosphorus attached--flow from surrounding ditches and canals into the Everglades. Studies have reported that reducing phosphorus will help restore the large expanses of native sawgrass in the Everglades that were replaced with cattails.
Presently, Florida sugarcane growers are under strict regulations to reduce the amount of phosphorous runoff into the Everglades, so they often delay drainage for several days and reduce drainage rates from their fields to prevent large amounts of soil and phosphorous from getting caught in the runoff. However, growers are concerned about how standing water affects yield and sugar content of their crop.
Results from a lysimeter study conducted by agronomist Barry Glaz and soil scientist Dolen Morris (now deceased) at the ARS Sugarcane Field Station in Canal Point, Fla., show that sugarcane may be just the crop to help contribute positively to Everglades restoration. The researchers found that flooding for up to two weeks had no adverse effects on yield and sugar content. If lysimeter results translate to commercial fields, then growers can wait to drain standing water. This will allow the soil stirred up by the heavy rains to settle, resulting in less phosphorous entering the Everglades.
However, the problem is far from solved because results from this study, published in Agronomy Journal, also showed that that while sugarcane yielded well with periodic flooding, its yields were substantially reduced by shallow water table depths. In other words, the water table is consistently close to the soil surface, so that a substantial portion of the plant's roots are always in water.
Further research by Glaz will focus on the effects of floods and shallow water tables on sugarcane roots as he seeks strategies aimed at sustaining sugarcane yields while keeping phosphorus discharge at acceptable levels.
Provided by United States Department of Agriculture


Sweet Everglades deal turns sour
March 24, 2010
The idea began with much promise. U.S. Sugar agreed to sell its land holdings to the state of Florida. Gov. Charlie Crist touted the deal, along with its initial $1.7 billion purchase price, as a boon for Everglades restoration, and life would be good.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long before what was said to be a breakthrough became a boondoggle. Once a boon for the environment, the deal is now plagued by growing, and very legitimate, concerns that the big beneficiary of the sale will be U.S. Sugar and not the Florida Everglades.
The state still hopes to buy 72,800 acres for $536 million, a much scaled-down version of the original deal from two years ago. The proposal, though, has lost too much of its original luster, enough so that state officials should avoid closing on a bad deal.
The purchase has its problems. For starters, the sale could leave the South Florida Water Management District too cash-strapped to pay for other restoration efforts. Further delays are the last thing the Everglades needs. District officials say they could continue restoration once they secure the bonds needed to pay for the purchase. That's an iffy proposition in itself, but there's another problem with the land. Taxpayers could pay $400 million more than the land is worth because the appraisals were based on figures during the height of the real estate boom.
The parcels themselves aren't contiguous, which means the district would have to swap land with other landowners to create a tract large enough to recreate the unfettered flow of water from Lake Okeechobee into Florida Bay. Lastly, U.S. Sugar would still operate long after the sale, a setback for those who hoped that buying out the company would mark the end of a business long viewed as a stumbling block to cleaning up the Everglades.
The onus has been on the state of Florida to prove that this deal makes sense. So far, they have not been persuasive. The state still has time to make its case, but barring major concessions on the asking price, or the discovery of some unanticipated benefit that makes the purchase more financially attractive, this land deal has shaped up to be a losing proposition.
BOTTOM LINE: Drop current U.S. Sugar deal.


Time to renegotiate with US Sugar
Orlando Sentinel 
March 24, 2010
The country's largest subtropical wilderness appears certain to die without a major effort to restore it.
Which is why we backed the agreement between Washington and Florida in 2000 to revive the Everglades, devastated from years of farming, development and mismanagement. And why we later encouraged Gov. Charlie Crist in his efforts in 2008 to leapfrog the earlier agreement.
The federal government had reneged on its obligations to fund the restoration, and Mr. Crist's plan to buy out one of the River of Grass' worst polluters seemed early on a more viable way to extend the ecosystem's life.
But it's not viable any more. Not by a long shot. It's overpriced, unaffordable and, by itself, won't rejuvenate the Glades. The state needs to renegotiate the terms of its deal with U.S. Sugar, or opt out altogether.
Mr. Crist originally proposed purchasing U.S. Sugar's entire operation south of Lake Okeechobee so engineers could build reservoirs and pollution treatment marshes there to store, clean and eventually release millions of gallons of good water that wading birds and other species in the Glades need to survive.
But though the eventual expense of restoring the Everglades under Mr. Crist's plan was forecast to come in less than the 2000 plan, the cost of getting it going — $1.75 billion — seemed prohibitive.
Once property values and Florida's economy began plummeting, the state sought to downsize its deal with U.S. Sugar. It fell to $1.34 billion for 180,000 acres. Then to $536 million for 73,000 acres.
At $1.34 billion, we said the deal seemed way overpriced. Mr. Crist had gotten officials to ignore appraisals showing the state paying up to $400 million more than the land's worth. Why on earth was the state sweetening the deal? Because U.S. Sugar essentially said take it or leave it? U.S. Sugar was hardly in a position to demand terms. Its profits were down, its debt up.
Even now, at $536 million, the deal for a fraction of the acreage doesn't add up. Its price reflects hyperinflated values from 2004-2008. If the land were appraised according to today's market, it might not be worth much more than $300 million.
That's also partly because U.S. Sugar's looking to unload some of its least marketable land on the state, contaminated citrus groves that also won't facilitate the Everglades' restoration.
The deal also doesn't add up because the South Florida Water Management District, the agency steering the deal, can't afford it. It would borrow the $536 million, with district taxpayers paying the interest.
But the district can't do that and pay its other bills without blasting a hole in its budget. A financial adviser to the district forecasts a $100-million district shortfall over the next two years.
Even if the state could afford the inflated price, the reduced acreage appears insufficient to restore the Glades. It's some 30,000 acres shy of what environmentalists have said is needed.
According to its agreement with Big Sugar, the state has an option to later buy more land on top of what it's now looking to acquire. But if the state's needing 30,000 or more acres later to make the restoration work, U.S. Sugar or other nearby landowners could exact outlandish terms.
The district this month put off a final vote on the deal with U.S. Sugar till September. But it's a deal that no longer makes sense for Florida.
Mr. Crist needs to renegotiate a far better price for land that's more suitable for restoring the Glades. Either that, or his successor will have to finish the job.


Collier County to oppose EPA water quality standards - by ERIC STAATS
March 23, 2010
Collier County commissioners weighed in Tuesday against a federal proposal to tighten Florida’s water quality standards.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a numeric limit for nutrients in the state’s streams, canals and lakes as part of a settlement of a lawsuit with environmental groups in 2009.
The new limit would replace a more general state standard that requires only that nutrients not upset the natural balance of a water body.
Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and wastewater are blamed for turning Florida waterways into algae-choked messes that poison water supplies and smother marine life.
Scientists are studying the role nutrients play in blooms of toxic red tides that afflict Southwest Florida beaches.
The EPA’s proposal would put more canals in Collier County on a list of polluted water bodies, triggering cleanups under the federal Clean Water Act.
Echoing concerns from the state Department of Environmental Protection and industry groups, Collier commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to send a letter of objection to the EPA saying the new limits are not based on good science and would be too costly.
“We’re pretty sure this is not the answer,” the county’s Public Utilities Administrator Jim DeLony said.
The letter presented to commissioners for Tuesday’s vote says the county supports nutrient standards that are “realistic, appropriate, attainable, practicable and implementable.”
Commission Chairman Fred Coyle said the phrase could be misinterpreted as support for the EPA proposal and asked that, before he signs the letter, that it be worded more strongly.
The letter raises concerns about how to apply nutrient standards in Southwest Florida canals.
For example, during the dry season, the canals are essentially long lakes with no flow and the canal standard is too stringent, county reviewers said.
Collier County canals should be assessed using site-specific criteria that would take into account each canal’s own characteristics, the letter says.
As for costs, the county has not estimated a price tag for compliance with the EPA proposal.
The letter says the cost would be “many times” the amount of money the county already spends to handle drainage.
The county has spent about $68 million on about 30 drainage projects over the past three years, most of which are designed to improve water quality, according to county figures.
Despite opposing the EPA proposal, Commissioner Frank Halas said he remains concerned about the effect canals are having on coastal waters.
The EPA plans to propose water quality standards for downstream estuaries next year.
“To me, we’ve got to make sure what’s coming down the canals and emptied into the estuaries is being monitored correctly,” Halas said.
Connect with Eric Staats at


Five feet of seawater to flood Florida's coastline over the next 100 years ...
Palm Beach Post - Paul Quinlan
Machr 22, 2010‎
Floridians especially should be loath to lend much credence to the cries of global warming naysayers about "climategate," the intercepted e-mail chatter about the weaknesses in warming science, or "snowpocalypse," which recently smothered Washington, D.C., in two feet of snow.
Over the next 100 years, rising global temperatures are expected to cause seas to rise five feet in the vicinity of Florida, swamping the state's coastlines, pushing salt into underground wells and potentially flooding the Everglades with seawater, a group of top Arctic scientists warned.
Compare that to the average sea level rise worldwide over the past 100 years: just under 8 inches. The warning came at the end of the State of the Arctic Conference in Miami last week, where 450 scientists from 17 countries gathered to discuss climate change and anticipate its effects.
Scientists cited the rapid disappearance of sea ice and "greening" of the Arctic, recent tundra fires in Alaska and thawing permafrost across a broader region that has caused giant slabs of once-frozen earth to break off and slide down mountainsides, clogging rivers and streams.
Their bottom-line message: global warming is not only real but accelerating as a result of man-made influences.
In other words, this year's vicious snowstorms up north and Florida's prolonged winter temps should be viewed as nothing more than a deviation from the trend.
"Global warming is not over. It has not stopped," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. For example, using global temperature averages, each of the last four months have ranked as the top three warmest for their respective months, he said.
"A regional cooling does not necessarily mean much in terms of global change," said Serreze.
More alarmingly: About 30 percent of sea ice cover in the arctic has disappeared in the past three decades. Permafrost landslides are occurring more frequently from Alaska to east Canada. And Tundra fire burned 1,000 square miles of an area near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, three years ago that showed no prior evidence of burning going back thousands of years.
Inuits, indigenous people of the Arctic, "never had a word in their language for thunderstorms," said Bob Corell, of the Arlington, Va.-based Global Environment & Technology Foundation. "And a thunderstorm was most likely to blame for that fire."


Sugar buyout is last, best chance to save the Everglades - Thom Rumberger‎
Mar 22, 2010
Florida has one last, best chance to save America's Everglades forever. That is to purchase 72,000 acres of land currently owned and cultivated by U.S. Sugar. Yet, in her March 18 Other Views column Sugar deal has turned sour, state Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican running for governor, would have us squander this opportunity over petty jealousy and intra-industry politics. To do so, however, would be a terrible mistake that costs Floridians dearly for generations to come.
The Everglades system is one of the world's greatest natural treasures, despoiled by decades of ill-conceived drainage and farming practices. At the heart of the problem are the giant cane fields feeding Florida's sugar industry. Buying this land takes it out of sugar production permanently.
That alone would eliminate much of the agricultural activity that now poisons the River of Grass.
Under the ownership and oversight of the South Florida Water Management District, the property will be an ideal and efficient location for water storage and treatment. This treatment is essential for removing harmful pollutants and nutrients from the water before it enters Everglades National Park. In fact, Florida will be ordered by the federal courts to clean up this water, so we will either invest in the land necessary to accomplish that or pay for many more expensive and untested procedures for many years to come.
If Sen. Dockery is serious in her desire to govern the Sunshine State she would be well advised to support this plan now, while it can still be accomplished in negotiations with a single landowner. Otherwise, Florida may be forced to purchase the property through an exponentially more costly condemnation action. If U.S. Sugar sells off this property in parcels -- as is likely if this purchase falls through -- the state will face an even worse fiscal nightmare in dealing with multiple property owners.
On the other hand, if we act now to purchase the U.S. Sugar property, we can jump-start the important work of Everglades restoration, not only saving money, but also putting thousands of Floridians to work. It will have the added benefit of providing and protecting the water supply for seven million of our fellow citizens in South Florida.
As chairman of the Everglades Trust, I, too, was skeptical of this plan when it was first presented. After all, our organization spent years calling attention to the abuses of the sugar industry. But after reviewing the terms and conditions of the current proposal, evaluating the appraisals and the economic benefits -- and considering the bleak alternatives -- we are convinced that this is our best chance to save America's Everglades.
It would be a heartbreaking irony if a faction of the sugar industry and its cohorts spoil this unprecedented opportunity. The fact is, Floridians want and expect better than that. When asked, an overwhelming majority of them say that restoring the Everglades should be one of the state's top environmental concerns.
I suspect that, absent the current political climate, Dockery would agree with that statement, and, absent her political aspirations, probably this proposal as well. But talk is cheap. Actually preserving this natural legacy means taking the kind of bold, decisive action this purchase represents.
In her column, the senator referred to a newspaper article. One can only assume she was referencing a recent negative article about the land-purchase agreement in The New York Times. Just last week, that same paper endorsed the plan moving forward and called it a ``good deal for the Everglades.''
If Dockery really wishes to lead the state of Florida, she needs to stop following those who aim to kill this plan at any cost.
Thom Rumberger is chairman of the Islamorada-based Everglades Trust.

Read more:

The Secret of Sea Level Rise:  It Will Vary Greatly by Region
YaleEnvironment360 - by michael d. lemonick
March 22, 2010
As the world warms, sea levels could easily rise three to six feet this century. But increases will vary widely by region, with prevailing winds, powerful ocean currents, and even the gravitational pull of the polar ice sheets determining whether some coastal areas will be inundated while others stay dry.
For at least two decades now, climate scientists have been telling us that CO2 and other human-generated greenhouse gases are warming the planet, and that if we keep burning fossil fuels the trend will continue. Recent projections suggest a global average warming of perhaps 3 to 4 degrees C, or 5.4 to 7 degrees F, by the end of this century.
But those same scientists have also been reminding us consistently that this is just an average. Thanks to all sorts of regional factors — changes in vegetation, for example, or ice cover, or prevailing winds — some areas are likely to warm more than that, while others should warm less.
What’s true for temperature, it turns out, is also true for another frequently invoked consequence of global warming. Sea level, according to the best current projections, could rise by about a meter by 2100, in large part due to melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. But that figure, too, is just a global average. In some places — Scotland, Iceland, and Alaska for example — it could be significantly less in the centuries to come. In others, like much of the eastern United States, it could be significantly more.
And among the most powerful influences on regional sea level is a surprising force: the massive polar ice sheets and their gravitational pull, which will lessen as the ice caps melt and shrink, with profoundly different effects on sea level in various parts of the globe.
If the idea of local differences in sea level comes as a surprise, it’s probably because the experts themselves are only now beginning to fully realize what might cause such differences, and how significant they might be. One
Prevailing winds can push water consistently toward the land or keep it at bay.
factor, which they’ve have been aware of for decades, is that the land is actually rising in some places, including northern Canada and Scandinavia, which are still recovering from the crushing weight of the Ice Age glaciers that melted 10,000 years ago. That makes sea-level increases less than the global average would suggest, since these land areas are rising a few millimeters a year.
Around the periphery of where the glaciers sat, by contrast — places like Chesapeake Bay and the south of England — the land was actually squeezed upward during the Ice Age by the downward pressure nearby. The resulting “glacial forebulge” has been sinking back ever since, also at an average rate of a few millimeters a year, so sea level rise is greater than average in these regions.
And in some coastal areas — most notably along the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana — the land is falling as well: Thanks to massive oil and gas extraction, the continental shelf is collapsing like a deflated balloon. “The rate of subsidence measured at Grand Isle, Louisiana,” says Rui Ponte, of the private consulting firm Atmospheric and Environmental Research, Inc, “is almost 10 millimeters per year, compared with two or three in other areas.” That’s especially problematic for a city like New Orleans, which already lies partly below sea level.
Ponte said that these local instances of rebound or subsidence will subtract or add a couple of inches to the global increase in sea level over the next century, depending on the region.
A bigger effect will come from changes in prevailing winds, which can push water consistently toward the land or keep it at bay. The trade winds that blow west across the tropical Pacific, for example, move water in the same direction, boosting average sea levels by as much as 24 inches on the western side of the ocean — in places such as the Philippines — compared with those in northern South America. If those winds shift with climate change, so would local sea levels.
Ocean currents can also create significant local effects. During preparations for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Second Assessment Report back in the mid-1990s, Ronald Stouffer — a climate modeler at the U.S. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, NJ — and several colleagues were comparing projections of regional sea-level rise from different models.
 “They were splattered all over the place,” he recalls, “and the differences had no rhyme or reason. We speculated that they had to do with differences in how the models treated changes in the prevailing winds.”
But a little more than a year ago, Jianjun Yin, now at Florida State University, suggested that it might be something else: a weakening
The polar ice caps keep sea level higher for thousands of kilometers around both land masses.
of the “overturning” that drives major ocean currents. In the Atlantic, it works like this: Warm surface water — the Gulf Stream — flows north and east until it reaches the area between the United Kingdom and Greenland, where it cools, thus becoming denser, and sinks. It flows south and west, deep below the surface. Eventually, it rises again, warms, and heads back north.
If any part of this flow is significantly interrupted, the current will slow. Global warming has the potential to do just that, in two ways. First, a warmer North Atlantic won’t let the surface water cool so easily, interfering with its tendency to sink. Second, fresh water from Greenland’s shrinking ice cap dilutes the surrounding waters; since fresh water is less dense than salty water, there’s a further impediment to sinking.
Since the Gulf Stream warms northern Europe, the slowing could cool that part of the world. But the slowing would also force water to pile up behind what amounts to a partial blockage of the overturning current. That could force sea level along the U.S. coast to rise another 8 or so inches over the next century beyond the global average, given a medium-emissions scenario.
When he first heard about this idea, says Stouffer, “it was one of those ‘duh’ moments for me. I said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’” He ended up co-authoring a paper that appeared in Nature Geoscience last March, laying out the argument.
Then, however, Stouffer experienced another “duh” moment. “I’m somewhat embarrassed by that paper,” he says, “because here we were focused on this relatively little problem, and there’s this great big gorilla in the room, and I missed it. But I had a lot of company.” (This last point is crucial: Stouffer is among the most experienced and respected modelers in the world, so a “duh” moment for him means the surprise is widespread.)
The gorilla Stouffer refers to — an effect so large that it overwhelms the others — is something called the geoid. It’s an imaginary surface that maps
If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts and loses mass, its pull on the surrounding ocean will lessen.
the strength of Earth’s gravitational field, and it’s as bumpy as the surface of the actual planet. Orbiting satellites don’t move around the Earth in perfect circles, or even perfect ellipses; their height changes when they go over the extra gravity exerted by a mountain range, and changes again when they orbit over a valley.
And because water is a liquid, the surface of the sea is also warped to follow the contours of the geoid. The extra gravitational attraction of an undersea mountain range pulls water toward it, creating a literal, permanent bump on the surface of the sea, while the deficit of gravity near an undersea valley creates a depression in the water up above.
The same sort of thing happens when there’s an excess of mass on land that lies near the ocean. A coastal mountain range pulls the water in its direction, raising sea level nearby. So do the massive icecaps that smother Greenland and Antarctica. Indeed, Antarctica’s polar ice sheet is so massive that it is three miles thick in places and covers an area one-and-one-half times the size of the United States, including Alaska.
These polar ice caps are Stouffer’s gorillas. They keep sea level higher than it would otherwise be for thousands of kilometers around both land masses, and correspondingly lower elsewhere.
If the polar ice sheets shrink, though — as they’re currently doing, especially in Grenland and West Antarctica — their gravitational pull weakens and so does their hold on the surrounding water. About a year ago, Jerry Mitrovica, a geophysicist who teaches an entire course on sea level at Harvard, co-authored a paper in Science that laid out what would likely happen if the West Antarctic ice sheet, the smaller of the two sheets that cover the Antarctic continent, were to melt. (Like a complete shutdown of the Gulf Stream, this is not considered likely anytime soon. But recent satellite measurements have shown that glaciers that drain the ice sheet have begun moving faster toward the sea).
If you simply spread the resulting increase in sea level evenly around the world, it would amount to about 5 meters’ worth. But the ice sheet’s gravity is currently keeping sea level artificially low in the Northern Hemisphere, so if it disappeared, the actual increase along the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast would be more like 6.3 meters. In other words, as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts and loses mass, its pull on the surrounding ocean will lessen. Seas will drop around Antarctica and parts of the Southern Hemisphere, and that water will be displaced to more northerly areas, such as the east coast of the U.S.
Now that the gorilla has made its presence known, Stouffer is working with Mitrovica to understand its effects in greater detail. A joint paper, due out in a few months, will look into the gravitationally driven sea-level changes a melting Greenland could trigger. “The signal is so large,” says Stouffer, “that if you own beachfront property in Iceland, and all of the ice on Greenland melts and adds seven meters to average sea level, you end up with more beach. But in Hawaii, you get your seven meters of sea-level rise plus an extra two or three on top of that. It’s phenomenal to me that it matters that much.”
Mitrovica agrees.
“When I give talks about this, people don’t believe me,” says Mitrovica. He doesn’t blame them, either. “It’s just wacky when you think about it, completely counterintuitive,” he says. “But it’s true.”
As governments, businesses, and homeowners plan for the future, they should assume that the world’s oceans will rise by at least two meters — roughly seven feet — this century.
It’s even measurable, despite the fact that the melting of the ice sheets has barely begun. Even when you correct for other effects, says Mitrovica, you can still see that Europe’s sea level rise is less than you’d expect. “It’s profoundly puzzling,” he says, “until you realize you’re seeing the gravitational signal of Greenland melting.”
When he started looking at regional effects, Mitrovica recalls, some climate-change deniers were noting that sea-level rise was happening at different rates in different regions, arguing that this proved there was no global trend, and thus no global warming. That was already a bogus argument, but now that he and others have begun investigating the gorilla in the living room, it’s even more absurd. The science is so straightforward, he says, that “if you saw that sea level was rising uniformly around the world, it would be proof that the big ice sheets are not melting.”
How High Will Seas Rise ?
Get Ready for Seven Feet


Sierra Club muddies fertilizer debate
Tampa Tribune - by ALLEN FUGLER
March 21, 2010
Regarding "Limit fertilizer use in bay area" (Other Views, March 8):
It's unfortunate that the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club has diverged so far from the vision of its founder, the late John Muir, one of America's most famous and influential conservationists and "the father of our National Parks."
A Sierra Club regional director criticized pest-control companies without merit and without acknowledging our efforts to promote fertilizer training, adopt science-based regulation and protect Florida's water quality.
Unmentioned in the article was the Sierra Club's endorsement of the Florida Model Ordinance regulating fertilizer use, which it now states is inadequate to protect water quality. These fertilizer guidelines were created by a wide array of scientists, regulators, local governments and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club. It did not contain a four-month "blackout period" for summertime fertilizer application, which scientists say would have the unintended consequence of stressing turf, nature's best filter, contributing to nutrient loading and harming water quality. Blackouts also will encourage over-fertilizing lawns in spring and fall, outside the peak growing season when turf most needs nitrogen nutrition.
The Sierra Club has undermined University of Florida scientists, claiming their research is "bought and paid for" by industry, and have refused to participate in a coalition of researchers, industry and governmental groups investigating the source of nutrients in waterways. Although they decry residential fertilizer applicators as a primary source of nutrient pollution, the group isn't interested in supporting the necessary research to substantiate their claim.
The turf-grass industry and pest-control companies have contributed less than .007 percent of the IFAS research budget, which could hardly account for "buying and paying" of peer-reviewed research published in scientific journals. Regardless, industry support of academic research is quite common. As an example, pharmacological companies bring new drugs to market based on academic research.
Ironically, Sierra Club Florida supports federal takeover of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's role in water quality, which was widely opposed by Florida citizens, local governments, farmers, ranchers and businesses at recent public hearings across the state. Yet the Sierra Club wants local government control over fertilizer ordinances. Water quality is a very complex issue, and its regulation is far beyond the resources and expertise of city councils and county commissions.
The pest-control profession has the highest number of individuals trained in Green Industry Best Management Practices (BMP) - the accepted, science-based standards for applying fertilizer without impact to water quality. Last year, we supported successful legislation that mandated BMP training for all commercial applicators, which clearly demonstrates firm commitment to providing valuable service to consumers while protecting water quality.
As local businesses, we are invested in the environmental health of the communities in which we do business. As Floridians, we enjoy our state's beautiful and special water resources. As pest-control professionals, we are equipped and capable of delivering both healthy lawns and protecting water bodies.
Allen Fugler is executive vice president of the Florida Pest Management Association, which represents hundreds of pest-management professionals.


Getting a bird’s-eye perspective of life in Florida’s Everglades
Columbia Daily Tribune - by Wayne Anderson
March 21, 2010
There are numerous ways to see the Florida Everglades, including a tram trip over a road that takes visitors deep into the swamp, an airboat ride over the shallow waters, a bicycle ride or a walking tour. We opted to join the group taking the Shark Valley tram trip, a 15-mile, two-hour ride with a park ranger named Maria as a guide.
The lives of the animals in the Everglades are adapted to the changes that occur with the rainy and dry seasons, but any unusual changes seriously interrupt the life patterns of the residents. Humans have made many changes for their immediate profit and to fit their way of life, and these changes have not only interrupted the animals’ existence but also have had some bad effects on human life.
Once, the sky here was filled with so many birds that the sun was shut out. Although many birds still live in the park, they are only a shadow of what used to be.
After all we had heard about the number of birds that had been killed or driven away, I expected to see few wading birds in the park. Such was not the case. We saw many species, including the rare duckbill. Maria said she saw more birds that day than she had seen in many weeks.
It was apparent on our tour that there is a danger of a species becoming too dependent upon one food source or one technique for acquiring that food. The snail kite eats only snails that live on the stalks of a plant. Without the regular flow of water, there are no snails. The spoonbill uses its bill as an instrument, moving it back and forth in the water and, when it finds a food, snapping it shut. With limited food sources, their numbers have dropped precipitously.
We also saw many different ways the birds hunt. The cormorants did their diving bit, swimming long distances under water and using their sharp beaks to penetrate the fish. Ibis and herons stood in the shallow water, their beaks poised to strike quickly when a fish went by. We saw one bird using its wings to create shade for fish, which it scooped up.
Maria told us that although the Everglades look flat, there were small elevations, sometimes of only a few inches, in the land. At each elevation, different plants and trees grow. As a result, different birds and animals live in those environments.
Saw grass stretched across the horizon interrupted by various more stable islands, called hummocks, of small trees and brush.
We stopped to rest at a 50-foot observation tower with a good view. The next time we visit, we’ll probably take the Bobcat Boardwalk trip through the saw grass marsh and the Otter Cave trip through a hardwood hummock.
Reach Wayne Anderson at


New EPA rules label a dozen more Collier, Lee waterways as polluted, analysis ...
Naples Daily News - Eric Staats
March 20, 2010‎
NAPLES — More Southwest Florida streams and canals would violate water quality standards under a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit pollution in Florida waters, according to a Naples Daily News analysis.
The EPA is proposing to set specific numeric limits for nutrient pollution, replacing Florida’s more general standard that requires only that nutrients not upset the natural balance of a waterway.
Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, end up in Florida waters from urban and farm runoff, triggering ugly algae blooms that can poison water supplies, kill fish and smother marine life.
A dozen Collier and Lee county streams and canals considered not polluted under current state rules would be considered polluted under the EPA proposal, the analysis shows.
They include the L-28 tieback canal on the eastern edge of the Big Cypress National Preserve, the Tamiami Trail canal, the Faka Union canal, Camp Keais south of Immokalee, canals that drain into Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Golden Gate canal that drains into Naples Bay.
In Lee County, the newly designated polluted water bodies would include the eastern Caloosahatchee River above the Franklin locks and Palm Creek as well as Bayshore Creek/Chapel Creek, which drain into the Caloosahatchee.
Some water bodies — the Estero Bay drainage area and the Ten Mile canal in southern Lee County — would be dropped from the polluted waters list under the EPA proposal, the analysis shows.
The Daily News analysis compared the DEP’s current lists of polluted waters with a database created by the DEP, applying the EPA’s proposal to water bodies around the state.
A spot on the list of polluted waters triggers cleanup requirements under the federal Clean Water Act.
The EPA proposal is an outgrowth of a settlement of a lawsuit that environmental groups filed in 2008 after Florida missed a 2004 deadline to shore up the state’s water quality standards.
Agribusiness groups and utilities have objected to the EPA proposal, saying it will be too costly and questioning the science behind it.
Collier County commissioners are set to decide in the coming week whether to formally object to the EPA proposal.
“This seems to be the sledgehammer instead of a little mallet approach,” said Jerry Kurtz, the county’s principal stormwater project manager.
He said the county hasn’t estimated how much it might cost to comply with the EPA proposal — or even whether it would be possible.
“We can’t get our arms around it at all,” Kurtz said.
The longer list of polluted waters shows that the state’s current standards aren’t doing the job, said Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who represented environmental groups in the 2008 lawsuit.
“When you have numeric standards, you learn things you didn’t know before,” he said.
The state’s current standard is akin to waiting for a fish kill or a toxic slime outbreak to determine a water body is polluted, Guest said.
“That’s too late,” he said.
Guest accused the DEP of using the database as “scare literature” to whip up opposition to the EPA’s proposal on the grounds that it will cost too much to clean up all the newly designated water bodies.
The DEP database is meant to try to determine whether the EPA proposal is properly assessing water quality in the state’s streams, lakes and canals, said Julie Espy, environmental administrator in the DEP’s watershed assessment section.
“If a canal seems to have good water quality to you and it fails (the EPA criteria), you might wonder why is that,” she said.


The Cost Of Cleanup [EPA RULES]
March 20, 2010
After failing to enforce the Clean Water Act in Florida for more than a decade, the EPA is moving ahead with placing caps on nitrogen and phosphorus levels in Florida waters. But a coalition of agricultural, industrial and utility interests say Floridians can't afford what it will cost to clean up our waters.
Floridians can't afford clean water? That depends on whose estimates you choose to believe. The EPA estimates that it will cost upwards of $1.5 billion for polluters to comply with the new limits. But the coalition of polluters says the cost would be more like $50 billion.
Perhaps the true cost lies somewhere in between those vastly disparate numbers. We don't know. What we do know is that virtually every natural spring in Florida is suffering from nitrogen overloads. We know that the mighty St. Johns River is plagued by algae blooms. We know that there are water bodies in Polk County that have been deemed "impaired."
It didn't just happen, either. The EPA told Florida in 1998 - during the Clinton administration - to take steps by 2004 to improve water quality. Finally, after nearly a decade from the original order, conservation groups, including the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club won a court battle. The EPA was told to draw up the guidelines and enforce the numbers.
No, we don't really know whom to believe when it comes to the exact cost of clean water in Florida. But the notion that Floridians simply can't afford clean water is spurious on its face.


Only nature can restore Everglades – St. Ptersburg Times
March 19,2010
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's proposed land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. has the familiar anatomy of history repeating itself, in perverse reversal.
A hundred years ago, Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, donning an ego to match his ancestral name, bullied opponents to push ahead with his plan to drain the Everglades. To pay for it, he sold a half-million acres of state-owned Everglades land at fire-sale prices to a wealthy speculator, who subdivided the land and resold it at a 1,200 percent markup.
A Washington newspaper called the deal "one of the biggest land swindles in history," eerily anticipating criticism of the U.S. Sugar purchase, which includes original land Broward sold to the speculator. Like the Crist plan, Broward's plan was twisted up with ego, greed and politics. Like Crist, Broward was a governor who wanted to be a U.S. senator (he failed in two bids).
But the more important historical redundancy is this: No politician, from Broward to Crist, whether pursuing drainage or restoration, has stepped outside anthropomorphic boundaries to comprehend the Everglades on its own terms, to leave nature to determine the conditions that allow the River of Grass to flourish.
Nothing more than lousy consequences has come from trying to re-engineer America's greatest wetland.
Meddling led to a tragic outcome when the state encouraged thousands to settle below a feebly constructed containment dike along the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee, in the natural flow-way to the lower Glades. A hurricane in 1928 breached the dike, and some 2,000 people drowned.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched a "comprehensive" flood-control project in 1948, creating a slow-motion environmental disaster. Extended out two decades, the project bulldozed the natural ecosystem of the Everglades into a fossil-fuel-powered artificial one and opened land for the expansion of sugar growing.
Engineered nature remained the ruling principle when the Clinton-Gore administration introduced the new era of restoration. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan of 2000 relied on secret meetings, unproven science and the Corps of Engineers' mechanistic dominion. The plan let agriculture stay put in the natural flow-way.
This last flaw is what Crist wishes to correct, and this is a commendable goal.
Yet Crist is charging ahead with a plan that restores past practices, not natural flow. Like those before, his is a complex scheme of engineering that depends on mechanical devices and continued intervention, so embedded in our sense of human superiority is our desire to control nature.
Only the wise trust the wisdom of nature. Leaving it to govern may seem a foolish Thoreauvian romanticism, but consider these facts.
Nature has a remarkable facility for rebounding from hurricanes, fires or earthquakes. Within a few years of scalding life from its sides, Mount St. Helens was turning green again. Nature has demonstrated similar wherewithal to overcome human impingement. Scientists are constantly impressed by the speed with which a damaged ecosystem begins to thrive when insulting sources have been removed.
Closer to the subject, the floral and faunal response after the state reopened impounded oxbows of the former Kissimmee River and left things alone was equivalent to springtime rejuvenation.
Scientists, and especially engineers, are incapable of restoring the Everglades. For one, remaking an ecology cannot be done with pumps and dikes and manufactured conservation areas, contrivances that the Crist plan retains.
For another, ecosystems are in constant flux, and flux is central to a system's good health. What the Everglades was before Broward is not what it would be today, in the absence of civilization's historic meddling or not. The methods scientists have thus far imagined for restoration are no less artificial than methods imagined by politicians.
Only nature can restore the Everglades.
So let Crist buy his land, but do not let him muck it up with the expensive technologies of engineered restoration. Buy more land instead, and more land until every restraint against natural restoration has been removed. Then step back and allow the Everglades to find its flow again.
This strategy may sound impossible; in truth, if restoration is the real goal, nothing else is possible.
Jack E. Davis is associate professor of history and Waldo W. Neikirk 2009-10 Term Professor at the University of Florida. He is the author of An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century.


Renewed Support for an Everglades Land Deal, but Cost Is Still in Question
New York Times – by Damien Cave
March 19, 2010‎
MIAMI — Gov. Charlie Crist reaffirmed his commitment this week to the $536 million purchase of 73,000 acres of land from United States Sugar, declaring that it would heal both the Everglades and the coastal estuaries that are vital to Florida’s tourist economy.
But with its original plan to borrow money for the deal being questioned by internal auditors, the state water district responsible for the acquisition has begun to explore alternatives that could require severe cuts to restoration projects already in motion — and the sale of a reservoir — or a renegotiated, smaller purchase.
“I buy into the deal and the vision because I think it’s the right thing,” said Eric Buermann, chairman of the advisory board at the South Florida Water Management District. “What I’m struggling with now is the financial part of it.”
District officials are essentially assessing risk: how much can the agency stretch to pay for potential future benefits, without putting the present at risk?
The water district has a complicated mission. Formed in 1949, it represents the interests of 16 counties that support it with property taxes. In return, it accepts responsibility for “balancing and improving water quality, flood control, natural systems and water supply.”
Everglades restoration became an important component in 2000, when the district became the lead agency for the largest environmental restoration effort ever attempted. But with fickle weather and a complicated system of canals, pumps, lakes and artificial marshes, the district struggles with protecting its residents and nature.
There are a handful of worst-case events that it is trying to avoid.
In one, cutbacks to current water-quality projects as a result of the cost of the land acquisition would lead to a level of pollution in the Everglades that violates court-mandated agreements. Another would involve a flood, caused or aggravated by outdated equipment that could not be upgraded because of the deal.
The question is, what can be cut with the biggest financial gains and smallest risk?
Some decisions have already been made; construction on the 16,000-acre A-1 reservoir on the northeastern edge of the Everglades has been suspended. But more tough choices are expected. An internal budget document earlier this month listed 15 possible operating reductions, along with several potential land sales.
Mr. Buermann called the document “budgetary war games” that did not necessarily reflect what might actually happen. It is nonetheless an outline of the potential costs of the deal, to the Everglades and to the district’s broader mission.
The biggest item is the L-8 reservoir, which the district estimates it would be able to sell for $250 million. Critics including Dexter Lehtinen, a lawyer for the Miccosukee Tribe — whose members live in the Everglades — maintain that if it were sold, water from the reservoir would go to support future residential development in Palm Beach County, rather than the wildlife refuge it was intended for.
There are also millions of dollars in cuts to projects intended to help the estuaries Governor Crist toured this week while promoting the deal. “It’s the result of overpaying” for the United States Sugar property, Mr. Lehtinen said. “It’s the result from putting conceptual metaphysical benefits ahead of real benefits.”
Mr. Buermann, Governor Crist and environmentalists all denied that the price for the land is too high, though independent appraisers found it to be at least double the current market value. Karl Wickstrom, coordinator of the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund, said the effect of the potential cutbacks from the high price was “not much,” compared with the potential benefits from projects on the land to be acquired.
But some of that land may end up on the chopping block, too. Three United States Sugar parcels that the budget document says are worth $127 million are listed as candidates for “sizing down.” District officials have said that all of the land they were buying was vital for restoration, but in an interview on Friday, Mr. Buermann acknowledged that some parcels were better than others.
If the district had bargained for a lower price — United States Sugar entered negotiations at one of the most financially difficult times in its history — the district might have had an easier time paying for it all. Its list of potential cutbacks might be shorter, too. Instead, Mr. Buermann said, the district may have to narrow its ambitions.
“We do want the land,” he said. “But whether we can or should at this point buy all of the 73,000 acres is probably going to be subject of negotiation.”


Crist keeps pushing for US Sugar land deal – Palm Beach Politics (blog) by Andy Reid
Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday toured the St. Lucie River to keep up his sales pitch for a $536 million Everglades restoration land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp.
The governor proposes buying 73,000 acres of farmland south of Lake Okeechobee that would be used to build reservoirs and treatment areas to restore water flows to the Everglades.
The deal passed a critical hurdle last week when the South Florida Water Management District agreed to a six-month contract extension with U.S. Sugar, despite growing cost concerns.
Opponents say the plan to borrow $536 million – with South Florida property payers paying off the long-term debt – costs too much and takes money away from other overdue Everglades restoration projects.
Crist’s trip Thursday in Martin County was meant to draw attention to how the land deal could eventually improve the health of coastal estuaries, in addition to the Everglades.
Storing and treating more polluted stormwater on U.S. Sugar land could diminish the damaging flood control discharges from Lake Okeechobee, through the St. Lucie River to the coast. Those discharges have led to fish kills and damaged sea grasses.
“The well-being of the St. Lucie River and estuary is of great importance to Florida’s economy and quality of life,” Crist said in a written statement.
The U.S. Sugar land deal still faces a legal challenge, going before the Florida Supreme Court on April 7. If the Supreme Court endorses the deal, the South Florida Water Management District still needs to find a lender and must determine if it can ultimately afford the deal amid diminishing tax revenue.


Florida water managers weigh cuts, selloffs to finance US Sugar deal - Curtis Morgan
‎March 18, 2010‎
With financing plans for the U.S. Sugar deal in doubt, water managers are exploring cutting projects and selling land as options to raise cash for Everglades restoration.
With the odds of borrowing a half-billion bucks growing dicey, water managers are exploring new ways to finance Gov. Charlie Crist's deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. -- a controversial land buy the governor stood firmly behind Thursday during a South Florida visit.
One possible alternative: Pay for a big chunk -- perhaps even all -- of the $536 million price tag in cash.
But coming up with cash up front could require serious, and politically messy, surgery on the South Florida Water Management District's $1.5 billion budget.
An internal ``financial options'' memo produced this month by Thomas Olliff, a Water District assistant executive director, contemplates an array of potential cuts: canceling or postponing nearly a dozen existing Everglades restoration projects, slashing salaries, selling a district plane, closing a laboratory, selling state-owned land, even downsizing the deal again by selling off thousands of acres of U.S. Sugar citrus groves.
Water managers stressed that the memo -- produced, Olliff wrote, with ``no filter'' -- reflected nothing more than a laundry list intended to help governing board members decide whether the agency can still afford the deal.
``What you're looking at is really cocktail napkin noodling and doodling about everything and anything that might be done, if you wanted to do that,'' said board Chairman Eric Buermann, who joined Crist Thursday on a tour of the St. Lucie River, which has been trashed by polluted releases from Lake Okeechobee.
Crist's deal, already downsized twice by the deteriorating economy, has been under siege from rival growers Florida Crystals, the Miccosukee Tribe and some state lawmakers. They contend it amounts to a bailout for a struggling and politically influential agriculture giant, and would push back restoration efforts by years or decades.
Tribe attorney Dexter Lehtinen brandished the memo during a federal court hearing this week on Everglades cleanup progress, calling it evidence that water managers would have to raid critical projects to afford the deal.
``What I see on this list is an order to buy the sugar land, no matter how much it costs,'' Lehtinen said. ``It's shocking to say the least.''
Henry Dean, a former district executive director who is now a consultant for Florida Crystals and the Florida Sugar Cane Cooperative, said the cuts ``would have devastating effects.''
The list includes three Miami-Dade projects: $35 million intended to overhaul the C-111 canal, which diverts fresh water from Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, and $7 million to restore freshwater flows to Biscayne Bay.
It also raises the option of selling $60 million in land the state has spent years acquiring in the Bird Drive basin area of West Miami-Dade -- site of a proposed water preserve. Also potentially on the sales block: the L-8 reservoir in western Palm Beach County, rock pits the district purchased in 2003 for more than $200 million in a deal tainted by kickbacks that put two Palm Beach County commissioners in jail.
The Palm Beach Post reported this week that water in the pits, intended to supply both marshes and suburbs, was too brackish for wetlands. Water utilities in Palm Beach and Broward are pondering digging another pit nearby to enhance supplies.
Water District board member Shannon Estenoz, who requested the ``financial options'' breakdown, said she wanted raw numbers so that board members -- all nine appointed by Crist -- can set priorities rather than put the agency's staff in the crosshairs.
``One of the biggest criticisms of this deal is that it all happens behind closed doors,'' she said. ``I said, `You guys have to turn it over to the board and let the board make the tough decisions.' ''
Estenoz echoed Buermann, saying she would never support cutting jobs or many of the projects, such as a C-111 repair that broke ground this year. But she said the district needed to take a hard look at spending to try to make a deal she and environmentalists consider essential to resolve water pollution and supply problems that have plagued the Glades for decades.
In addition to securing 72,500 acres of citrus groves and sugar fields, the deal includes options to purchase an additional 107,000 acres for about $794 million. Plans call for converting the land -- at uncertain time and cost -- into reservoirs and pollution-treatment marshes.
Last week, the board unanimously extended an expiring deadline on the deal but acknowledged that bleak financial projections threaten plans to bankroll it with bonds.
An outside financial advisor warned in February that declining property-tax revenues and mounting deficits -- projected to hit $110 million by 2012 -- could limit the credit line and force ``very difficult decisions.'' On April 7, the Florida Supreme Court is also scheduled to hear an appeal of a lawsuit challenging the bonding plan.
Critics believe the board is under pressure from the governor's office to make the deal happen. Michael Sole, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the governor's point man on the deal, denied any arm-twisting and said the agency was just at the beginning of a budget process that would take months.
``There has been no formal direction in terms of financing,'' he said in a written statement.
Board chairman Buermann said the agency had only engaged in routine budget discussions with the DEP, which oversees district operations. He also insisted the board wouldn't do the deal, which Crist has called a top environmental priority, if it would bust the budget, or jeopardize restoration or core missions to control flooding and supply water.
``We're not his rubber stamp,'' Buermann said.
Robert Coker, a U.S. Sugar vice president, said the company has not discussed downsizing options with the district and is focused on the bottom line, not how it might get paid.
Read more:


Gov. Crist tours St. Lucie River estuary
March 18, 2010
STUART — From his seat on a pontoon boat cruising along the St. Lucie River estuary Thursday morning, Gov. Charlie Crist could look down into chocolate-brown water.
“It’s pathetic,” Crist said as Mark Perry, executive director of the Stuart-based Florida Oceanographic Society, explained how discharges from Lake Okeechobee had all but wiped out the estuary’s oyster population.
“The St. Lucie River watershed is an essential component to the northern Everglades ecosystem,” Crist said at Sunset Bay Marina before boarding the boat for a tour with about 20 people, mostly local officials and environmental activists.
Crist lauded the unanimous vote a week ago by the South Florida Water Management District’s governing board to extend the deadline for negotiating to buy 73,000 acres of farmland from U.S. Sugar Corp. to help restore water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. An important by-product of the proposed “flow way” would be to prevent disastrous releases from Lake O into the St. Lucie River Estuary and Indian River Lagoon like those five years ago that turned water bright green and devastated aquatic life.
Noting that critics have said the deal, which calls for the water management district to borrow $536 million, with South Florida property taxpayers paying off the long-term debt, is too expensive, especially in tough economic times, Crist said, “We can’t afford not to do it. When are we going to get this kind of golden opportunity again? We’re at the precipice of doing something truly great.”
At times, Crist’s appearance at the marina and on the boat ride took on the feel of a campaign stop, with people taking turns praising the governor, who is running for U.S. Senate, for his leadership.
Former state Senate President Ken Pruitt of Port St. Lucie: “The folks who thank us for electing this governor will be our children and grandchildren.”
Eric Buermann, chairman of the water district governing board: “Our board has taken a licking from a lot of powerful forces who are contrarians to the River of Grass. Governor, thank you for your support. We’ve needed it.”
In a statement released March 8, Marco Rubio, who’s running against Crist, called the U.S. Sugar deal “a massive taxpayer-funded bailout for a top Charlie Crist campaign donor and a profitable bonanza for Crist’s inner circle. ... Once again, Charlie Crist has put his political ambition ahead of the people of Florida, and once again the results are disastrous for taxpayers. In fact, this bailout plan is the second most expensive photo op Charlie Crist has ever staged.”
Crist noted Thursday that the deal has been cut from a $1.75 billion purchase of twice as much land since he first proposed it in June 2008, because of economic concerns.
“In the end (the purchase) is cheaper than building all the dikes and dams that had been proposed,” he said. “And it’s hard to argue against restoring the flow to the way God intended it.”
Crist bristled at the suggestion his actions were politically motivated.
“This has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is what’s right for Florida and Florida’s future. I don’t care what other people might say. Marjory Stoneman Douglas (author of “The Everglades: River of Grass”) said that to save the Everglades we’d have to buy back the land. She was right then, and she’s right now.”


Putnam: EPA delaying some new rules for Florida waters; calling for scientific review  
Southeast AGnet
March 18th, 2010
WASHINGTON – Congressman Adam Putnam today welcomed an announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it will delay a portion of its new and complex rules for nutrients in Florida waters and will invite a third party scientific review of the standards.
“EPA promised to review the rigor of their science when they met with me and other members of the Florida congressional delegation earlier this month,” said Putnam. “It appears they may have known their science was lacking. This has been an example of the danger of them charging ahead on a tight deadline with thousands of technical standards for every Florida water body when Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Florida Water Management Districts don’t believe those standards are supported by science.”
In a letter to the Florida DEP, (Click here to view letter) the EPA said it expects to delay implementation of “downstream protection values” for nutrients in waters until 2011 and that it will consult with the FDEP on the scope of the scientific review. The agency also said it expects to announce further details regarding the scientific review in April.
In February Putnam organized a letter to EPA from 20 members of Florida’s congressional delegation, calling for the agency to extend its comment period for the proposed rules, which are scheduled to begin going into effect later this year. In response, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson met with the Florida delegation earlier this month to discuss their concerns. “In that meeting it was clear that there was inadequate communication between the state and federal regulators. I urge Administrator Jackson to come to Florida and sit down with FDEP Secretary Michael Sole to see firsthand and better understand the issue from Florida’s perspective.”
Putnam noted that “Every single Floridian faces higher stormwater and sewer costs per month if the EPA’s numbers are adopted without better review. Thank goodness they seem willing to review the flaws in their science on this portion of the proposed rule, now let’s get the state regulators and federal regulators to work together on the best plan for our state. The EPA administrator should come to Florida to better understand this issue.
“I am especially grateful for the leadership from the rest of the Florida delegation. Both senators and a bipartisan group of House members are integrally involved in resolving this issue.”
Since 2001, Putnam has represented Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes most of Polk County and portions of Hillsborough and Osceola counties.


Everglades Land Purchase
New York Times - Letters
March 17, 2010
To the Editor:
Deal to Save Everglades May Help Sugar Firm” (front page, March 8) offered a chronological account of the negotiations by the State of Florida to purchase lands from the United States Sugar Corporation, including acreage in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
While the article questioned the cost of this purchase, it did not thoroughly discuss the significant benefits this acquisition would provide to South Florida’s sensitive environment and freshwater resources.
When the state and federal governments committed 10 years ago to restoring the Everglades, adequate land needed to treat, store and convey freshwater south from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades Agricultural Area to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay was unavailable.
The alternative to land is expensive and energy-intensive underground injection wells that have never been shown to work on a large scale. Getting land now used for sugarcane is the only option, regardless of price.
The proposed acquisition opens the way to flow more water south in a manner that more closely mimics nature and replaces the need for and the cost of hundreds of manmade wells. The acquisition also opens the way to replenishing parched wetlands, reviving natural plant communities and healing habitat so important to struggling bird and wildlife populations.
We have made significant progress on restoring the Everglades, an ecosystem that exists nowhere else in the world. Neither we nor our children can afford to let this opportunity pass us by.
Eric Draper, Executive Director, Audubon of Florida, Miami, March 10, 2010


Eyes Only - Paradise ... paved and then unpaved
Naples Daily News – by Peter Gaddy
March 17, 2010
A CERP is located right in our own backyard. For the non-initiated, a CERP is a “Certified Everglades Restoration Project.” The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is leading a one-half billion-dollar project to restore wetlands and sheet flow water to the Picayune Strand.
Early this month a public meeting was hosted by Lacy Shaw of the Army Corps and Janet Starnes of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The meeting was held to assuage the flooding concerns of residents who live near the project.
The Picayune Strand is located just south of I-75 and extends south to the Tamiami Trail. In the mid 1960’s Gulf America Land Corporation acquired this land to set up a swampland-selling scheme. They brought in a 55-ton tree crusher capable of clearing an eight-mile long, 50-foot wide path through the forest every day. Bulldozers and dredges followed closely behind the tree crusher and finished draining the wetland by the early 1970s. What had taken natural processes hundreds of thousands of years to create was undone in the blink of an eye.
Wetlands are important because they insure flood protection, provide a source of clean water, and establish a habitat for valuable species. The failure to protect wetlands ultimately results in a price to be paid, and the taxpayer always pays that price. The taxpayer winds up with the bill for higher costs to obtain and process water, expensive flood control structures, and higher flood insurance premiums. Unfortunately the effect is cumulative, and Florida is to getting to be a pretty expensive place to live. At a half-billion, the Picayune CERP is pretty cheap, restoration of the entire Everglades will be 8 billion or more.
The Picayune restoration will involve the plugging of 43 miles of canals, removing 260 miles of roads, and the re-hydration of the wetland by the construction of three gigantic pumping stations. Since the project will plug the Faka Union Canal, which provides drainage for much of Eastern Collier, the pumps will also be the major means of flood control for residents throughout much of Collier.
The Collier meeting was a rare event for the Corps and the SFWMD as most of their public meetings regarding this local project are held on the East coast. During the meeting, most of the residents concerns centered around potential flooding. When residents asked what would happen if the pumps failed during a flood event they were told that the pumps were “designed not to fail”. In response to the assertion that the pumps would be infallible, one resident quipped, “Tell that to the people in the 9th Ward in New Orleans!”
While bulldozers roam the remnants of Gulf America’s failed subdivision in an effort to recreate wetlands, just a few miles away in the same watershed, the Corps and SWFWMD are diligently working on permits for two large developments, Mirasol and Big Cypress, which will pave over hundreds of acres of existing wetlands.
Only in America … can the same Federal and State agencies spend billions to restore wetlands while simultaneously overseeing their destruction.
To learn more about CERP go to:


NY Times: Crist's Everglades land deal with US Sugar not so bad after all
Palm Beach Post (blog) – by Paul Quinlan
March 17, 2010
Environmentalists are cheering this morning’s New York Times editorial, which praises Gov. Charlie Crist’s $536 million plan to buy 73,000 acres of farmland for U.S. Sugar Corp. as “a very good deal for the environment.” The endorsement comes a little more than a week after the Times published a huge, front-page investigative piece that said the opposite was true — specifically, that the “price tag and terms of the deal could set back Everglades restoration for years, or even decades.”
Confused, yet? Stay with me here. The editorial essentially concedes that the payout to U.S. Sugar may “seem excessive” and that the cost may force other Everglades restoration projects underway to be canceled. But, the Times’ editorial board says, those other projects were of questionable benefit and relied on questionable science (including, but not limited to, the concept of burying water).
Buying land in the sugar farming region south of Lake Okeechobee, which Everglades scientists have been recommending for decades, essentially allows for the water managers to, once again, flow water downhill from the lake.
That’s the way it used to work before the government ditched, diked and dammed most of South Florida, once a giant, uninhabitable, southward-flowing marsh from south of Orlando to Florida Bay. And that’s why supporters equate this deal — which the editorial labels “game-changing” — to the purchase of a Alaska or a new national park. Sure, U.S. Sugar may be laughing all the way to the bank. But to most Everglades scientists, any deal is better than no deal. To use real estate parlance, there are no “comparables.”
One minor problem lingers: it’s not clear that the South Florida Water Management District can afford it. Expect heated debates in the coming months, as the agency decides whether the numbers add up, given the dismal economy and sinking tax revenues. The Times even suggests the state could negotiate the price downward or cancel, if necessary. (An “opt-out clause” would theoretically allow the state to do just that.)
Then there’s the question of how to pay for the actual restoration works that would need to be built on the land: artificial marshes, reservoirs, canals, etc. But first things first, says the Times. The U.S. Sugar deal, it says, is a “critically important first step.”


Cement Over Miami
Poder 360 - Dave Hogerty
March 16, 2010
You wake up one bright South Florida morning, make some coffee, and head for the balcony of your downtown Miami condo, laptop in hand. You feel the cement floor caress the bottoms of your feet. As you step outside, the balmy air hits your face; you gaze westward. You notice the sunlight glimmering off a beautiful multicolored river of cars on I-95, all in one lane because of a construction project. You know that the Miami River is also down there somewhere, fantastically obscured by an awe-inspiring panoply of bridges and roadway overpasses. Oh, there’s a pretty little patch of water, you say to yourself and smile. You scan the panorama, take in the grid of streets, avenues, parking lots, and marvel at this vast pastel-colored tapestry of cement, concrete and asphalt, as far as the eye can see. Where does all this concrete come from, you wonder. It’s miraculous.
You sit at your balcony breakfast table and take a sip of coffee while the computer boots up to the Herald. Headline: ‘Lake Belt’ mining OK’d in Northwest Miami-Dade. Lakes in the Everglades? You thought it was just a huge river, as in the River of Grass. Being an educated sort, you knew that during the Ice Age humongous glaciers descended into the northern United States and carved out holes that filled with water when the glacier receded. But not this far south. You read on and the news is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved permits allowing rock mining companies to blast and excavate limestone from 10,000 acres of Everglades wetlands over the next 20 years. The “lakes” are the resulting craters, which fill with water because they’re in the middle of North America’s largest wetland. Ah, American ingenuity.
In fact, each year the Lake Belt produces 60 million tons of limestone aggregate, a main ingredient in cement, concrete, and asphalt. That’s almost half of the aggregate the state of Florida consumes in a year. Wow, you think. You look up, take in your 41st floor view again. How many lakes’ worth of limestone went into this skyline?
Of course, God didn’t create the Everglades only to provide human beings with aggregate. He also made them to create jobs. Approximately 7,000 to 14,000 of them, the Miami-Dade Limestone Products Association estimates. That’s probably a little exaggerated, you chuckle, but still, folks in California should be so lucky. They probably wish the Army Corps would approve some permits to clear-cut a couple dozen square miles of trees in the Redwood and Sequoia National Forests right about now. A single giant sequoia tree could probably create at least a hundred jobs. But the Army Corps doesn’t handle deforestation proposals; it tends to specialize in waterways and wetlands projects involving heavy earth-moving machinery. Sorry Northern California.
You look up again, sip some more coffee, and revel in your solitude, because you’re one of about ten residents who’s ever actually lived in your highrise. It’s like your own little cement mountain top. Reading on, you learn that the Sierra Club and other environmental conservation groups recently won an eight-year-long federal court battle aimed at banning rock mining in the Everglades - jobs and aggregate be damned. The fight was over some permits the Army Corps hastily issued to rock miners in 2002. Federal judge William Hoeveler said the Army Corps didn’t consider whether the rock miners had viable alternatives to the Everglades from which to mine rock. So he rescinded the permits. An appeals panel in Atlanta upheld the judge’s decision.
Moreover, Sierra Club argued that toxic chemicals in the rock quarries could seep into the Biscayne Aquifer—the primary source of drinking water for Miami-Dade—because the aquifer flows right underneath the darn “lakes.” In 2005, as the trial continued, chemists detected benzene in the Lake Belt’s H2o (although none in drinking supplies).
But eight days after the appeals court ruling, the Army Corps approved new permits for mining companies in the Lake Belt!
You’re thirsty, so you head inside and grab the Brita filter water pitcher from the fridge. Do these things filter out benzene, you wonder. (They don’t.) Back on the balcony, you open a related article about an Everglades restoration project to put part of the Tamiami Trail on a bridge. After ten years of talk, it’s finally underway. Of course that can only mean more cement - don’t you just love it!
Read more:

Commission: NO STRONG CASE FOR DRILLING - by Jeremy Wallace, Political Writer
March 16, 2010
Opening Florida's Gulf Coast to oil drilling would have almost no impact on prices at the pump or on the state's ongoing budget problems, a nonpartisan commission told a key committee of the Legislature on Monday.
While the House has heard similar arguments from environmental groups and others opposed to drilling, the report was significant because it came from the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, created by the Legislature five years ago to study Florida's long-term future on issues like water resources, growth management and energy.
"Lifting the moratoriums in both federal and state waters would have no discernible impact on petroleum prices at the retail level," said a draft report presented to the House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning.
The minimal impact at the pump is largely due to how little oil is thought to exist within the 3 to 10 miles off Florida's coastline that the Legislature has considered opening to drilling.
The Century Commission report shows that the best estimates for total oil reserves within 10 miles of the shore are 110 million barrels. Tapping every barrel of that oil would last the nation less than one week. The United States consumes about 20 million barrels a day, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The report is sure to become a rallying cry for those who say the risk to Florida's environment and tourist industry far outweighs the energy potential.
The Century Commission report also shows that oil drilling will not produce a windfall for the cash-strapped state government.
Other Gulf Coast states that already allow oil drilling and natural gas discoveries receive less than $200 million a year in revenue. In Texas, the state government receives $52 million a year on average and Louisiana brought in $98 million in 2009.
Florida's annual budget is about $69 billion.
"It doesn't make much of a case for going forward," State Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, said of the report.
However, the report also pokes holes in the assumption that drilling would put Florida at great risk of an oil spill.
Frank Alcock, a New College of Florida associate professor who helped write the Century Commission's report, said oil spills are a "low probability" because of the advancement in oil drilling technology.
He said most of the tar balls that wash up on Texas beaches -- often cited by environmental groups as evidence of the threat of spills -- are from natural seepage from the ocean floor and not from drilling or transporting of oil.
The Century Commission is playing a critical role in guiding the Legislature on offshore oil drilling. Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-Palm Beach County, called on the 15-member Century Commission to wade through the rhetoric from both sides of the oil drilling debate and present lawmakers with unbiased research to determine whether the state should pursue expanded oil drilling.
Last year, the House passed legislation that would have allowed the governor and Cabinet to approve oil drilling leases within 10 miles of shore. The bill died, though, when the Florida Senate refused to pick up the issue.
Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who proposed the House bill last year, is expected to propose a similar bill this year.
Atwater told the News Service of Florida that the Century Commission's findings help shape the debate on whether to allow drilling. He said the Legislature must now answer the question of whether there is enough to be gained by taking on the risks of drilling.
The state oil drilling debate comes as Congress continues to debate a U.S. Senate proposal that would allow oil drilling in international waters starting at 45 miles from Florida coastline.
Currently, the federal government bans drilling within 232 miles of Tampa Bay. The state also has a ban on drilling within state waters.
Jeremy Wallace can be reached at 361-4966 or jeremy.wallace


Florida panel lukewarm to oil drilling
Orlando Sentinel
March 16, 2010
Florida’s debate over whether to open its narrow strip of waters in the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling is really about a much bigger decision, according to a report done for the state Legislature.
Lifting the Florida ban on drilling “might weaken the state’s position when protesting oil and gas activities in submerged lands under federal jurisdiction,” concludes the study, conducted by the Collins Center for Public Policy at the request of Senate President Jeff Atwater.
Yet another group, the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, which is overseeing preparation of the drilling analysis, met Monday in Orlando to receive and edit a draft of the report.
The Century Commission, appointed by lawmakers to probe a variety of economic and environmental issues, made clear it wants a report that avoids favoring either environmentalists or the drilling industry and instead provides a foundation of facts on which the Legislature can build.
As a result, it’s leaving the job of coming up with conclusions and recommendations to legislators. Even individual commissioners declined to say Monday whether they thought the report makes a case for or against drilling and production rigs in state waters.
Tommy Boroughs, an Orlando lawyer and member of the commission, said the report does dispel some of the more extreme claims about drilling.
“It’s not as risky as it might seem, and the rewards aren’t as great as they might seem,” Boroughs said.


Saving the Everglades is worth the investment
March 16,2010
The need for land to provide water storage in the Everglades Agricultural Area far outweighs budgetary constraints. The $50 million in Gov. Charlie Crist's budget will allow the issuance of some $500 million in bonds to finance the U.S. Sugar deal. If cuts are necessary, there are other areas in which to make them. As Shannon Estenoz of the South Florida Water Management District has pointed out repeatedly, "Keeping the deal alive would give the district more time to try to overcome budget concerns."
The Everglades ecosystems are on the brink of total collapse, and the most important move we can make to restore the Everglades is to provide the water storage areas that are planned for the EAA. Without a fresh water source to feed the Everglades, any restoration project in the rest of the 'Glades will be ineffective. The water stored in these areas will be naturally filtered and cleaned of the phosphorous and nitrates that have been responsible for much of the degradation of the Everglades, as well as the changes in salinity in Biscayne and Florida Bays.
We as a society place entirely too much emphasis on potential profit when we should be considering the legacy we are leaving for future generations.


Study: Drilling debate over state's Gulf waters has wider implications
The Orlando Sentinel - btrackingy Kevin Spear
March 16, 2010
Florida's debate over whether to open its narrow strip of waters in the Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling is really about a much bigger decision, according to a report done for the state Legislature.
Lifting the Florida ban on drilling "might weaken the state's position when protesting oil and gas activities in submerged lands under federal jurisdiction," concludes the study, conducted by the Collins Center for Public Policy at the request of Senate President Jeff Atwater.
Yet another group, the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, which is overseeing preparation of the drilling analysis, met Monday in Orlando to receive and edit a draft of the report.
The Century Commission, appointed by lawmakers to probe a variety of economic and environmental issues, made clear it wants a report that avoids favoring either environmentalists or the drilling industry and instead provides a foundation of facts on which the Legislature can build.
As a result, it's leaving the job of coming up with conclusions and recommendations to legislators. Even individual commissioners declined to say Monday whether they thought the report makes a case for or against drilling and production rigs in state waters.
Tommy Boroughs, an Orlando lawyer and member of the commission, said the report does dispel some of the more extreme claims about drilling.
"It's not as risky as it might seem, and the rewards aren't as great as they might seem," Boroughs said.
Among the key details in the 40-page report are U.S. Geological Survey assessments that show Florida's share of the waters in the Gulf of Mexico -- from the beach to 10.3 miles offshore -- as having relatively small reserves of oil and natural gas beneath them.
The USGS estimates reserves of 110 million barrels of oil along the coast from Apalachicola to South Florida. That equals the amount of oil the nation imports in 11 days, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The geological agency is still compiling an assessment of reserves between Apalachicola and Pensacola, an area with the potential for large pockets of natural gas.
Florida appears to have limited petroleum reserves -- though experts say there is considerable uncertainty -- because the type of geology along the state's coast is unlike the oil-rich formations found along the coast in states such as Louisiana.
"Most of Florida and the waters under its jurisdiction lie atop a limestone platform that for the most part lacks structure features (like salt domes) that trap hydrocarbons," the report states.
Crude-oil reserves under federal waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico -- from the state's water boundary to 200 miles offshore -- add up to an estimated 3.9 billion barrels of oil, the report states. That's far more than the estimates for state waters but much less than the amount thought to be in the central and western part of the Gulf of Mexico.
The report cites a private analysis done for the U.S. Mineral Management Service that suggests Florida in a best-case scenario could wind up with as many as 5,000 new jobs if federal waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico were opened to drilling.
About the risk of an environmentalist disaster, the report states that "accidental oil spills are low-probability events."
"Of course, when they do [occur] ... they can cause significant damage," said Tom Arthur, one of the principal writers of the report.
The same presentation was given Monday afternoon in Tallahassee to the House Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning. Frank Alcock, another of the report's authors, said there that the infamous tar balls found on Texas beaches are likely not the result of accidental spills but rather natural seepage of crude oil from the sea floor.
"You've probably heard it before," said Alcock, alluding to the several drilling hearings already conducted by the council.
The Century Commission wants to come up with a final version of the report as soon as possible for presentation to Atwater and the rest of the Senate.
Kevin Spear can be reached at or 407-420-5062.


Don't give up on Everglades
South Florida is faced with serious environmental problems. We see the potential of the south part of the state being declared a cancer cluster, the threat of sea level rise and the reduction of water availability for new Floridians. South Florida needs a plan to meet these challenges.
The purchase of U.S. Sugar land is a strong option providing land to clean water for the Everglades and local communities, providing storage, and improving flood protection. Originally the Florida Everglades received its water from the Kissimmee River to Lake Okeechobee and flooded south. Currently, this water is being sent out to tide and causing damage to our estuaries. Some estimate this damage to represent an economic loss of over a billion dollars.
This land purchase can change the dynamics and again flow water south. In the long run this purchase will save money by providing the land necessary to do Everglades restoration, water storage, storm water treatment and flood control. Science indicates that having water on large tracts of South Florida land such as this could improve our aquifers and force out salt water intrusion.
The purchase of this land is essential to protecting our estuaries and our future. The cost of not purchasing this land will lead to not having available options to meet all of these challenges.
The district board needs to move forward and extend the purchase agreement for the U.S. Sugar land.
Drew Martin, chair, Everglades Committee, Sierra Club, Lake Worth


To best restore Everglades, re-do US Sugar deal
Tampa Tribune – by Paula Dockery 
March 15, 2010
Friends of the Everglades were understandably excited when Gov. Charlie Crist unveiled a $1.75 billion deal to buy out U.S. Sugar two years ago, effectively closing a major polluter of the Everglades.
But much has changed - and been revealed - since the deal was announced. Given what is known today, the South Florida Water Management District should shelve this sweetheart deal for U.S. Sugar and explore other options.
Here's why:
The purchase, since downsized, no longer includes the most important tracts needed to restore the Everglades' natural flow. The six land tracts under contract don't even connect.
U.S. Sugar will not go out of business, as first reported. Instead, it will continue to farm the lands essential for restoration for up to 20 years, getting an exclusive lease at less-than-market rates.
To come up with the purchase price, SFWMD has delayed - perhaps for decades - nearly a dozen Everglades restoration projects, including a reservoir that has already cost taxpayers more than $300 million.
After state appraisers raised concerns about the sale being vastly over-priced, political insiders changed the rules to cut them out of the loop.
Since the surprise deal was revealed, other sugar companies have expressed interest in selling their lands, too, including more-essential acres needed for restoration. And don't forget, a private company has offered to buy the U.S. Sugar property and sell back whatever is needed to help the Everglades - an interesting option.
To pay U.S. Sugar, the district's financial consultant says operating and maintenance budgets must be slashed, an unacceptable consequence.
Similarly, property taxes will likely increase for homeowners and businesses in the 16 counties served by SFWMD. That has yet to be publicly addressed.
Yes, much has changed since this deal was announced. Newspapers have reported cozy deal-making, over-the-top appraisals and pending tax increases - wrapped in the flag of Everglades restoration.
I have a strong record of conservation. I was the sponsor of the Everglades Restoration bill that created the bonding authority for its restoration, as well as legislation that created the Florida Forever land preservation program.
But the U.S. Sugar deal represents reckless public policy, drawn by a governor's office that only had eyes for one politically powerful company.
If we can't renegotiate this deal to purchase only the lands necessary at a price that makes sense, we should scrap it and start over. At a minimum, the leased lands should be opened up to competitors to get a fair-market price.
If the water management district cares about restoration, it should use the six-month contract-extension time approved last week to consider other options, including the offer from private industry to buy the land and sell the state only what's needed for restoration.
Paula Dockery, a Republican state senator from Lakeland, is a candidate for governor


The fight against nearshore oil drilling in Florida isn’t nearly over
CreativeLoafing - by Cathy Harrelson
March 15, 2010
The last year could be considered a success in local environmental activism. After years of support for these measures down the west coast, and varied stakeholder input across the Tampa Bay watershed, the Suncoast Sierra Club headed the coalition that created the space for passage of strong, local fertilizer and landscape management ordinances. These measures passed in Gulfport, unanimously in St. Petersburg, and in January of 2010, the strongest ordinance in Florida was passed by the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners in a 6-1, vote. (A video of the meeting can be found here.) These actions are critical to the health of our ponds, streams, rivers, Gulf and Tampa Bay. Algae fed by excessive nitrogen runoff contributes to the explosive harmful algal blooms like Red Tide and the 14-mile long brown goo that lived and spread across Tampa Bay last year.
Suncoast Sierra Club continues to participate in this process by working for ordinances in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties, as well as through participation in the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s educational development and outreach. (The TBEP Urban Fertilizer Use information is located on their website.) These regulations will be most effective if we can effect a sea change in the way residents view their own yards & lawns, and by taking personal responsibility for learning how to do it right. Sierra Club has committed to assisting TBEP and Pinellas County with that ongoing effort. With help from our friends in the Audubon Society, the Florida Native Plant Society, the Pinellas County Extension, Green Florida, and many others, we add our voices to the growing chorus of folks calling for “Food Not Lawns,’ creating Florida yards and neighborhoods using native and Florida-friendly plants, and shifting to more sustainable and affordable approaches to our green spaces.
As usual, in 2009 our Coastal Task Force had to perform an about-face from fertilizer to offshore and nearshore oil drilling. As a member of the Protect Florida’s Beaches coalition, we helped successfully lobby in last year’s Florida Legislative Session to put the brakes on nearshore (3-10 miles) drilling proposals. But as we’ve come to know, this is the “threat that never dies.” Year after year we’ve stepped up to testify and lobby against lifting the ban on drilling in the Federal Waters of the eastern Gulf, the area from 10-236 miles. Year after year we’ve held the Feds at bay, through the efforts of many, including U.S. Congressman C.W. Bill Young. Congressman Young has been the guy holding back that oil-slicked tide for decades in the U.S. House, supported by many other elected officials, businesses, environmentalists and citizens. We must monitor and stay ready to defend against the continued issue of lifting the moratorium on drilling in Federal waters – language that has been surreptitiously added to the Senate versions of the Federal Climate Bill. Our own Senator Bill Nelson has threatened to filibuster if the Gulf drilling language isn’t removed from the Climate Bill. (Go Senator Nelson !)
Now, the issue has expanded. There are some in the Florida Legislature who have become mysteriously and rabidly attached to selling Florida’s future to drilling interests in our nearshore waters.The iconic enemy of our coastal environment and coastal tourism is the oil rig, with its polluting drilling operations and threats of larger spills. This enemy could now could appear 3-10 miles off our coastlines. This issue has become so front and center that a grassroots effort to combat it was conceived late last year and executed on February 13th. Hands Across the Sand was a simple, grassroots event that pulled 10,000+ citizens and politicos of diverse economic, political and business backgrounds out to the beaches on a cold, windy day. Our local coalition, Love Tourists Not Drilling, organized 3,000 people on Pinellas County beaches alone! It was an amazing sight and an incredible experience of community.
So now what ?  Coastal drilling bills have been filed in the House and Senate of the Florida Legislature for the 2010 session. Whether or not these bills come forward through the maze of largely mid-Florida, conservative-led committees remains to be seen, but it is something we will all be following in the days ahead. Though this is often debated, we believe the non-coastal leadership in the legislature is determined to push this through this year. Why?
1. The non-coastal, ultra-conservative leadership has control now, but elections can change things (at least we’d like to think so). They will want to strike while the iron is hot. Even the President mentioned oil drilling in his State of the Union Speech. However, it is notable that he mentioned drilling once, while he showcased his support for building a renewable energy future 12 times.
2. We currently have a governor who very publicly came out in favor of coastal drilling during the 2008 Presidential campaign, lessening the prospect of a veto. Whereas, all three leading gubernatorial candidates, Sink, McCollum & Dockery have come out against coastal drilling.
3. The push toward renewables is gaining strength through targeted stimulus funding, tax credits & rebates, constantly-improving technology and a slowly-dawning recognition by financial institutions of the profitable role they can play in bringing renewable technologies to mainstream America. It all screams the same thing: “Oil is over.” Say it with me, “Oil is over.” Investment guru Warren Buffett talked about reaching peak 0il in 2008. Like him or not, he has seldom been wrong. And that was 2 years ago! Even the oil industry is talking about 2030 or 2035 as the end of oil. The impetus to change is right here, right now, and they know they must grab every last subsidized dollar they can out of Oil.
4. The increasingly insistent effects of Climate Change will continue to lap at our doors here in Florida. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will again take center stage as the U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will update its 2007 climate change and sea level rise report with a resounding: “Oh golly, Florida, you’re in deep…water.” This will make that pesky fossil-fuel burning thing even more distasteful than it is now. Oil is over. Just keep saying it.
These two issues are emblematic of a larger battle for sustainability versus consumption as the opposing economic models for our communities, our nation and our planet. Change is in the air, and the crack in the earth is generated from the ground up. That means us — you and me. National policy was lacking for years and it’s safe to say any success at that level will be diluted at best. The rubber hits the road right here in your home, your car, your yard, your life. Does this require duty and personal responsibility? Yes. Is it also an opportunity to make a real difference? You betcha. What we do here pushes up and out to affect the larger community in Tampa Bay, Florida and beyond. Contact your council members, your county commissioners, your state legislators. Stay informed through our new website,, and Facebook page and the networking opportunities we’re developing. Sign up for our e-newsletter. Check out Hands Across the Sand on the web and Love Tourists Not Drilling on Facebook. Let’s get this party started.
Cathy Harrelson, Conservation and Coastal Task Force Chair for the Suncoast Sierra Club


Crist's big promises, no cash sour Everglades deal
Orlando Sentinel – Commentary by Mike Thomas
March 15, 2010
It's hard to imagine a more disastrous finale to Gov. Charlie Crist's reign as governor than the implosion of a decades-long effort to put the Everglades back together again.
The great swamp and the golden governor may well go down together.
A lot of people are scrambling to prevent that.
But money is money. And there isn't enough of it to pay for Crist's plan to begin buying out one of the Everglades' biggest polluters: U.S. Sugar Corp.
It seems that, once again, Charlie has promised more than he can deliver.
This time, even The New York Times has blown the whistle on him. It weighed in with one of its opus investigations last week, making the case that the Everglades deal is a huge corporate bailout for U.S. Sugar.
I've been saying that for a while now, but without all the ink, internal e-mails, 60 interviews, long sentences and national clout of the Times.
This is a true fiasco. The old plan to save the Everglades — the one that was forever in the making and finally got under way — was put on hold for Charlie's plan. This pulled the plug on a massive reservoir that was halted in mid-construction after $280 million was spent on it.
If the state had to do a big oopsie and restart construction, that would add millions to the cost and years to the completion date.
The Everglades deal has fallen apart with almost the same speed of Crist's Senate campaign. Less than two years ago, Crist announced plans to buy out all of U.S. Sugar's 290 square miles for $1.7 billion. But then someone counted the money and whittled the deal down.
Then someone counted the money again and whittled it down again — this time to $536 million for 114 square miles. The rest would be bought in the future, apparently in a galaxy far, far away.
Now, darn it, someone counted the money yet again, and the South Florida Water Management District, which oversee the Glades, can't even afford the scaled-down version of the scaled-down version.
It's hard to borrow a half-billion dollars when your consultant says it would put you more than $100 million in the red by 2012.
Time was when Wall Street would have given me a half-billion on my home-equity loan to buy swampland. No more. To raise such loot now, the water district would have to gut its budget and shell out payday-loan interest rates. Even at that, a tax increase would be inevitable.

State, EPA face off over nutrient-rich waters
Tampa Tribune - by MIKE SALINERO,
March 14, 2010
TALLAHASSEE - A battle is heating up between Florida and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over how best to clean up the state's polluted waters.
A lawsuit filed by environmentalists has forced the EPA to begin setting numeric limits on nutrient pollution in Florida waters. Those exceeding the limits would be considered "impaired," triggering forced reductions on polluters.
The environmental groups say they were forced to file the suit in July 2008 because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had done little to halt the degradation of rivers, lakes, springs and bays. Nutrients, mostly from fertilizers and minimally treated sewage, can trigger algae blooms that are deadly to fish and unhealthy for humans.
"We say that Florida's economy and environment are linked," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, one of the groups in the suit. "If we can't stop the state from degrading our waters now, they'll just get worse."
State environmental officials agree numeric criteria are needed for nitrogen and phosphorus. But they claim the EPA's numbers are too stringent and would require pollution reductions in rivers and lakes that are in good shape.
"We've got legitimate water pollution issues, but are we going to spend time on things that are not impaired?" said DEP Secretary Michael Sole.
Up to now, the state has judged the health of each water body based on its unique response to nutrients. State scientists sampled rivers and lakes multiple times, using an average to determine whether they were impaired, meaning not suitable for fishing and swimming.
Environmentalists derided the criteria as phony science and said the state was ignoring standards already in state law.
Now, state scientists say they're ready to set the numeric limits, but want the caps based on their proposals, gleaned from nine years of sampling every Florida water body.
"When we take EPA criteria and evaluate it against our most pristine waters, a large percentage of those would be deemed impaired under EPA criteria," said Jerry Brooks, a DEP director.
State environmental and agriculture officials have raised the specter of crippling expenditures to meet EPA's more-stringent limits, expenditures that could break the back of local governments and recession-weakened industries. Municipal sewer operators, phosphate mining and agriculture have joined in, using their political clout to enroll state legislators and the Florida congressional delegation in the fight.
"The EPA is going to cost state public and private utilities, business and agriculture billions of dollars when the state is in economic hardship without any expectation by many experts that these nutrient standards are even attainable," said Terry McElroy, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
It's not clear what effect the lobbying has had. The EPA recently extended the comment period on its proposal by a month, until April 28. The agency held three public hearings on the draft rule and is scheduling three more, in Tampa, Jacksonville and Fort Myers.
In an e-mail Friday, the EPA said its proposed limits are based largely on data collected by Florida. The EPA worked with state environmental scientists on analyzing and interpreting that data.
"Some allege these new standards will cost too much," wrote Betsaida Alcantara, a deputy press secretary with the EPA. "These arguments fail to recognize that Florida already has standards, but they require site-specific evaluation, costing the state huge amounts of time and money to figure out on a case-by-case basis the right limits for dischargers."
The state counters that it already knows which waters are polluted and won't waste money on those that don't need improvement.
Environmental groups accuse the state and industries of inciting a wave of hysteria. They say cleaning up nutrient pollution will not cost the tens of billions of dollars that local governments and industries are trumpeting.
"For the amount of money these guys are saying it's going to cost to comply with numeric nutrient limits, you could buy a gold-plated toilet for every home and trailer in the state," said attorney David Guest of Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit against EPA.
Reporter Mike Salinero can be reached at (813) 259-8303


Use facts, not fiction, to gauge phosphate industry
Tampa Tribune – by David Townsend
March 14, 2010
The Feb. 28 guest column by organic farmer John Rehill disparaging Florida's phosphate industry misled Tribune readers. Unfortunately, phosphate mining opponents like Rehill, who neglected to mention that he is a plaintiff in litigation against Mosaic, often use false information or misconceptions about the industry to advance their agenda with an uninformed public.
In our modern society, freedom of speech allows anyone to say virtually anything ... but that doesn't mean it's true. When opponents of today's phosphate industry are held accountable to verifiable facts - as opposed to anecdotal claims and outdated perceptions based on events of a half-century or more ago - they face a much higher hurdle.
Some facts Rehill overlooked or misrepresented:
• There are no gypsum stacks at phosphate mines.
• Through extensive water conservation programs, the industry has reduced water usage by 75 percent since the early 1970s and continues to find new ways to conserve.
Mining operations recycle more than 95 percent of the water they use, and fertilizer manufacturing facilities recycle more than 90 percent.
• Mosaic's proposed water use permit before the Southwest Florida Water Management District includes a voluntary 25 percent reduction of permitted quantities, achieved by improving the ways we manage our water.
•Mosaic reclaims land at the same rate we mine it, last year alone investing more than $53 million in our land reclamation activities.
•Every acre we mine is reclaimed, and any disturbed wetlands are reclaimed on an acre-for-acre, type-for-type basis as required by environmental regulations.
•Our reclamation practices have received national recognition for their innovation and effectiveness.
•We've placed thousands of acres of sensitive lands and floodplains within our mine areas under permanent conservation easements.
These lands will be protected from development activity for all future generations.
•Our operations are open and transparent, hosting educational tours for more than 1,000 Florida citizens each year.
• Mosaic sees beyond the mining of the land and works to identify post-reclamation land uses that provide benefits to local communities as well as protection of vital habitats.
•The phosphate industry operates under some of the most stringent regulations of any industry in our state, with oversight at the local, state and federal levels.
•Our company alone invests more than $5 million every year back into our local communities, providing needed funding as well as employee volunteers for charitable organizations.
•Our major contribution to the local and state economy includes more than $75 million in taxes paid in 2009 alone.
•According to a Port of Tampa study, the phosphate industry is responsible for more than 67,000 jobs in the greater Tampa Bay region.
Early this month, the quality of our reclamation, water conservation efforts and corporate citizenship earned international recognition.
Mosaic was ranked 45th in Corporate Responsibility Magazine's 100 Best Corporate Citizens list for 2010.
The magazine evaluates more than 300 data points on the companies composing the Russell 1000 Index, ranking them based upon several categories including environment, climate change, philanthropy and transparency.
Despite what opponents like Rehill might claim, this ranking is no mistake. It is based upon an objective review of our business and conduct.
David Townsend is assistant vice president of public affairs for Mosaic

Phosphate's mining of water scars region
Tampa Tribune - by JOHN REHILL
February 28, 2010
Recent sinkholes have generated concerns about the costly repairs and dangerous conditions that are popping all over the place, with suspicions narrowing to the excessive use of water by strawberry farmers. They claim their business would go down the drain if water restrictions were imposed on their tap to the aquifer, which has diminished by more than 50 feet, to coat berries for protection against a damaging hard freeze.
Farmers oppose any suggestion that solely places the blame on them but do understand the need to protect Central Florida's water supply. They feel it's just a few very cold nights a year that such concerns are forced to take second seat to securing their crop.
It's not just the farming industry that depends on an occasional helping hand to get through an unavoidable anomaly threatening their bottom line. It's the bottom line in the deals corporations construct with regulatory commissions and oversight agencies that allow them to pass along much of their operational cost to the public. This is done by design. It's called "externalizing."
Externalizing is double-dipping - operating in violation of environmental regulations because fines for doing so equate to a fraction of the cost saved when not staying within those guidelines. This is externalizing a portion of the operational cost to the public.
In defense of strawberry farmers, almost all crops grown in the Tampa Bay region are farmed in the same manner - with lots of water. But there is another industry with a larger impact than that of farming on Central Florida's struggling environment - one that uses as much water, is destructive and externalizes huge expenses. This is phosphate mining.
Phosphate mining is seen by many as Florida's cancer. It would only take one fly-over of Central Florida to see what they mean: 100,000 acres of barren, scorched earth.
This type of mining uses an equal amount of water as strawberries. The water, after use, is held in gigantic gypsum stacks 40 feet deep. The tens of billions of gallons are held back by a 20-foot levee filled to the brim. The water stored in these 50-acre ponds is so toxic it would kill all fish and vegetation in its path, as evidenced by past levee breaches. And each time it happened, the fines were a fraction of the public's cost.
The phosphate mining industry has enjoyed externalizing the cost of the hazards that have plagued their industry for many years. But it's the externalizing of their operational costs that has kept their hand deep in the public's pocket.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District has been the facilitator, permitting Mosaic Mining 99 million gallons a day of Central Florida aquifer water. This surpasses what the city of Tampa is permitted to pump from the same wellfield.
The citizens in the surrounding counties were persuaded to spend $600 million on a water desalinization plant that only a few weeks ago began producing the 25 million gallons a day for which it was designed. The sole purpose of investing in this water plant was to relieve the overpumped aquifer.
Mosaic pumps for free. Stuck in its stacks, the contaminated water becomes a very hazardous accident waiting to happen.
Strawberry farmers shouldn't bear all the blame. Most should be directed to the phosphate miners, county commissioners and the water management district.
John Rehill of Duette is an organic farmer, native palm grower and freelance writer


Florida oil: not so much, not so bad? – by Harold Troxler, Times Columnist
March 14, 2010
Last year, when some in our Legislature wanted to throw open Florida's waters to oil drilling right away, the president of our state Senate slowed it down.
Instead, Jeff Atwater asked for a study. The report he asked for is complete and will be presented Monday in Orlando and Tallahassee.
The report was prepared by the Collins Center for Public Policy, a good-guy outfit that studies state issues. That center produced the study for another group called the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, chaired by former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.
If Florida does open its waters, the report notes, the almost certain political consequence will be that Congress opens the eastern Gulf of Mexico as well.
"It would be hard to maintain congressional support for a ban on oil and gas activity from 10 to 125 miles from the Florida coastline," the report says, "when the state is allowing it inside of 10 miles."
The report does not say flat-out whether Florida should allow drilling. But it contains information that both sides of the debate can use:
• Estimated reserves in Florida waters and the eastern Gulf of Mexico are only a fraction of those in the central and western gulf.
• These reserves would boost U.S. production by 1 to 2 percent, with "no discernible effect on petroleum prices at the retail level" and little contribution toward the nation's "energy independence." Florida-only reserves account for less than one week's worth of U.S. consumption. (Caveat: Improved technology and additional studies could change these estimates.)
• Best-case estimates are that gulf oil production would generate an average of $90 million to $180 million a year to the state and create 2,000 to 5,000 jobs. There would be additional revenue from state-only waters, but perhaps not as much as in other gulf states, which range from $50 million to $200 million annually.
The report is somewhat reassuring about environmental risks. In fact, it noted that 60 percent of the oil released into North American waters comes from natural seepage.
The next biggest source is you and me — runoff into the sea from urban areas, the pollution we dump into our rivers and the oil we churn into the water from our boats. Spills from drilling account for less than 1 percent of the total, the report says.
It says the darker sands and tar balls of Texas beaches come from geological differences and natural seepage.
The report also says there is no evidence drilling leaves "substantial, lasting impacts" on the sea floor, nor that air pollution is significant. Drilling noise bothers whales, but the feds require platforms to warn away marine mammals sonically first.
Without a doubt, a major spill would be devastating. Farther offshore in the gulf, because of the nature of the currents, the Keys and even the state's east coast would be the likely victims.
Closer to shore, we are at the mercy of the prevailing winds.
However, the report points out that major spills are extremely rare and even more rare thanks to changes in federal law made in 1990 after the famous Exxon Valdez spill. Much-publicized spills in other parts of the world such as one in East Timor in 2009 would not have occurred here because of tougher safety rules, it says.
So opening Florida and the gulf to drilling would neither help our "energy independence," nor drive down prices, nor be a cure-all for state revenue and job creation. On the other hand, there is little evidence of environmental damage or a daily degradation of Florida's beaches from routine operations, although the remote risk of a catastrophic spill is still scary.
My own bias is that the limited benefits are not worth even a minimal risk. You might read the same report and conclude the opposite. In any case, this is the fairest thing I have read about it.
Not only can you read the report for yourself, but also add your comments to it, at


Everglades needs sugar deal done right - by CARL HIAASEN        CHIAASEN@MIAMIHERALD.COM
March 13, 2010
The new battle to save the Everglades depends on money always overpays for land that it needs. The Florida Turnpike wouldn't exist today if the state had insisted on paying true market value for every parcel between Wildwood and Homestead.
There's only one Everglades watershed, and the time to salvage what remains of it is running out.
U.S. Sugar executives knew they could demand sweet terms. Included in the sales package were old citrus groves, far-flung segments that are basically worthless to the Glades' restoration plan.
However, there's also invaluable acreage for future wetlands and reservoirs just south of Clewiston in what was once the aortic funnel of South Florida's water supply.
The discouraging fact is that even if the U.S. Sugar deal goes through, all that land still won't be enough. Reviving the Everglades is impossible without including Florida Crystals, the thriving sugar empire run by the Fanjul family.
Florida Crystals owns sweeping miles of farmland that are crucial to the new Everglades map. Early on, the company had quietly shown an interest in participating in the governor's plan, either by selling some cane holdings to the state or swapping for U.S. Sugar tracts.
Something happened -- or maybe failed to happen -- and now Florida Crystals is vigorously fighting to block the Crist deal, claiming it amounts to a taxpayer bailout for U.S. Sugar.
That argument is rich with irony. Taxpayers have been bailing out big sugar growers for decades with federal price supports that enriched the industry even as it used the Everglades for a commode. Florida Crystals and rival U.S. Sugar both prospered handsomely.
Weary of being villified, and facing stiffer regulations, Big Sugar in recent years has tried to clean up its act by cleaning its water runoff.
The people who run Florida Crystals are sharp. It's hard to believe they don't see the benefit to their brand's international image of participating as full partners in Everglades restoration.
It's also hard to believe that Crist doesn't know a single soul who can reasonably approach the Fanjuls about coming to the table.
The prospects for reconciliation are cloudy because the top lobbyists for U.S. Sugar are tight with the governor, and so is the company's law firm, Gunster Yoakley. The chairman is George LeMieux, Crist's former chief of staff and the man he picked to temporarily replace Mel Martinez in the U.S. Senate.
LeMieux says he has removed himself from all negotiations in the U.S. Sugar deal and will take no compensation from it. Still, his firm stands to make millions if the sale to Florida is approved.
There's nothing illegal about that, but the appearance of an inside political connection is smelly, and damaging to the larger cause.
The state's sugar buyout would be funded by ``certificates of participation,'' bond-like instruments to be paid off with property tax revenues from 16 counties. Last Thursday, the water district's governing board kept the project alive by voting to extend a looming contract deadline.
Next hurdle: On April 7, the Florida Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments from opponents, including the Miccosukee Tribe and Florida Crystals. Both can afford to fight for a long, long time.
Crist, who's running for the Senate, wants voters to cheer his Everglades blueprint as a masterstroke. One step toward quieting skeptics would be to inform U.S. Sugar that the deal's off unless it switches to a neutral law firm, one that passes the political sniff test.
The next step would be reaching out to the Fanjuls and Florida Crystals, without whom there is no chance of making the Everglades flow cleanly again.
Even if by some miracle all the stars align, the mission will be dicey. This is only the biggest, costliest, most complicated plumbing job in the history of the human race.
The odds of getting it perfectly right are zero, but the consequences of getting it totally wrong are incalculable.


Pit plan: Reward worth risk  ? Rock miners, Palm Beach County discuss reservoir deal
Palm Beach Post – by Paul Quinlan
Mar 13, 2010‎
Two Palm Beach County commissioners were jailed for corruption for their involvement in mining company Palm Beach Aggregates' 2003 sale of rock pits as reservoirs to the state.
Miner Enrique Tomeu would later describe the whole episode as an ordeal.
"I want to stick to my core business until it is over," he said in 2007.
Now Aggregates wants back in the reservoir business.
Despite a steep drop in demand for the sand and rock they mine, Aggregates officials have asked Palm Beach County for permission to mine another 2,300 acres of their sprawling, dusty property along Southern Boulevard, 15 miles west of West Palm Beach. A group of Palm Beach County and Broward County water utilities has expressed interest in buying a pit there for a reservoir, even though the South Florida Water Management District, which bought the first pits, swore off any future such deals with Aggregates because of the scandal.
Intent to go it alone, without the district, if necessary, the utilities commissioned a study that concluded another stadium-size rock pit could be exactly what is needed to meet some of South Florida's future water needs, said Tom Miller, legislative affairs manager for Palm Beach County's water utility.
"We're now at a point where we're trying to bring forward a project," Miller said.
A dual purpose
Palm Beach County's zoning commission will consider the mining petition on April 1. The county commission will consider it on April 22. Even with the county's approval, the new mine would require state and federal permits to go forward.
Aggregates officials, who have partnered with powerful sugar producer Florida Crystals Corp. in a joint venture, are ready to start blasting and digging at full speed to deliver a reservoir quickly, consultant Ernie Cox said.
"We could do it in five or six years," he said.
Aggregates and utility officials say this proposed C-51 reservoir, as it is labeled in conceptual plans, would serve a dual purpose.
It would catch some of the billions of gallons of regional runoff that the C-51, or West Palm Beach Canal, now flushes into the Lake Worth Lagoon every time it rains. At the same time, the water could be diverted into the new rock pit and piped to utilities.
Utility officials estimate it would meet all of Palm Beach County's present and future water needs. "It's a huge amount of water," Miller said.
Scientists have raised numerous questions about mining in and around the Everglades and are not convinced.
The South Florida Water Management District purchased the existing pits — collectively called the L-8 reservoir — to store water that could be later fed into the Loxahatchee River and Estuary as a component of a $12 billion state-federal Everglades restoration plan approved in 2000. Digging the pits, however, released ancient seawater sealed in the underground rock formation, resulting in a reservoir full of water today that is too high in chlorides, or salts, to be released into the environment undiluted.
Proponents of using the rock pits as reservoirs say the pits need only be "exercised," or flushed out several times, for the saltiness to wash away.
"You've got this higher chloride water that's trapped out there," said Ken Todd, Palm Beach County's water resources manager. "Over a period of time, as it gets flushed out, it goes away."
But Tom Van Lent, senior scientist with the Everglades Foundation, disagrees.
Whether flushing the pits will permanently scrub them of high chlorides "remains an open question," he said.
The danger, scientists say, is that mining can mix groundwater with surface water, releasing chlorides, sulfates and other potentially harmful substances.
Water quality reports from 2009 show chloride levels in the existing pits averaging 404 milligrams per liter — about 60 percent higher than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards and from 2.5 to eight times the level considered normal for rivers.
Sulfate measurements averaged about 157 milligrams per liter in the pits, or about five to 50 times the level seen in surface waters such as lakes. Atmospheric mercury deposits react with sulfates in the Everglades to produce toxic methylmercury, which can accumulate in fish, according to foundation scientist G. Melodie Naja.
"That's why we're not allowed to eat fish in the Everglades," Naja said.
'The right location'
The water district raised numerous concerns about Aggregates' latest mining proposal in a Feb. 6 letter to county commissioners. Executive Director Carol Wehle wrote that the mining could damage the L-8 reservoir nearby, cause pollutants to migrate or interfere with ecosystem restoration efforts.
But rather than object to the proposal, Wehle's letter urged further study of the potential consequences.
"That's probably not feasible as a reservoir at the kind of scale that they want it to be," said Van Lent, warning against expansion. "As you scale them up, the engineering problems and the water quality problems will become increasingly complicated."
Cox, the Aggregates consultant, said the new mine would be dug shallower than the previous mines, which were deepened to nearly 60 feet per the water agency's specifications at the time.
A new mine could be as shallow as necessary to alleviate pollution concerns, even if it meant building an above ground embankment, Cox said. The unique rock formation beneath the property made the pits almost impervious to leakage and well-suited to water storage — especially given the location of the L-8 Canal next door.
"Fortunately, it's the right location and the right formation," he said.


U.S. Sugar purchase still best solution for water resources - Guest Opinion - by Jonathan Ullman
March 13, 2010
The U.S. Sugar Corporation land acquisition leaves many readers questioning the validity of such a purchase during these challenging economic times.
We expect water managers to fight for the best interests of taxpayers. But make no mistake, we will all lose if this deal collapses.
Acquiring land within the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), the vast land on sugar farms south of Lake Okeechobee is vital to restoring the Everglades. Scientists say extensive tracts of land will be needed for the storage and cleaning of water flowing into the Everglades. Without this land, the Caloosahatchee River will continue to suffer degradation due to discharges from Lake Okeechobee. The health of the Everglades will erode.
If Florida fails to acquire this land when it is offered by a willing seller, it may never be available again. If we don’t seize the moment, U.S. Sugar could sell key land parcels to other buyers like rock miners or developers. The opportunity for strategic tracts of land would be lost permanently.
To ensure that Florida has sufficient water supply for generations to come and to protect the Everglades, it is necessary to acquire land while it is available. This purchase is the first step in accomplishing long term objectives. By securing tracts of land in a phased approach, the expenditures are affordable while providing the option to acquire future land purchases as our economy recovers and Florida’s finances improve.
To delay or abandon the purchase of these 73,000 acres would be catastrophic as taxpayers will find themselves footing the bill for billions of dollars in 333 unproven and potentially unsafe underground water storage wells.
These wells were only considered because there were no willing sellers of sugar land even though the consensus in the scientific community was that the solution to our water woes is the acquisition of land in the EAA. The former sugar lands will store and filter fresh water so that the Caloosahatchee can run clean again and nourishing the estuaries and near-shore Gulf waters to support abundant sea life.
They will filter out phosphorus causing the Everglades to ignite into a cancer of cattails unsuitable for wildlife. The sugar lands will allow more water to flow deep into Everglades National Park and end the massive erosion of soils and fires drought causes.
For the sake of the survival of the Everglades and for sufficient, clean water for South Florida residents, we need to finish what we started and purchase the U. S. Sugar lands now.
— Jonathan Ullman is Everglades senior field organizer for the Sierra Club.


Board Extends Deadline for Everglades Deal
New York Times
March 12, 2010
Facing legal challenges and growing deficits, South Florida water officials on Thursday gave themselves six more months to finance a controversial $536 million purchase of land from United States Sugar for the Everglades.
The unanimous vote by the nine-member board of the South Florida Water Management District will keep the deal alive, but officials said they continued to struggle with whether the agency could afford it, The New York Times’s Damien Cave reported.
“From an economic point of view, these are unpleasant times,” said Charles Dauray, a board member from southwest Florida. “And from an environmental point of view, these are very unique opportunities.”
Cost has been the main challenge ever since Gov. Charlie Crist unveiled a proposed $1.75 billion purchase of United States Sugar in its entirety almost two years ago. The deal has been downsized twice since then. It now includes 72,800 acres, plus an option to buy the company’s remaining 107,000 acres at a later date.
But even as the total cost has been reduced, the price has come under greater scrutiny.
Independent appraisers have said that the district is paying United States Sugar at least twice the going rate for agricultural land. (The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in lawsuits questioning the public purpose of the expense.)
At the same time, district revenues from property taxes in the 16 counties that support the agency have dropped from a peak of $553 million in 2007 to $460 million this year, with further decreases expected, according to district projections.
The proposed acquisition has already led to the suspension of more than a dozen restoration projects, internal district documents show, and more cuts would be necessary.
An auditor warned last month that without “significant decreases” in the district’s budget, the acquisition would lead to deficits of $89 million in 2011 and $110 million in 2012.
Board members said Thursday that they were increasingly aware of the financial challenges posed by the purchase. They repeatedly questioned district lawyers about a line in the contract relating to a $5 million penalty for abandoning the deal if they determine the agency cannot afford it without harming core operations, like flood control, The Times said.
But they also said they hoped to complete the acquisition because it holds enormous potential for the Everglades and for estuaries on the east and west coasts of Florida that have been damaged by polluted water that could be stored and treated on land bought from United States Sugar.
Governor Crist, who appoints the board, strongly supports the deal, and environmentalists wearing stickers that said “seal the deal” clapped when the members agreed to delay the deadline for financing.


Everglades land deal gets 6-month extension - Miami Herald
March 12, 2010
 “It needs to be extended,” said Eric Buermann, the chairman. “Otherwise, we’re sort of at the end of the story.”
PALM BEACH — Gov. Charlie Crist's Big Sugar land buy survives — for now.
The South Florida Water Management District's governing board on Thursday agreed unanimously to extend an expiring deadline by six months on the $536 million land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. Members said that while they were concerned about busting the budget, they still had the option of walking away later if they decide they can't afford it.
Critics urged the board to take the opportunity to kill the deal now, saying the agency's own financial advisers and budget managers project gushes of red ink and cuts to existing projects and programs — even without adding the $45 million in annual debt it would cost to finance the land purchase.
"Proceeding with this deal is like taking out a loan for a fancy car when you can't feed and clothe your children," said Barbara Miedema, vice president of Belle Glade's Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, a coalition of small growers.
But two dozen environmentalists urged the board to stay the course and acquire 72,500 acres of citrus groves and sugar fields envisioned as the first phase of a massive land buy that environmentalists and water managers say is essential to providing the Everglades with clean and plentiful water. The deal also includes options to purchase another 107,000 acres of sugar farms for about $794 million.
Sara Fain, co-chairwoman of the Everglades Coalition, which includes 53 of the state's largest environmental groups, said U.S. Sugar was the only willing seller in the sprawling farm belt south of Lake Okeechobee.
"You have a mission to restore the Everglades and this is what you need to do to it," she said. "A small group of naysayers is saying, 'This is not the deal.' But what's the other deal? There is no other deal."
The deal, downsized twice since Crist unveiled it 20 months ago after eight months of private negotiations with the sugar giant, has been under siege from rival grower Florida Crystals, the Miccosukee Tribe and state lawmakers, who contend it would hurt restoration more than help it and drain money from existing projects.


Farmers Face EPA Regulations
Mar 12, 2010‎
Jackson County, Fla:  With new water regulation deadlines on the way for Florida farmers, agriculture experts say it’s best to be informed of the changes before the October deadline.  That’s why they’re trying to spread the word about the new nutrient standards put forward by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency. 
Agriculture Extension agent Clyde Smith said the two agencies intend to regulate what goes into fresh water lakes and streams with the new numbers.  The numbers, or nutrient levels, are now set.  Eventually bodies of water would be tested to see if they are in line with the acceptable levels.
“That’s [their] main concern,” Smith said.
“That’s really what the numbers are saying.  It’s how they want to have target levels for any kind of water body, be it a stream, a lake, or a spring.”
Smith says many may ignore the new regulations, until they realize they may affect more people than just farmers.  Smith said the rules may eventually be applied to anyone in ownership of a body of water.
“When you start looking at agriculture, municipalities and other septic tank homeowners, it’s going to affect a lot of people in the state potentially,” Smith said.
He said the best way for farmers to lighten the blow of the impending water requirements is to join Better Management Practice.  Farmers who join will be able to prove they are in compliance with certain types of environmental policies that the EPA will recognize.  That way, they won’t face the penalties of being out of compliance with federal regulations.
“We have agreed on best management practices as a way to manage the nutrient runoff and the nutrient loading that we’re seeing in some of the water bodies,” Smith said.
Jeff Pittman, President of the Jackson County Farm Bureau, said one of the biggest frustrations of the regulatory process is that farmers don’t know the consequences of being out of compliance.  He says when he tries to get fellow farmers on board with the new rules—they don’t—because they aren’t aware of any consequences for not doing so.
“The fact is,” Pittman said,
“Being out of compliance with any DEP or EPA agency absolutely is always serious.”


Florida given more time to buy Everglade sugar lands for conservation – by Sam Bond
March 12,2010
Water authorities in South Florida have voted to extend a contract that allows public money to be used to buy land held by the state's sugar barons in an attempt to preserve the much-pressured Everglades.
The mono-culture growing of sugar cane and its processing cause huge environmental damage to the Everglades, which also face challenges from over-development.
The original deal, brokered by state Governor Charlie Crist, allowed the state to buy back land used for growing sugar cane and halt the farming.
It received a mixed response, with political rivals accusing Crist of cronyism, as his campaign was heavily supported financially by the sugar industry.
Nevertheless, regardless of political motivation, there are undoubted environmental benefits.
This week the South Florida Water Management District voted to extend the scheme, which was due to have expired, to the end of September.
"Today marks another significant step in the journey to truly save Florida's Everglades," Said Gov Crist.
"I applaud the courage of the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District for standing firm and acting in Florida's best interest.
"Their unanimous vote to extend the contract has set us on a course that will change the history of Florida for the better. I thank the members for recognizing the enormous restoration potential this acquisition represents, and for their commitment to doing so without raising taxes.
"Every Floridian of this generation and future generations will benefit from restoring the natural flow of the River of Grass."


US Sugar-Everglades deal kept alive – by Curtis Morgan
March 12, 2010
The South Florida Water Management District extended the deadline to seal the $536 million U.S. Sugar land deal.
Gov. Charlie Crist's Big Sugar land buy survives -- for now.
The South Florida Water Management District governing board agreed Thursday to extend the deadline on a $536 million land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. -- only after getting assurances from its attorneys that there were no loopholes in an ``out'' clause that could still allow the district to back out of the deal later if it decides it can't afford it.
The 9-0 vote was a key victory for Crist, who has twice downsized the deal in an effort to keep it alive, and for supporters who consider the massive land purchase critical to providing the Everglades with clean and plentiful water. About two dozen environmentalists and other advocates urged the board to seize a ``singular opportunity'' to help restore the Everglades.
Sara Fain, co-chair of the Everglades Coalition, which includes 53 of the state's largest environmental groups, dismissed complaints that the deal would enrich a struggling company and buy poorly placed parcels the district cannot afford to build anything on. U.S. Sugar was the only willing seller in the sprawling farm belt south of Lake Okeechobee, she said.
``You have a mission to restore the Everglades, and this is what you need to do to it,'' she said. ``A small group of naysayers is saying, `This is not the deal.' But what's the other deal? There is no other deal.''
But rival growers and the Miccosukee Tribe urged the board to use an expiring deadline in the contract to kill it. They argued that the agency's own financial advisors and budget managers predict gushers of red ink and major cuts to existing projects and programs -- even without adding the $45 million in annual debt payments to finance the land buy.
``Proceeding with this deal is like taking out a loan for a fancy car when you can't feed and clothe your children,'' said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Belle Glade-based Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, a coalition of small growers.
A day earlier, attorneys for Florida Crystals, U.S. Sugar's biggest competitor, had warned that financial ``out'' language in an earlier deal had been weakened in the current one, in a way that could force the district to raise taxes to cover costs or expose it to a breach-of-contract lawsuit from U.S. Sugar. The governor and board have pledged not to increase property tax rates to make the purchase.
The board approved a six-month extension after district attorneys downplayed the language tweaks, contending that additional provisions capped the district liability at $5 million if it were to lose a lawsuit. The board intends to study its options for trimming the budget or shuffling funds in coming months.
If the deal survives, it would secure the state 72,500 acres of citrus groves and sugar fields with options to purchase an additional 107,000 acres of farms fields for about $794 million. Plans call for the land to be converted into reservoirs and pollution-treatment marshes, though it is unclear when that would happen or how much that would cost.
The deadline in question was a March 31 expiration date for a court to ``validate'' the bonds the district intends to use to finance the land buy. Last year, in a lawsuit brought by Florida Crystals and the Miccosukees, a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge signed off on the first phase but rejected a credit line sought by the district to cover the option lands.
The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal on April 7.
Gaston Cantens, a Florida Sugar vice president, questioned the timing of the new September deadline, saying it would offer Crist convenient political cover if the deal collapses. The governor, who has touted the land buy as a major accomplishment, is trailing in polls for a U.S. Senate seat and faces a tough Republican primary election in August.
Charles Dauray, a board member from Southwest Florida, where polluted water from Lake Okeechobee has repeatedly triggered foul algae blooms, acknowledged the district faced difficult budget decisions. But he said the sugar land offered the best chance to fix pollution problems that plague not only the Everglades but rivers and estuaries on both coasts.
``We can not afford not to proceed with this contract,'' he said.


Environmentalists Criticize New York Times Everglades Story
WUSF 89.7 News - by Scott Finn (Send E-Mail)
March 11, 2010
TAMPA (2010-3-11) - A recent New York Times investigation questioned the price tag, environmental value and the politics of the deal with U.S. Sugar to restore the Everglades. But several environmental activists say the New York Times allowed itself to be used as a tool of Crist’s enemies.
The headline on the New York Times website sums it up: "A Deal to Save the Everglades Could Rescue U.S. Sugar Instead."
The story has upset several Florida environmentalists, including lawyer David Guest, head of the Florida chapter of Earthjustice:
"That’s not accurate. That’s not a correct representation," he said. "You will not find a responsible environmentalist in the state of Florida that does not say that in a strong, clear voice."
And here’s Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation:
"I think that it doesn’t paint a completely accurate picture," said Fuller. "There was a suggestions that there was something nefarious. I think they sort of blew up the political intrigue angle on this more than they needed to."
The story questioned why Crist abandoned a plan by former Gov. Jeb Bush to build a huge reservoir and try a largely-untested method of the large scale injection of water into aquifers.
The New York Times story hinted the change was meant to benefit U.S. Sugar and its law firm, where Crist's ally, U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, was a partner.
Alan Farago of the group Friends of the Everglades says Crist abandoned the Bush plan because of science.
"Gov. Bush is quite critical of the U.S. Sugar deal, but in fact, the plan that he advocated and committed a billion dollars to was also based on very, very uncertain technologies and investments," Farago said. "For instance, the largest man-made reservoir in the world, which is now sitting off U.S. 27 in a state of half-completeness."
Environmentalists are upset that the story targeted Crist’s ties to U.S. Sugar, but failed to highlight the connections involving Crist’s opponent, former House Speaker Marco Rubio.
Jeb Bush hasn’t officially endorsed Rubio, but he’s said in an interview that he’s proud of Rubio and what he’s done.
And Rubio and Bush both have ties to Florida Crystals – the big competitor to U.S. Sugar which opposes the land preservation deal.
According to the Palm Beach Post, Rubio has received more than $14,000 from the Fanjul family, which owns Florida Crystals, and the company’s chief lobbyist.
Alan Farago says Florida Crystals has long been opposed to Everglades restoration.
"This corporate interest has always played out their role in the Everglades restoration drama as one of delay and litigation," said Farago. "It happened throughout the 80s and 90s, and it’s happening now in the case of this ambitious plan."
Guest thinks Rubio should have been mentioned in the story.
"The article looks like it was heavily spun by the Fanjuls," Guest said. "It’s a shot by the Fanjuls and the Bush people at the governor. And I think it’s a low blow."
New York Times reporter Damien Cave says the story has been in the works for months, and Rubio is not relevant to it.
"The reason he’s not in the story is because, that wasn’t a part of this story," Cave said. "We spoke to people like Jeb Bush because he was relevant to Everglades and Everglades restoration."
The New York Times article also questioned Crist’s deal with U.S. Sugar for its cost.
The article says, “the price tag and terms of the deal could set back Everglades restoration for years, or even decades.”
Cave says several sources maintain U.S. Sugar land was overvalued by hundreds of millions of dollars.
"There have been serious questions raised about the cost of the purchase for a long time," Cave said. "We talked to a lot of people who know far more about land sales than we do who questioned the cost of this and who told us the state likely did overpay, in part because the appraisals were based on outdated comparable sales."
Environmentalists say it’s impossible to judge the value of this land deal, and bring up former Secretary of State William Seward’s purchase of Alaska for $7 million – known at the time as Seward’s Folly.
"It’s like asking Seward, what’s the comparable price for Alaska," Guest said. "Well, there is no price for Alaska. People thought it was an insane price to pay for Alaska. But in retrospect, it was a very wise move.
Fuller says the price may be high because of the quality of the soil, compared to surrounding land.
"The deeper muck soils that U.S. Sugar has are generally among the more valuable soils in the Everglades agricultural area," Fuller said. "So I don’t think the Times got into that aspect of it."
Cave says opponents of the land deal, such as Florida Crystals and the Miccosukee Indian nation, are upset with the story, too. They say the New York Times went too easy on Crist.
"Those who love the deal and those who hate the deal are unhappy with elements of the story," said Cave. "That’s just the way it goes when you do an investigative piece like this."
Cave questioned whether environmentalists are rallying around Crist because they really want this land deal – and overlooking some of its shadier aspects.
To listen to the full interviews with Guest, Fuller, Farago and Cave, click here.
Listen to Full Audio


Extend US Sugar deal deadline - Editorial
March 11, 2010
Like everything involving the Everglades, the state's agreement to purchase 72,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land for $536 million has its share of champions and critics. But though it's less than perfect, the deal is worth doing.
Backers say it's a long-term investment in Everglades reclamation -- the biggest land acquisition ever that will go a long way to help clean Florida's environmental jewel. Skeptics say it's a costly taxpayer bailout of U.S. Sugar that will steal funding from other restoration projects.
Some criticism is justified. The 2008 agreement, struck behind closed doors by Gov. Crist and U.S. Sugar, wrongly shut out other Everglades stakeholders, such as the Miccosukee Tribe and Florida Crystals. The initial plan to buy all the company's holdings for $1.75 billion has been downscaled twice. But the state is still paying too much.
The latest plan, beset by delays and lawsuits, is set to expire March 31 unless the South Florida Water Management District's governing board, the buyer, extends the deadline.
Unique opportunity
It should be extended -- the deal's biggest selling point is its huge value in taking so much land out of sugar production and putting it in the public's hands forever. Such a chance might never come again. An extension will give the district time to review its budget to decide if the purchase remains feasible given the economic downturn and projected costs of other restoration projects. Might it negotiate the price downward given the market?
Proceed despite misgivings
When the jointly funded state-federal Everglades cleanup plan went into effect in 2000, the idea of public acquisition of a big chunk of land for restoration in the Everglades Agricultural Area below Lake Okeechobee was thought impossible. But the impossible happened. So while there are misgivings, the governing board should continue its support.
That land would eventually be used to store and clean water flowing into the Everglades. The cost to convert the land to reservoirs and filters will be high, but the benefits are equally valuable. For flood control, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, killing off their marine hatcheries with runoff pollution from agriculture and development. The U.S. Sugar land would ultimately take the excess lake spill-off, sparing the estuaries.
Those acres could also serve as the first real link in restoring natural sheet flow from the lake to the Everglades, though that is contingent on other long-shot land purchases. Still, so was the idea of buying the U.S. Sugar property once.
Till last fall, the state had invested much more in restoration than the federal government. But the Obama administration wiped out years of gridlock with a down payment of $350 million, creating welcome momentum for restoration.
Putting the brakes on the U.S. Sugar acquisition would cast a pall over the newfound, justified optimism that one day the Everglades will again be a true “River of Grass.''


Vote keeps Everglades restoration deal alive
Associated Press
March 11, 2010
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Florida water managers have approved a contract extension for a bold plan to buy land from the nation's largest cane sugar producer for Everglades restoration.
The board of the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees restoration efforts, voted Thursday on a six-month extension. The vote keeps the proposed deal alive at least until next month, when the Florida Supreme Court decides whether to allow the sale.
The deal was proposed by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. It calls for the state to pay $536 million for 73,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land in the Everglades.
Critics call it a waste of taxpayer money that will only slow other key restoration efforts. However, Crist says it's an opportunity to help clean the Everglades, long polluted by fertilizers and urban runoff.


Water managers extend US Sugar deal
Naples Daily News - Eric Staats
March 11, 2010
A South Florida board that oversees Everglades restoration has voted to keep alive Gov. Charlie Crist's plan to buy out U.S. Sugar in the name of Everglades restoration.
The South Florida Water Management District voted unanimously this morning to extend a March 31 deadline tied to the closing of the $536 million deal until Sept. 30.
Supporters say the purchase of almost 73,000 acres of sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee is key to Everglades restoration, but opponents say it is merely an expensive bailout for U.S. Sugar and will jeopardize other restoration priorities and flood control in South Florida.
In recent weeks, the vote has been seized upon as a referendum on Crist, who is facing a stiff challenge for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate by former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio.


Water managers outline fiscal pain, say US Sugar deal doesn't help – by Curtis Morgan
March 11,2010
The massive Everglades land deal was brought into question Wednesday, but the purchase is unlikely to be derailed anytime soon.
Water managers spent two hours Wednesday discussing money troubles that threaten Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp.
They've got shrinking income. They've got growing expenses for everything from ensuring South Florida's aging levees are safe to retrofitting coastal floodgates compromised by rising seas.
Then there is ``the elephant in the room,'' as Jerry Montgomery, vice chair of the South Florida Water Management District governing board, put it. That would be the $536 million deal for 72,500 acres of groves and fields, and an option for 107,000 more -- conceived by Crist and championed by environmentalists as key to Everglades restoration.
The board could decide whether to shoot the elephant on Thursday, but, judging by plans for more discussion over the next few months, that seems a long shot. Still, a vote to extend an expiring contract deadline opens a door to kill a deal already downsized twice because of the struggling economy.
The purchase would add about $45 million in annual debt, and force drastic cuts to other programs for an agency projected to be running tens of millions in shortfalls over the next few years.
At the same time, deputy executive director Ken Ammon said the district needs more land to meet pending state and federal water pollution rules.
``Does it meet our mission? The resounding answer was yes,'' he said. ``Not to say we need all that property, but that is the way it was delivered to us. It was all or nothing.''
The deal has been under siege from rival growers Florida Crystals, the Miccosukee Tribe and some state lawmakers, who contend it will siphon money from existing projects and push back restoration by years or decades.
On Wednesday, Florida Crystals attorneys Joseph Klock and Gabriel Nieto sent a letter contending language in a financial ``out'' clause the board had inserted had been tweaked to make it harder to escape the deal, opening the door for a potential tax hike or breach-of-contract lawsuit from U.S. Sugar.
The attorneys urged the board to either restore tougher wording or let the March 31 deadline expire for a court to ``validate'' the bonds the district intends to use to finance the land.
Last year, in a lawsuit brought by Florida Crystals and the tribe, a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge approved enough bonding capacity to make the first phase of the deal, but rejected a $2.2 billion credit line. The Florida Supreme Court is to hear an appeal April 7.
Board members did not discuss the letter or ``out'' clause, but district budget managers repeatedly dismissed the notion of raising property-tax rates in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and 13 other counties that supply the bulk of its funding.
Plans call for the sugar land to be used for expanding reservoirs and pollution-treatment marshes crucial to supplying the Everglades with adequate water. Opponents say the district can't afford the land or billions of dollars' worth of needed projects.
``It's ironic and a sign of the times,'' said board member Charles Dauray. ``We're being asked to do more with less.''


Charles Pattison and Manley Fuller: Purchase is key to Everglades restoration
Tallahassee Democrat
March 10, 2010
An article in Sunday's New York Times describing the still-evolving purchase of U.S. Sugar Corp. lands for Everglades restoration surprised us in how it mischaracterized the justification, need and feasibility of such an important purchase.
The scientific community is in agreement that, in order to meet the goal of restoring the Everglades, a key component and first step is converting thousands of acres of agricultural lands into areas that can store and clean water flowing into the Everglades. The added benefits of protecting South Florida water supplies and improving the health of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers are similarly critical.
No party has presented an alternative option that is more cost-effective than land acquisition — it is simply the best means of solving the critical water challenges facing the Everglades. The alternative of storing billions of gallons of water underground is both more costly and very energy-intensive. With a willing seller ready for the first time to negotiate a major sale, the reality of substantial land purchases within the Everglades Agricultural Area is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that simply cannot be passed up. Failing to act now can only mean even higher costs later.
Economic realities are important in good times and bad. Although the initial proposal was to purchase more than 180,000 acres, that has by necessity been scaled back to about half that amount, with an option to purchase more tracts when the economy recovers and finances improve. The reduced 73,000-acre acquisition, however, still provides the core benefits needed to make this part of Everglades restoration a success.
Finances are always a consideration, and that is why the South Florida Water Management District is carefully reviewing its budget to make certain that this important acquisition can take place while other Everglades restoration projects continue. Given the dynamic and long-term restoration process involved with this unprecedented ecosystem, it is not surprising that adjustments have been made in the past and will continue into the future.
Critics of the effort to purchase U.S. Sugar lands have a vested interest at stake.
Opponents realize that, if the sale can't be blocked, then the opportunity to profit from the public's "free" water supplies here will be lost to them forever. Greed cannot be allowed to thwart what is clearly in the Everglades and public's best interest.
Everglades restoration has made great progress in the last few years, and momentum has increased with the federal government honoring its cost-sharing pledges. The bridging of the Tamiami Trail is under way to restore vital water flows into Everglades National Park, and the Kissimmee River restoration is now producing measurable results that exceed expectations for wildlife recovery and public recreation.
This momentum can only be sustained by taking advantage of the U.S. Sugar land acquisition. It is the best cost option that helps fulfill the adopted Year 2000 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.


Fla. gov fights for Everglades amid US Senate race
Associated Press - by BRIAN SKOLOFF (AP)
March 10, 2010
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Gov. Charlie Crist's grand plan to revive the dying Florida Everglades by buying back the land, a key part of his legacy, could be on the cusp of collapse and deal another blow to his Senate hopes.
A panel that oversees Everglades restoration is set to decide Thursday whether to kill the state's proposed $536 million deal to buy 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. The proposal, much trumpeted by Crist, has already been cut by more than half from the initial plan announced in 2008, which was $1.75 billion for about 180,000 acres and the company's assets.
This week's board meeting of the South Florida Water Management District comes with Crist locked in a close contest for the GOP nomination for Senate. While the board is likely to vote to keep the plan alive, at least for now, the shaky proposal has been hammered by critics.
Crist's campaign has already been hurt by the slumping economy. Florida's unemployment rate has matched an all-time high and the state has a foreclosure rate among the highest in the country. He has also lost support among conservative voters by appearing with President Barack Obama to promote the $787 billion federal stimulus package, a bill most Republicans opposed.
Recognizing that at least some of his political fate is connected to the Everglades plan, the usually easygoing governor has grown defiant in the face of criticism that the deal is too expensive and will kill other key restoration projects.
"It doesn't matter what it looks like to the detractors," Crist told The Associated Press. "They're trying to stop it, for whatever reason. I really don't give a damn."
Even if the deal goes through, it could hurt his campaign, as his opponent, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, has criticized it as a colossal waste of taxpayer money to bail out a struggling sugar company.
It was a bold idea from the start: buy out the nation's largest cane sugar producer, and use the land to help clean polluted water entering the Everglades, something the state and federal governments have tried to do incrementally for years. It has since been downsized twice because of the sour economy.
Critics have questioned Crist's motives, claiming they're more politics than preservation. They contend, among other things, the cost has been inflated by U.S. Sugar executives hoping to pad their pockets, knowing the governor wants the land regardless. They say it will stall other key projects because the state won't have any money left to construct the reservoirs and water treatment marshes needed for restoration, making the entire proposal a boondoggle.
"I think he's killing restoration virtually forever," said Dexter Lehtinen, an attorney for the Miccosukee Indians, who live in the Everglades and are fighting the land deal in court alongside Florida Crystals, U.S. Sugar's main rival.
They seek to stop financing for bonds the state wants to issue to pay for the deal. The Miccosukee and the company largely share the same concerns, that the governor's proposal is just too bold and will only slow restoration efforts. Florida Crystals has also argued the deal will give an unfair business advantage to its competitor, because U.S. Sugar can lease back the land at a nominal rate for a number of years until the state's restoration projects are under way.
The state Supreme Court is set to hear the case next month.
More pressing is the water district board's decision.
A February letter to the district's chief financial officer from a state consultant warned of "difficult decisions" ahead and multimillion-dollar deficits for the agency if the sugar deal happens.
District board chairman Eric Buermann said it's too soon to say whether the contract remains financially viable given that it won't be completed for months. There is still time to review budgets, he said, but the board must approve a contract extension.
"If we don't do that, that's the end of the deal," Buermann added.
The Everglades have been dying for decades from the intrusion of farms and development, largely from people settling in a place never meant for development. The ecosystem has been dissected by dikes, dams and canals, effectively draining much of the swamp, and has been polluted by fertilizer and urban runoff.
It once sprawled across more than 6,250 square miles, but has shrunk by half, replaced with homes and farms, and has since lost 90 percent of its wading birds. Other creatures are at risk, too, including 68 species that are considered threatened or endangered.
Politically, the governor must stay the course, even if he contends "politics be damned," said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida.
"If he looks like he's backing off a signature project that was announced with great fanfare, that this was going to be a way to save the Everglades, and now he says he was wrong, it just adds to his image problem, that he's a lot of show with not many results," Jewett said.
Crist simply calls it "the right thing to do."
"Never again will we have the chance to buy this land. If we let this go, shame on us forever," he said. "Why U.S. Sugar? Because they're willing."


Water management officials should extend contract to purchase land from U.S. Sugar Corp.
March 10, 2010
As a Floridian, a long-time resident of South Florida — from Broward to Palm Beach and now Martin — and lover of our state’s natural wonders, I believe we have an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime (or even once in many lifetimes) to restore and protect the Everglades. The opportunity is the state’s purchase of 73,000 acres of land from the U.S. Sugar Corp., including acreage in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee.
An important vote this week will or will not keep this opportunity alive. I, for one, urge the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District to vote in favor of extending the contract to purchase this land. By extending the contract, the district will be giving the court time to decide upon the funding mechanism for the purchase.
Successful restoration of the Everglades depends on storing, treating and conveying clean, fresh water from Lake Okeechobee south through the EAA, into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. The more natural flow of water will replenish parched wetlands, revive natural plant communities and heal habitat that is so important to struggling bird and wildlife populations.
This state acquisition is the best opportunity we have to secure acres of land to store, treat and move water south. The governing board should not miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. By acquiring this land, the state will be protecting Florida’s natural systems and wildlife, as well as our freshwater resources, for many lifetimes to come.
Laurie Odlum
President, Audubon of Martin County


Water managers debate U.S. Sugar-Everglades restoration deal
Miami Herald – by Curtis Morgan
March 10, 2010
Water managers were expected Wednesday to begin debating the future of Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial land deal with the U.S. Sugar Corp. A vote to extend one expiring deadline in the contract, which opens the door to potentially kill the $536 million Everglades restoration purchase, is planned for Thursday.
The deal has been under siege from rival growers Florida Crystals, the Miccosukee Tribe and some state lawmakers, who contend it will siphon money from existing projects and push back restoration by years or decades. But it's the state's chronically ailing economy that has done the most damage, forcing the governor to downsize the deal twice since announcing it 20 months ago, and finances aren't expected to get better anytime soon.
Last month, an outside financial advisor warned the South Florida Water Management District that plummeting revenues could leave them with a difficult choice between cutting operations and maintenance or making a deal that environmentalists consider critical to supplying the Everglades with plentiful and unpolluted water.
Plans call for the land to eventually be used for reservoirs and marshes to remove phosphorus, which damages Everglades plants. But opponents contend the district can't afford to buy the land or build any of the needed projects, which would run multiple billions more.
The deal originally called for the taxpayers in the Water District's 16 counties to spend $1.75 billion to buy out U.S. Sugar, including its mills, railroad and 187,000 acres. With state budget revenues dwindling, it was changed to a land-only deal, then to the current plan, which cuts the land buy into two parts: $536 million for 72,500 acres with an option to buy an additional 107,000 acres at $7,400 an acre.
Board members have said from the beginning that they had concerns, inserting a financial ``out'' clause that would allow the district to walk away if the deal would force cuts of ``core'' operations, such as flood control. The deal, which would be financed with bond instruments called certificates of participation, would add about $45 million in annual debt to the district's budget.
The financial advisor's memo sent last month to the district's chief financial officer painted a bleak forecast, with deficits projected to increase to $110 million by 2012 if the agency pursues the $536 million land buy.
``If these projections [both revenues and expenses] are even close, the district must make some very difficult decisions,'' wrote David Moore of Public Financial Management Inc.
The deadline in the contract isn't to complete the deal but to finalize legal ``validation'' of the bonds. A Palm Beach County circuit judge approved enough bonding capacity to make the first phase of the purchase, but rejected a $2.2 billion credit line sought by the district that would have made it easier to buy the option lands.
The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal of that ruling by Florida Crystals and the Miccosukee Tribe on April 7.


EPA proposes standards to protect Florida's waters
Water World
March 9, 2010‎
WASHINGTON, DC — The EPA is proposing water quality standards to protect Florida’s waters. The standards would set a series of numeric limits on the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen that would be allowed in the state’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals. This marks the first time EPA has proposed numeric limits for any one state.
The proposed action also introduces and seeks comment on a new regulatory process for setting standards in a manner that drives water quality improvements in already impaired waters. The proposed new regulatory provision, called restoration standards, would be specific to nutrients in the state of Florida.
EPA is accepting public comment on the proposed standards and will hold three public hearings in Florida during the month of February. More on the proposed rule and public hearings is available at     


Floridians Get More Time to Comment on Water Quality Standards
Environmental Protection -
In an effort to ensure that Florida residents' voices are heard, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is extending the comment period for the agency’s proposed water quality standards.
The comment period is being extended for 30 days and will now end on April 28. The agency will hold three more public hearings to obtain additional input and comments on the proposed rulemaking. Planning for the additional hearings is under way and the hearings are targeted for mid-April in several cities across the state. In February, EPA held seven public hearing sessions on the proposed standards in Tallahassee, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The proposed water standards will protect people’s health, aquatic life and the long-term recreational uses of Florida’s waters, a critical part of the state’s economy.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced the extension on March 4 in a meeting with senior agency officials and members of the Florida’s Congressional delegation.
“Clean and safe waters are central to people’s health and Florida’s economic growth, which is why EPA is proposing this rule to curb the impacts of costly nutrient pollution,” said Pete Silva, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “We are extending the comment period and having additional hearings to ensure there is more time for Floridians to offer their comments and ideas.”
The proposed action also introduces and seeks comment on a new adaptive management regulatory process for setting standards in a manner that drives water quality improvements in already impaired waters. The proposed new regulatory provision, called restoration standards, would be specific to nutrients in the state of Florida.
In 2009, EPA entered into a consent decree, approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, with the Florida Wildlife Federation to propose limits to pollution. The proposed action, released for public comment and based heavily on state data and science developed in collaboration with the state, would set a series of numeric limits on the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen, also known as “nutrients,” that would be allowed in Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals. The proposed standards aim to make it easier and quicker to address the economic, environmental and health issues of nutrient pollution. For more background information, go here.


Key vote nears on Crist's Everglades restoration purchase of US Sugar land
Palm Beach Post - by Michael C. Bender and Paul Quinlan, Staff Writers
March 9, 2010
It's hard to overestimate how personally important Gov. Charlie Crist considers the half-billion-dollar land deal he brokered with U.S. Sugar Corp. in the name of Everglades restoration.
In a nationally televised interview with Fox News on Monday night, he spoke of it as a way to "honor God's work" and again equated the proposed 73,000-acre deal to the purchase of the first national park.
"Our administration has been very focused on it, just like Teddy Roosevelt would have been," Crist told Fox host Greta Van Susteren.
Amid an increasingly vicious race against Marco Rubio for a seat in the U.S. Senate, a key component of Crist's political legacy now faces a critical vote Thursday before a much lesser-known political body: the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District.
The nine-member, Crist-appointed board must decide whether to extend the land deal's March 31 contract deadline. The vote amounts to the sort of legal housekeeping that would pass unnoticed for any other of the hundreds of land deals brokered by the water agency.
Not so this time, although proponents will try to steer two days of debate beginning today away from questions of cost. They argue that that analysis is premature, given the "out-clause" in the contract that allows the deal to be scuttled if it proves too expensive.
"The vote that's going to be taken is a vote for nothing more than extending the contract," said Thom Rumberger, chairman of the Everglades Trust. "It's a very simple vote."
A simple vote that could get complicated. In recent days, national news outlets long fixated on Crist's future in the national political arena have taken interest in what critics have been saying about Crist's Everglades restoration land deal: that U.S. Sugar — not the Everglades — stands to gain.
In a front-page story Monday, The New York Times examined the deal's price, lobbyist connections and the suspicious proximity throughout of now-U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, whom Crist labeled the "maestro" of his gubernatorial campaign.
LeMieux was serving as Crist's chief of staff at the time the deal was conceived and, months later, took the helm of the Gunster law firm, which represented U.S. Sugar throughout the negotiations. LeMieux has maintained he had no involvement in the deal, either as Crist's chief of staff or at Gunster.
Critics also have keyed in on Crist's Feb. 24 appointment — two weeks before Thursday's anticipated vote — of two board members who he said were selected, in part, on the basis of their support for the U.S. Sugar land purchase. As a memo circulated last week from one of the water agency's financial advisers, questioning whether the purchase remained affordable in today's languishing economy, critics blasted the governor's appointments and accused him of rigging this week's vote.
U.S. Sugar spokesman Robert Coker, asked Tuesday how he was doing, had a quick reply: "Rode hard and put up wet." He downplayed the rising cacophony as old news — a smear orchestrated by the Fanjuls, the influential Palm Beach family that owns competing sugar company Florida Crystals Corp.
All of this, in the context of the Crist-Rubio U.S. Senate race, served as a reminder that in the universe of Florida politics, Big Sugar — meaning U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals — is at the center.
In this case the two agro giants have backed opposing candidates. Rubio, backed by Crystals, blasted the U.S. Sugar land deal on national television as a "massive, taxpayer-funded bailout" for the Crystals competitor.
"Charlie Crist's bailout plan will require higher taxes and increased debt and it does nothing for the Everglades," Rubio said.
Crist dismissed the criticism and pointed to the $14,000 or more in campaign contributions that Rubio received from Crystals executives. Meanwhile, campaign finance records show that U.S. Sugar executives, family members, attorneys and lobbyists have funneled at least $103,000 to Crist.
"It's a great deal, because it's a great deal politically for Charlie Crist and U.S. Sugar," said Dexter Lehtinen, attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, which lives on a reservation in the Everglades and has vigorously argued that the deal's massive expense will set back restoration for years. "It's a corrupt bargain — that's becoming very clear."
What vexes environmentalists is that, as the terms have changed, the need for the government to buy more land south of Lake Okeechobee has not. Crist twice downsized the deal from a $1.75 billion total buyout of U.S. Sugar to a land-only purchase one-third as large.
The latest science shows that old plans for fixing the Everglades not only rely on uncertain technologies to inject and store water deep underground but also fall far short of storing and cleaning the volume of water needed for Everglades restoration, said Tom Van Lent, senior scientist for the Everglades Foundation. For that, the government must buy more land in the sugar-dominated farming region, he said.
Setting aside the questions of whether the price was fair or the deal honest, "I don't see any other option to the acquisition," he said Tuesday. "It's not only a good idea, it's really the only option."


New deal may save the Everglades -- and a sugar firm
Mother Nature Network – by Katherine Butler
March 9, 2010
In June of 2008, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist proposed that the state save the Everglades by buying out its major landowner, United States Sugar.  Crist claimed this move would be remembered as monumental moment similar to the creation of the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone.  But now, the New York Times reports that Crist’s plan will focus more on saving on United States Sugar and not the famous wetlands.
The Everglades are subtropical wetlands that make up much of southern Florida.  They are part of a complex system of interdependent ecosystems of cypress swamps and mangrove forests.  It is home to several endangered plants and animals, including alligators, sea turtles, manatees, hardwood hammock trees and more. After a century of urban growth, dredging and drainage, preservationists have worked to find a deal that would ensure the survival of what is called a “river of grass.”
Many thought this deal came in 2008, when the state of Florida proposed to buy swaths of land from U.S. Sugar. In June 2008, Crist told the public, “I can envision no better gift to the Everglades, the people of Florida and the people of America — as well as our planet — than to place in public ownership this missing link that represents the key to true restoration.” The area, which included 187,000 acres of land, would be rehabilitated. As the NY Times reports, this came at a convenient time for the privately held U.S. Sugar, which was more than $500 million in debt by late 2007. 
The premise was that this deal would preserve the Everglades, which are slowly dying due to a lack of clean water. The NY Times reports that 49,000 acres of the United States Sugar land was contaminated with high levels of copper, DDT, selenium and other chemicals. Arsenic was also shown to exist at high levels. 
Then the recession hit. By April 2009, the state had downgraded its purchase to 72,800 acres of United States Sugar’s land at the reduced price of $536 million. The state intended to buy the remaining 107,000 acres at a future date. If this deal closes on March 31 as expected, it will eradicate the once-struggling company's financial woes. Further, United States Sugar will continue to farm the land for the next seven years.
Still, many environmentalists feel this new deal offers the Everglades its best hope. The NY Times article mentions that criticism has remained muted as most environmentalists, “do not want to say anything that might help kill what would be the largest land purchase ever for the Everglades.”


Sugar politics: Seldom sweet
The Atlantic
March 9, 2010
I got a comment this morning from Eric, who asks whether I had seen the article in yesterday's New York Times about Florida's bailout of Big Sugar in the Everglades. I could hardly miss it. The story starts on the front page and continues over two full inside pages.
Titled "Deal to Save Everglades May Help Sugar Firm," the article explains how Florida politicians engineered a taxpayer-supported buyout of United States Sugar for nearly $2 billion in 2008, ostensibly to restore a waterway through the Everglades. Now, it seems, the restoration projects have stopped for lack of money, and U.S. Sugar gets to keep using the land.
U.S. Sugar is or was the largest sugar producer in Florida. Founded by Charles Stewart Mott in 1931, it owned mills and a railroad as well as land.
Sugar policy, as I explained in a post last September, is special. Alone among commodities, it is supported by an arcane system of quotas and tariffs designed to ensure that domestic sugar producers get prices for their crops that are higher than values on the world market. The result? Taxpayers pay more for sugar than they should.
I suppose I could argue that higher prices for sugar are a good thing. High prices discourage consumption. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), sugar prices are not high enough to do that.
So chalk this one up to politics in action, replete with lobbyists, lawyers, and corporate heads with cozy ties to government officials. As is all too often the case, the corporation came out ahead. Whether the Everglades will ever benefit remains to be seen.


US Sugar deal sparks call for oversight - Michael Peltier
March 9, 2010
Florida's Everglades deal with the sugar industry is sparking calls for legislation that would require approval before water management districts could make large land purchases.
News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE -- With lawmakers already frustrated over a lack of oversight, recent reports on the state's landmark $536 million Everglades agreement with U.S. Sugar Corp. may add momentum for a legislative response in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the controversial deal, a key House lawmaker said Monday.
Meanwhile, a scheduled meeting of the South Florida Water Management District's Board this week to extend the closing deadline for the contract that ends March 31 is also likely to provide a venue for renewed scrutiny of the May 2009 agreement for the district to purchase nearly 73,000 acres from the sugar company.
Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers and chairwoman of the House Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Committee, told The News Service of Florida Monday that she will attempt to craft a committee proposal by merging three similar House bills that would require legislative approval before water management districts could make large land purchases in the future.
A vocal critic of the deal penned last year, Williams said the legislation is necessary to ensure that future legislators won't have to merely sit back and watch the water management district board, the members of which are appointed by the governor. As for the U.S. Sugar deal, however, Williams said the Legislature's hands may be tied. ``I don't know any vehicle for the Legislature to intervene right now,'' Williams said. ``If I had a vehicle, I would certainly try to exercise it.''
Backers say the purchase is critical for Everglades restoration efforts. Critics, meanwhile, characterize it as a sweetheart deal for an otherwise financially strapped company and the law firm that represents it.
The deal originally called for the taxpayers in the water management taxing district's 16-county area across South Florida to spend $1.75 billion for 187,000 acres, about 300 square miles. Facing tough financial times, though, the agreement was renegotiated. If approved, the state will have the option to purchase an additional 107,000 acres.
Recent articles in The Miami Herald and a weekend piece by The New York Times have reignited debate over the already controversial transaction, potentially the most expensive land purchase in state history. Among the questions raised were the parcel's appraised value, environmental quality and location of lands slated for purchase. The land being bought was appraised during the height of the speculation boom, but land values have since plummeted. Yet the agreement is still based on the higher values, The Times reported. Appraisals on the original $1.75 billion purchase had fallen by $400 million.
Also at issue is the district's ability to pay. The purchase is being paid by property taxes, collections of which have fallen with property values. The tax base has fallen from $549 million in 2008 to an estimated $405 million 2011. The drop in tax base has raised concerns that the district can no longer afford such a pricey item.
On Monday, the chairman of the joint legislative panel overseeing Everglades issues tried to dispel rumors that the district would be on the hook for the purchase even if it couldn't meet its other obligations. The contract, he said, gives the district an easy out.
``We want it to be very clear, if the money is there you can go forward, if not, the deal's off,'' said Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami and chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Everglades Oversight.
The Florida Supreme Court has scheduled oral argument for April 7 to determine if the water management district is justified in selling $534 million in bonds to pay for the purchase. It's historically a limited review.
The water management governing board is meeting Wednesday to extend the contract that otherwise would expire March 31.


EPA Sets Clean Water Bar for Forida Too Low
March 8,2010
Proposed Federal Standards Ignore EPA Guidelines and Bypass Peer Review
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - March 8 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ignored its own scientists and quality control procedures in formulating proposed numeric standards to regulate nutrient levels in Florida waters, according to testimony submitted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, if adopted, the EPA standards will classify waters that are impaired as healthy.
Forced by successful environmental lawsuits citing its failure to enforce the federal Clean Water Act in Florida, EPA announced in the waning days of the Bush administration that it would act to set "numeric" pollution standards for nutrients, such as phosphorus, to replace subjective "narrative criteria" used by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Even under the state's current lax methods, one-third of all Florida lakes, one-quarter of its estuaries and one-sixth of its rivers are officially classified as "impaired" by pollution - proportions likely to go much higher under rigorous numeric standards. An "impaired" designation triggers legal requirements for pollution discharge reductions and other measures to bring the water-body back to a healthy, functioning (swimmable and fishable) condition.
Rather than set rigorous, science-based numeric criteria, PEER has charged EPA officials in its Atlanta regional office with overriding the agency's technical experts and proposing standards that are so weak they would, in essence, legitimize unreasonably high pollution levels as protective of water quality. Among improprieties cited by PEER are that EPA -
Ignored its own guidelines for how to set such ecological standards;
Bypassed peer review of the proposed standards, instead developing standards in closed door meetings with state officials; and
Eschewed applying a safety factor that EPA normally uses to set water quality criteria so as to provide water-bodies with breathing room if they are absorbing pollution right up to the limits.
"These standards are like the phony exams given to basketball players with questions like how much is a three-point basket worth," stated PEER Florida Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP water enforcement attorney, noting that the Obama administration has yet to select an EPA Regional Administrator for the southeastern states, including Florida. "Here we have the same holdover EPA managers who presided over deteriorating Florida water quality committing professional malpractice to cover their past failures."
Florida DEP, which put out a joint press release with EPA in 2009 to herald this effort, has since changed its public posture. It has joined industry groups and other current and former state officials who have protested proposed EPA standards as unnecessary and expensive.
"Opponents are shedding crocodile tears, knowing that if they bawl loudly enough the politics will water down any changes to the point where they are meaningless," Phillips added. "PEER supports numeric criteria provided that they are strict enough to actually protect Florida's waters."
Read the PEER testimony
See the January 2009 joint Florida-EPA announcement of numeric standards
Look at worsening Florida water pollution
Visit EPA site on numeric standards for Florida


In Deal on Everglades, a Dream Is Deferred
New York Times
March 8, 2010
When Gov. Charlie Crist announced Florida’s $1.75 billion plan to save the Everglades by buying out a major landowner, United States Sugar, he declared that the deal would be remembered as a public acquisition “as monumental as the creation of the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone.”
Standing amid the marshes at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in June 2008, Mr. Crist said, “I can envision no better gift to the Everglades, the people of Florida and the people of America — as well as our planet — than to place in public ownership this missing link that represents the key to true restoration.”
Nearly two years later, the governor’s ambitious plan to reclaim the river of grass, as the famed wetlands are known, is instead on track to rescue the fortunes of United States Sugar, The New York Times’s Don Van Natta Jr. and Damien Cave write.
The proposal was downsized only five months after it was announced. By April 2009, amid the deepening recession, the state said it could afford to purchase only 72,800 acres of United States Sugar’s land, for $536 million. The company would stay in business and the state would retain the option of buying the remaining 107,000 acres at a future date.
United States Sugar dictated many of the terms of the deal as state officials repeatedly made decisions against the immediate needs of the Everglades and the interests of taxpayers, an examination of thousands of state e-mail messages and records and more than 60 interviews showed.
Efforts to restore the Everglades have picked up urgency in the last decade: the sprawling subtropical wetland, the only ecosystem of its kind, is dying for lack of clean water. Many environmentalists remain convinced that Mr. Crist’s deal with United States Sugar, even in its downsized form, offers the Everglades its best hope.
But, The Times says in a lengthy look at the deal, documents and interviews suggest that the price tag and terms of the deal could set back Everglades restoration for years, or even decades.


NY Times takes down Charlie Crist over Everglades-U.S. Sugar deal
Daily Loaf
March 8, 2010 by Mitch Perry
It was 21 months ago when one of the biggest conservation deals in U.S. history was announced; The state of Florida would buy U.S. Sugar’s holdings in the Everglades south of Lake Okeechobee, including its cane fields, mill and railroad line. U.S. Sugar would be allowed to farm the 187,000 acres for six more years, after which it would go out of business. Cost to Floridians? $1.75 billion.
Those plans have been revised since then, with the state reducing its purchase of U.S. Sugar’s land to 72,800 acres for $536 million. But according to a blockbuster story written today in the New York Times by investigative reporters Don Van Natta Jr. and Damien Cave, the state and Governor Charlie Crist were suckered into an awful deal that is “rescuing the fortunes of U.S. Sugar”, but setting back the plan of fully restoring the Everglades.
The story, coming in at over 4.200 words, is critical of Crist, and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, for paying way more than they should have for the land.
But internal district documents revealed that the land had been overvalued by the two firms that performed the independent appraisals. Both relied on figures from 2004 to 2008, when a speculative real estate market had prices soaring.
If the current prices had been used, the state would be paying far less. For example, while the water district agreed to pay United States Sugar nearly $7,000 an acre for citrus land, it is now selling for $4,000 an acre, independent appraisers said recently in interviews.
The two outside appraisal firms used by the district — Anderson & Carr, of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Sewell, Valentich, Tillis & Associates, of Sarasota — came up with almost identical figures of around $1.3 billion, a rarity that raised some eyebrows.
“When I had heard that number, I couldn’t swallow it — it was an unbelievable number,” said Woody Hanson, a land appraiser in Fort Myers with extensive experience in the Everglades. “Then I looked closely at the appraisals to test them for reasonableness and, wow, there is just no way it makes sense for the taxpayers.”
Neither appraisal firm used by the district would comment.
Eric Buermann, chairman of the district’s advisory board, defended the appraisals but acknowledged that they had used outdated values. “At the time we had to make the decision,” he said, “those were the latest, best numbers available.”
Yet when the appraisals were updated in 2009, they still relied on sale prices from 2004 to 2006, documents showed. District officials said the appraisers assured them that prices had held steady.
The Times story comes two days after the Miami Herald produced their own massive article on the problems with trying to finance the scaled down plan.
Both stories highlight the role of Crist’s good buddy, the accidental Senator, George LeMieux in the deal. LeMieux at the time of the negotiations was serving as the governor’s chief of staff as well as working with the law firm of Gunster,Yoakley & Stewart, who were representing U.S. Sugar in the deal (LeMieux graciously offered to recuse himself at Gunster during that time). Gunster will receive tens of millions of dollars in fees for the sale, the Times adds.
The New York Times story includes a choice blast of the deal by former Governor Jeb Bush, who says he was “disappointed by the deal,” adding:
To replace projects that were under way for a possibility of a project decades from now is not a good trade,” Mr. Bush said. “On a net basis, this appears to me there has been a replacement of science-based environmental policy for photo-op environmental policy.”
The Times story quotes some environmentalists who are critical of the deal, but writes that others are simply holding their tongue:
Criticism from other environmentalists, though, has been muted. Some have acknowledged concerns, but do not want to say anything that might help kill what would be the largest land purchase ever for the Everglades. With the state retaining an option to buy the rest of United States Sugar’s land, there also remains a romantic adherence in some quarters to the dream of a restored river of grass from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.
The South Florida Water Management District is scheduled to discuss if they can even afford the scaled down $536 million sale at a board meeting later this week.


NYTimes tees up Crist's Everglades land deal with US Sugar
The Palm Beach Post - by Paul Quinlan
March 8, 2010
The New York Times weighed in this morning with a 4,300-word, front-page story on Gov. Charlie Crist’s Everglades restoration land deal. Not happy press for a deal that is, by all recent accounts, “hanging by a thread” and becoming increasingly unaffordable, given the submarine trajectory of the economy.
Not much news here for those who have been following the coverage over the last year-and-a-half. (High up, the story mentions what we reported exclusively last year: that state appraisers were effectively silenced after raising hackles about the exorbitant price tag and that the deal forced the sudden cancellation of a gargantuan reservoir construction project.)
Still, Don Van Natta Jr. and Damien Cave turn out a well-reported behemoth of a story that explores in 1080p HD all the uncomfortable facts and connections that the architects of this thing would prefer you not dwell on, including:
1) the inflated price
2) U.S. Sugar’s dire financial situation at the time of the buyout offer, ironclad ties to Crist and deft leap into the “driver’s seat” early on in the negotiations
3) now-Sen. George LeMieux’s eyebrow-raising waltz from his job as Crist’s Chief of Staff at the time the deal was hatched, to chairman of the lawfirm (Gunster) representing U.S. Sugar as negotiations with Crist plowed forward, to the U.S. Senate
The story was at least four months in production, according to sources the Times contacted. And you can tell — it’s well worth a read. Find it here.


NASA Hosts First-Ever Water Sustainability Forum March 16-18
March 8, 2010
WASHINGTON, March 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- NASA today announced its founding partnership of Launch, an initiative to identify, showcase and support innovative approaches to sustainability challenges through a series of forums. The first forum, "Launch: Water," will take place at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida from March 16-18.
"NASA is perfectly positioned to host a conversation with experts about potential solutions to the world's most perplexing sustainability problems," said NASA's Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, the host of the forum. "NASA offers a culture of problem-solving, deep technical expertise on sustainable systems such as the International Space Station, and a unique capacity to capture and analyze data about our home planet."
Other founding partners are the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. State Department and Nike. The event will bring together 10 entrepreneurs from around the world who have proposed solutions to water shortages and 40 council members who represent business, policy, engineering, science, communications and sustainability sectors. During the two-and-a-half day forum, the invited innovators and the Launch Council will participate in sessions designed to identify challenges and discuss future opportunities for their innovations.
Media are invited to attend this first Launch forum. U.S. journalists must contact Katherine Trinidad at 202-358-1100 by March 15 to arrange credentials. Credentialed journalists may request interviews with the participants. For those unable to attend the event, it will be broadcast live at:
Launch is a global initiative to identify and support innovative work that will contribute to a sustainable future. Organizers have begun a global search for visionaries, whose innovative world-class ideas, technologies or programs show great promise in making tangible impacts on society. Through a series of forums focused on key challenge areas including water, air, food, energy, mobility and sustainable cities, Launch will give thought leaders a forum to present innovative ideas among peers and join in collaborative, solution-driven discussions.
To learn about the 10 innovators and their proposed solutions, and for a list of the 40 council members, visit:


Deal to Save Everglades May Help Sugar Firm
The New York Times
March 7, 2010
When Gov. Charlie Crist announced Florida’s $1.75 billion plan to save the Everglades by buying out a major landowner, United States Sugar, he declared that the deal would be remembered as a public acquisition “as monumental as the creation of the nation’s first national park, Yellowstone.”
Standing amid the marshes at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in June 2008, Mr. Crist said, “I can envision no better gift to the Everglades, the people of Florida and the people of America — as well as our planet — than to place in public ownership this missing link that represents the key to true restoration.”
Nearly two years later, the governor’s ambitious plan to reclaim the river of grass, as the famed wetlands are known, is instead on track to rescue the fortunes of United States Sugar.
The proposal was downsized only five months after it was announced. By April 2009, amid the deepening recession, the state said it could afford to purchase only 72,800 acres of United States Sugar’s land, for $536 million. The company would stay in business and the state would retain the option of buying the remaining 107,000 acres at a future date.
United States Sugar dictated many of the terms of the deal as state officials repeatedly made decisions against the immediate needs of the Everglades and the interests of taxpayers, an examination of thousands of state e-mail messages and records and more than 60 interviews showed.
Efforts to restore the Everglades have picked up urgency in the last decade: the sprawling subtropical wetland, the only ecosystem of its kind, is dying for lack of clean water. Many environmentalists remain convinced that Mr. Crist’s deal with United States Sugar, even in its downsized form, offers the Everglades its best hope.
But documents and interviews suggest that the price tag and terms of the deal could set back Everglades restoration for years, or even decades.
Negotiations favored United States Sugar from the start, when the state accepted two outside firms’ appraisals of the company’s land that used figures from the height of the real estate market, according to documents.
When a “fairness opinion” commissioned by the state found that those appraisals had overvalued the land by $400 million, Florida officials orchestrated a public relations campaign to discredit the findings, internal e-mail showed. Appraisers from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which was required to sign off on the deal, were also cut out of the process after raising concerns, e-mail messages showed.
When it came time to decide which land to buy, state officials acknowledged that United States Sugar was, as one official put it during an interview, “pretty much in the driver’s seat.” The water district overseeing the restoration will end up with six large disconnected parcels under the current deal, including all of United States Sugar’s citrus groves.
State officials acknowledged that some of that land, which has been ravaged by canker, a plant disease, is useless for restoration.
The officials defended the negotiations as appropriate, saying that United States Sugar needed certain tracts of farmland to continue operating.
Mr. Crist said in an interview that officials had “negotiated to try to get the very best deal we could.” He added, “We have a duty and a responsibility as good stewards to understand that we may never have this opportunity again, ever, ever.”
Supporters of the plan said the land would enable the state and federal government to build reservoirs and water treatment systems. But doing so would require deep financial reserves from the South Florida Water Management District, which oversees restoration and is financed by taxpayers in 16 counties. Internal district documents put the price tag at up to $12 billion and projected that the district would have nowhere near that amount.
In the meantime, more than a dozen projects under way as part of a 10-year-old federal and district restoration effort have been suspended or canceled in anticipation of the cost of the United States Sugar deal. Among them is a massive reservoir in western Palm Beach County that was seen as a major step toward restoration of the Everglades. In total, $1.3 billion had already been spent on the projects, according to an internal water district document.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who initiated most of that work, said in an interview that he was “deeply disappointed” with the decision by Mr. Crist, his successor and a fellow Republican, calling the move to halt the projects a setback for restoration.
 “To replace projects that were under way for a possibility of a project decades from now is not a good trade,” Mr. Bush said. “On a net basis, this appears to me there has been a replacement of science-based environmental policy for photo-op environmental policy.”In its current form, the deal’s only clear, immediate beneficiaries would be United States Sugar, a privately held company based in Clewiston, Fla., and its law firm, Gunster, which is expected to collect tens of millions of dollars in fees for its work on the sale, according to current and former United States Sugar executives.
The sale, scheduled to close March 31, amounts to a lifeline for the company, which entered negotiations at a time of profound weakness; it was facing a costly shareholder lawsuit, sinking profit margins and increased foreign competition. The deal would enable it to wipe nearly all the debt from its books.
United States Sugar had an unusually powerful advocate in Gunster, a West Palm Beach law firm that had represented it since 1990. Gunster’s chairman, George LeMieux, was Governor Crist’s chief of staff when the deal was first conceived. Mr. LeMieux, who began working at the law firm in 1994, returned to it in January 2008 as the deal was being renegotiated.
He and Mr. Crist are confidants, and the governor referred to Mr. LeMieux as the “maestro” of his 2006 election victory. When a United States Senate seat was vacated in 2009, Mr. Crist appointed Mr. LeMieux to fill it. The governor is now campaigning for that post and has often described the United States Sugar purchase as a crowning achievement of his administration.
Mr. LeMieux said in an interview that he had recused himself from the United States Sugar negotiations while he was chief of staff, to avoid a conflict of interest. He said he had never discussed the deal with Mr. Crist, which was “awkward as heck,” given how close they are.
Back at the law firm, Mr. LeMieux sent an e-mail message on Dec. 18, 2008, to its compensation committee, saying “I should not be compensated” for the firm’s United States Sugar representation, according to a copy of the message. H. William Perry, Gunster’s managing partner, said the firm complied. Mr. LeMieux said that he had only “management type discussions” about the case as chairman.
Rick J. Burgess, a Gunster partner, said he spoke to Mr. LeMieux on occasion about the deal, using him “as a sounding board.”
Mr. LeMieux played a similar role for Kirk Fordham, who runs the powerful Everglades Foundation. Mr. Fordham said he spoke two or three times with Mr. LeMieux when he was at the law firm for updates about the negotiations.
For United States Sugar, “it’s a fantastic deal,” said a former senior executive of the company, who described his colleagues as “elated.”
“I won’t lie to you — it’s a damn good price for that land,” said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he had signed a nondisclosure agreement. “But it’s not as good a deal for the Everglades. If the district doesn’t have any money after this purchase, then they won’t be able to do any restoration projects. It could be a disaster in the making.”
A Governor’s Overture
On Route 27 heading out of Palm Beach, towering piles of rocks extend for more than a mile on the site of what was to become the largest man-made reservoir on the planet. Consuming more than 16,000 acres, it would hold enough water to fill 100,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
The reservoir was a vital piece of the $7.8 billion restoration project put together by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Under the plan, reservoirs, marshes and hundreds of wells would collect, clean and deliver rainwater to the Everglades, where an array of plants and animals are threatened with extinction.
Environmentalists had long sought to restore the historic flow way, or waterway, from Lake Okeechobee south through the glades and into Florida Bay, a dream that had been hampered by more than a century of piping, dredging and development. The flow way required land owned by United States Sugar and its chief competitor, Florida Crystals, both of which refused to sell for years.
The system of wells and reservoirs was a way to circumvent that need. Like many previous restoration efforts, though, the Clinton plan hit obstacles, including competing local interests and insufficient financing from the federal government.
Even so, in 2004, Governor Bush was able to accelerate eight projects; some $282 million alone was spent on the giant reservoir.
But by 2007, with a sagging sugar business looking to prop up its balance sheet and a new governor looking to burnish his environmental and national credentials, the fate of the Everglades was about to take another abrupt turn.
United States Sugar’s debt soared that year to more than $500 million, former executives said, as operational problems and competitive pressures mounted. The company was in its second year of drought and further hampered by a recent water district restriction limiting a method of irrigation that sugar growers relied on during the dry seasons.
On Nov. 15, 2007, two United States Sugar lobbyists met in the governor’s office with Mr. Crist and Eric Eikenberg, the deputy chief of staff under Mr. LeMieux.
The lobbyists, J. M. Stipanovich and Brian Ballard, had supported Mr. Crist’s campaign for governor, and Mr. Ballard was one of its major fund-raisers. United States Sugar was still reeling from the government’s decision to limit irrigation.
“It was a visit to open his eyes, to open his ears to the idea that a lot of these decisions were affecting their livelihood,” Malcolm S. Wade Jr., a senior vice president at United States Sugar, said in an interview.
At the meeting, the governor announced that the state might be interested in buying United States Sugar. Mr. Crist said in an interview that he could not remember “the particulars” of when or how the idea had originated.
“There was a sense, or some indirect communication, that they might be a willing seller,” the governor said.
Mr. Wade said that the company had been taken by surprise. “It caught everyone out of the blue,” he said.
For its board members, Mr. Crist’s overture was appealing in part because they figured a government purchase would be far more lucrative than a private deal.
“It wasn’t another company coming in and bottom-fishing you,” Mr. Wade said. “They knew it would be for fair-market appraisals.”
A Setback Seems Averted
When the state began negotiating its ambitious plan to save the Everglades, key players were, notably, not invited.
Missing from the table, according to interviews and e-mail messages, were Miccosukee Indian tribe members, some of whom live in the Everglades; the Florida Crystals Corporation, the other major landowner in the area; and the federal agencies that partner with the state on restoration efforts.
Lawyers for the Miccosukees and Florida Crystals said their clients found out about the proposed deal with United States Sugar just a few days before it was announced to the public.
Likely supporters of the deal had been told months earlier, including Paul Tudor Jones II, a billionaire hedge-fund manager and philanthropist who co-founded the Everglades Foundation. The governor was friendly with Mr. Jones, who had contributed $400,000 to the state Republican Party — the largest single donation it ever received. And Mr. Jones was influential with other environmental groups that he and his foundation helped finance with millions of dollars.
As the negotiations proceeded, it became clear that financing was problematic. The cost of the land deal had initially been estimated at nearly $2 billion. But the water district was already committed to spending about $800 million for the giant reservoir outside Palm Beach. It could not afford both.
Responding to an e-mail message from a fellow environmentalist saying that the governor needed to understand the threat the reservoir posed to the United States Sugar land purchase, Mr. Jones replied, “He knows that and is doing the best he can.”
Yet stopping construction of the reservoir presented a potential political disaster.
So on May 15, 2008, with the United States Sugar deal still not public, the water board suspended work on the reservoir because of “uncertainties related to unresolved litigation.”
The litigation referred to a lawsuit environmental groups had filed over water usage from the reservoir. The announcement stunned the groups, which had made it clear that they did not want the project stopped.
“We were a convenient pretext,” said Bradford H. Sewell, a lawyer for one of the groups.
There were enormous financial consequences. The district had to pay the reservoir’s contractor a $2 million-a-month penalty for suspending the work. It eventually paid $25 million in penalties and fines for canceling the contract, on top of the $282 million it had already spent on the construction.
Fallout from the suspension was mounting when Shannon A. Estenoz, a member of the district’s advisory board who had been on the board of the Everglades Foundation, reached out to Mr. Jones. In an e-mail message on May 21, Ms. Estenoz urged Mr. Jones to send a message to the governor: “For your information only, our decision to pause construction is entirely justifiable on its own even without the US Sugar deal hanging out there, but once the litigation is finished our legitimate reason for delay goes away,” she said. “The message to the Governor is that we have until the end of the June at most.”
On June 24, 2008, with Florida already experiencing a recession and property values sinking, Ms. Estenoz stood beside the governor at the edge of the Everglades as he unveiled the $1.75 billion deal. Local cheers and sweeping national headlines followed.
Politically, the timing was perfect. Mr. Crist was on the short list of potential running mates for Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.
Ellen Simms, a former United States Sugar comptroller who views the deal skeptically, said that despite the high cost to taxpayers, it was difficult in those early days to question it. “Who can be against it?” she said. “This was going to save the Everglades. It’s like being against motherhood and apple pie.”
A few did speak out. The Miccosukee Tribe quickly filed a lawsuit, saying that the purchase would delay the restoration. “This is a death warrant for the Everglades,” said Dexter Lehtinen, a lawyer for the tribe. “It sucks away all the money devoted to projects now in the pipeline.”
Florida Crystals labeled the deal a taxpayer-supported buyout of United States Sugar, and seemed to be smarting from being left out of it. Some of its land, in fact, was needed to recreate the waterway through the Everglades, which Mr. Crist called “the missing link” of restoration.
Interviews and previously undisclosed records showed that Florida Crystals had made two written offers to join in the deal. But, with United States Sugar resisting having its competitor involved, talks with the governor’s office went nowhere.
“For some reason, they weren’t willing to negotiate in a way that would bring us to an accord,” Mr. Crist said in an interview. “U.S. Sugar was. End of story.”
Twists and Disappointments
The growing financial crisis in the summer of 2008 was rapidly changing the scope of the deal. On Nov. 11, 2008, Mr. Crist announced a smaller, $1.34 billion purchase of just over 180,000 acres of United States Sugar’s land, but this time not including its other assets.
At a press conference, Mr. Crist called the new deal “miraculous.”
For United States Sugar, at least, it looked that way. David Guest, an environmental lawyer and vocal supporter of the full buyout plan, said that the state’s lead negotiator, Michael W. Sole, secretary of Florida’s Environmental Protection Department, had given away far too much to United States Sugar.
“He got scammed,” Mr. Guest said. “Everyone gasped in disbelief when he came back with what he did.”
Mr. Sole said in an interview that he got the best deal he could.
But internal district documents revealed that the land had been overvalued by the two firms that performed the independent appraisals. Both relied on figures from 2004 to 2008, when a speculative real estate market had prices soaring.
If the current prices had been used, the state would be paying far less. For example, while the water district agreed to pay United States Sugar nearly $7,000 an acre for citrus land, it is now selling for $4,000 an acre, independent appraisers said recently in interviews.
The two outside appraisal firms used by the district — Anderson & Carr, of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Sewell, Valentich, Tillis & Associates, of Sarasota — came up with almost identical figures of around $1.3 billion, a rarity that raised some eyebrows.
“When I had heard that number, I couldn’t swallow it — it was an unbelievable number,” said Woody Hanson, a land appraiser in Fort Myers with extensive experience in the Everglades. “Then I looked closely at the appraisals to test them for reasonableness and, wow, there is just no way it makes sense for the taxpayers.”
Neither appraisal firm used by the district would comment.
Eric Buermann, chairman of the district’s advisory board, defended the appraisals but acknowledged that they had used outdated values. “At the time we had to make the decision,” he said, “those were the latest, best numbers available.”
Yet when the appraisals were updated in 2009, they still relied on sale prices from 2004 to 2006, documents showed. District officials said the appraisers assured them that prices had held steady.
In an interview, Mr. Crist said critics of the appraisals were underestimating the land’s environmental value.
But the appraisers for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had also questioned the methods of the two firms. According to internal e-mail, Thomas Porter, one of the department’s appraisers, would not give his requisite approval by the deadline.
In response, United States Sugar’s lawyers at Gunster persuaded the water district to change the contract so the department’s sign-off was no longer required, records showed. Several days after Mr. Crist’s November press conference, the water district learned that the firm it had hired to render the fairness opinion — an analysis of the entire deal — had also concluded that the land was worth far less.
The firm, Duff & Phelps, based in Manhattan, estimated the United States Sugar property was worth $930 million, about $400 million less than what the district would be paying.
When the firm’s opinion arrived at the district, officials there consulted with Mr. Sole, the Environmental Protection secretary, about the best way to respond. The timing was critical because the district’s board was scheduled to vote less than one month later, in mid-December, on the $1.34 billion purchase.
Officials who had commissioned the Duff & Phelps report, at a cost of $1.5 million, were now scrambling to minimize its impact. Internal e-mail messages showed that the district’s scripted response for reporters was sent to Mr. Eikenberg, Mr. Crist’s deputy chief of staff, as well as several prominent environmentalists.
“It is not an appraisal and does not provide a conclusion about the value of the acquisition relative to its public purpose,” the district’s statement said.
The deputy executive director for government and public affairs at the water district wrote talking points. “Note: There are differing views about the merit of fairness opinions within the business and academic communities,” the public affairs official wrote, according to the e-mail.
Robert E. Coker, a United States Sugar vice president, was more blunt, characterizing Duff & Phelps publicly as “Huey, Dewey and Louie.” He argued that Florida was paying bargain-basement prices, saying “the state is getting the Hope Diamond at cubic zirconia prices.”
Paying for the land was only the beginning. A slide show prepared by the district on restoration projects and construction detailed one estimate that put the effort at $8.6 billion and another at $12.3 billion, according to records obtained by The New York Times.
Even at the lower estimate and with the federal government paying its share, the district would struggle to bear the costs. The details of the deal were now raising concerns among some district board members and environmentalists.
An unlikely cheerleader emerged. George LeMieux, despite having insisted that he had nothing to do with the deal, appeared at a legal conference in Deerfield Beach and offered “an insider’s account” of Everglades restoration.
In a keynote address that went uncovered by the local media, Mr. LeMieux described the United States Sugar deal as “an unprecedented opportunity, really a game changer.”
“We really stand at the intersection of opportunity and possibility,” he said. “We have a historic opportunity to change the face of the Everglades and our environment with this acquisition of the U.S. Sugar lands.”
‘In the Driver’s Seat’
In western Hendry County, on either side of State Road 833, sits Devil’s Garden, a 5,500-acre orange grove. The land is elevated with soils that are sandy — a mix that is far from ideal for Everglades restoration.
Thomas Van Lent, a hydrologist for the Everglades Foundation, said he had “no idea” why the state had agreed to purchase it as part of the deal.
Mr. Wade, the United States Sugar senior vice president, does. “Buy it all,” he said he told the state. “I don’t want to be left with just a piece of the groves.”
An environmental assessment presented to the district revealed that 49,000 acres of the United States Sugar land was contaminated with high levels of copper, DDT, selenium and other chemicals. Arsenic was detected at levels above human health standards in more than 6,000 acres of land, the documents showed.
Mr. Buermann, the water district advisory board chairman, said the state had little choice but to let United States Sugar choose what it wanted to sell.
“You have to understand that once the deal shrunk and we were not buying the sugar mill, the assets, U.S. Sugar had to be concerned about what lands they could let loose on and keep their business running on their end,” he said. “It’s understandable that they would be pretty much in the driver’s seat as to what lands they could afford to sell.”
Like other supporters, Mr. Buermann compared the deal to William Seward’s purchase of Alaska, declaring that history would celebrate the acquisition.
“The issue for us is can we use that land, and the answer is yes,” he said. “If we had a choice with all the land, it might not be our first choice of the inventory, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.”
In April 2009, Governor Crist announced a second downsizing of the deal, necessitated again, he said, by the state’s shrinking economy. The district would now buy 72,800 acres for $536 million. Critics said that as the deal got smaller, it got better for U.S. Sugar.
Under the terms of the new deal, United States Sugar will be able to keep farming some of the land for at least seven years. As a result, some environmental experts believe, the Everglades will be worse off in the short term.
“What you have is just another step in the category of kicking the ball down the road and chasing it,” said Alan Farago, the conservation chairman of Friends of the Everglades.
Criticism from other environmentalists, though, has been muted. Some have acknowledged concerns, but do not want to say anything that might help kill what would be the largest land purchase ever for the Everglades. With the state retaining an option to buy the rest of United States Sugar’s land, there also remains a romantic adherence in some quarters to the dream of a restored river of grass from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.
“The whole concept that we are able to get additional land out of the E.A.A. — that has always been very difficult to do in the past,” said John H. Hankinson Jr., chairman of the board of directors at Audubon of Florida, referring to the Everglades Agricultural Area. “And that I think is ingrained in a lot of the consciousness of the people involved in this.”
Even if the deal goes through, it could be another generation before the Everglades gets what it needs.
Mr. Buermann said the water district was still analyzing whether it could afford to pay the $536 million and would discuss it at a two-day board meeting beginning Wednesday. Mr. Crist recently appointed two new members to the water board, both of whom support the purchase.
In an interview on Feb. 26, by phone as he traveled through the Everglades on the road known as Alligator Alley, the governor said that critics of the deal would come up with “all kinds of reasons not to do something.”
“But what are they doing to try and preserve the Everglades, other than complain about it?” he said. “What are they doing in a productive way to move forward and preserve this national treasure that exists nowhere else on the face of the earth ?  Nothing but complain.  I rest my case.”


Florida's water needs a cleaning
‎Mar 7, 2010‎
I have been following the EPA hearings on Florida's quality standards for water. Elevated levels of phosphorus and nitrogen come from fertilizer, sewage, livestock manure and other pollutants washed into waterways by rainstorms. What happens next is that these levels of nutrients increase algae blooms, made up of toxic microbes, that can lead to fish kills and contaminate drinking water supplies, according to the EPA. There is a public health risk associated with water pollution, including damage to the nervous system, cancer and even death.


Water district can't afford to buy US Sugar land
Palm Beach Post
March 7, 2010
The South Florida Water Management District Governing Board faces a defining vote at its meeting this week, one that could bring the agency to the fiscal brink and force an increase in property taxes for homeowners in the 16 counties that make up the district.
Two weeks ago, the district's financial adviser gave the agency a dire forecast if it proceeds with the planned purchase of land owned by U.S. Sugar, which, despite what you've heard, would do little to advance the important goal of Everglades restoration. Still, the board appears determined to approve this sweetheart deal, no matter that the purchase would create operating deficits of $89 million and $110 million in each of the next two years.
The board's financial adviser says significant cuts will be needed in the operations and maintenance budgets for current projects essential to the district's mission. To make ends meet, the board will likely have to raise property taxes. No matter the red flags, the district's unelected board is stacked to approve this deal, which was negotiated in secret by big-money special interests in Tallahassee.
Last week, in making two new appointments to the South Florida Water Management District board, Gov. Crist told the St. Petersburg Times that he applied a "litmus test:" assurance that the new members would vote to approve the purchase. Predictably, both new members are on record as supporting the deal.
As I've said from the start, the U.S. Sugar deal represents bad public policy. I was the sponsor of the bill to authorize bond sales for Everglades restoration, as well as legislation that created the Florida Forever land preservation program. But if completed, the U.S. Sugar purchase will swallow the district's budget for years, and prevent progress on other water-supply measures identified as priorities, including the reservoir, pollution-treatment marshes and flood-control protections around Lake Okeechobee.
So, while this project is being sold as Everglades restoration, it would delay actual restoration efforts by using needed money for land acquisition, while U.S. Sugar would retain the more significant tracts in the natural flow-way. Making matters worse, the deal would give U.S. Sugar an exclusive right to lease back the acreage at below-market rates for 20 years.
I'm asking board Chairman Eric Buermann to be forthcoming about the consequences, including tax increases that will be needed and opportunities that will be lost. Continuing to pursue this purchase is not just fiscally irresponsible; it is nothing short of reckless.
Editor's note: Paula Dockery represents Florida Senate District 15. She is a Republican candidate for governor.


Fair price ? That depends – by CURTIS MORGAN
Through three separate deals with the state, U.S. Sugar has held tough on what it will accept for its sprawling acreage.
Real estate values have plunged across the South Florida Water Management District, which stretches from Kissimmee to Key West. But not for the U.S. Sugar Corp.
Through two years of negotiations with the state and three deals, the company has barely budged off its bottom line to sell its land for Everglades restoration: $7,400 an acre. Each deal got cheaper, but mainly because its agricultural empire was cut into smaller bites.
Of all the questions about the land buy, one has been the most persistent and perplexing: Is the state overpaying?
Gov. Charlie Crist, who conceived it, and Florida environmental Secretary Mike Sole, who negotiated it with Water District managers, insist it's a fair price and good deal for taxpayers in the 16 counties who will pay.
Others look at gaps between appraised values and the higher purchase prices -- as much as $300 million in deal No. 2 for 180,000 acres -- and suspect a shrewd, politically connected company cut a too-sweet deal.
U.S. Sugar has made concessions to preserve the deal, including giving up a lucrative lease rate that angered rivals. But Robert Coker, a U.S. Sugar vice president, said executives drew the line on the value of assets and land.
By one measure, he said, the company may be selling too cheap. With sugar prices at a 30-year high, ``I've got to believe that the land they're buying is more valuable than when we were negotiating.''
The current $536 million for 72,800 acres gave a small break, lopping $38 off each acre, but an option for 107,500 more sets the minimum price per acre at $7,400.
An appraiser hired by the district set the value of the total deal at $19 million more, but the value of the land alone at $486 million -- $50 million less.
That difference of $69 million was ascribed to ``option value'' -- appreciation the district would net, but only if it purchases the remaining land, which includes high-value rock mines. Without it, the deal would fall $700 short of U.S. Sugar's $7,400 bar.
Dexter Lehtinen, an attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe, which has sued to stop the deal, said ``option value'' amounts to a fat bonus for executives, lawyers and lobbyists. If water managers can't afford to pick up the option -- hard without federal help -- they would pay up front for appreciation on land they wouldn't own.
``They're paying for nothing,'' he said.
Ruth Clements, the district's director of land acquisitions, said appraisers followed appropriate practices in a complex purchase. The district routinely pays up to 30 percent over appraisal on smaller land deals, she said, because it's cheaper than going to court to set a price.
Attorney David Guest, with the ecological law firm, Earthjustice, said the unique nature of an Everglades restoration deal must be factored in. Unlike the housing market, there was only one seller.
``Did they pay too much? Yes, they did,'' he said. ``The problem is, there are no other Everglades.''


Charlie Crist's downsized U.S. Sugar deal under siege
Even after downsizing, Crist's plan to save Everglades by buying sugar land is ... – by Curtis Morgan
‎Mar 6, 2010‎
It started out so big, so bold and with so much promise for healing the River of Grass that environmentalists proclaimed it the holy grail of Everglades restoration.
But 20 months after Gov. Charlie Crist unveiled his $1.75 billion bid to buy out the U.S. Sugar Corp., the grail is at serious risk of slipping away -- rather, what's left of it.
Crist remains confident his landmark land buy will survive. ``It's a done deal,'' he told The Miami Herald. ``It's got to be done.''
Others, even supporters like Drew Martin, Everglades chairman for the Sierra Club, are less certain. ``There is no question it's hanging by a thread,'' he said.
With revenues evaporating like Lake Okeechobee on a summer day, South Florida Water Management District leaders are balking at bankrolling even the whittled-down first phase approved nine months ago: $536 million for 72,800 acres of citrus groves and sugar fields, with options on 107,500 more.
Water District Chairman Eric Buermann expects the governing board to crunch the numbers again when it meets this week. Buermann, a Miami lawyer appointed by Crist, has championed ``the governor's vision,'' but acknowledged he now questions if the agency can still afford it.
Property values in the 16 counties that pay the district's bills have dropped an estimated 16 percent since 2008. In a February letter made public Friday, the district's outside financial advisor warned that mounting deficits -- projected to hit $110 million by 2012 -- could force ``very difficult decisions.'' A financial ``out'' clause in the contract gives the board an option to walk away.
``It's not a rosy picture, and I'm not going to try to portray it as one,'' Buermann said.
The chunk of Big Sugar offers the promise of fixing -- someday, at uncertain but staggering cost -- what many experts see as a gaping hole in plans to replumb the Everglades: Not enough land to catch and clean water.
But a deal that Crist had hoped would ensure his environmental legacy has morphed into a 900-pound political gorilla toting a ton of questions, along with $45 million in budget-straining annual debt for the district.
The reeling economy has forced two down-sizings. An ambitious five-month fast track to get it done has slowed to a crawl. Plans to bankroll the deal with bonds have been pinched by state lawmakers and a Palm Beach County judge, and face more scrutiny from the Florida Supreme Court in April.
Two powerful foes -- rival grower Florida Crystals and the Miccosukee Tribe -- have led a legal and lobbying assault. They paint the deal as a sweetheart bailout for a major Crist campaign donor that would stick the state with land it can't afford to build anything on for decades.
``It's not driven by science. It's not driven by need,'' said Gaston Cantens, a Florida Crystals vice president. ``It was driven by one person's political ambition and one company's necessities.''
But environmentalists doubt U.S. Sugar's chief competitor has interest in protecting anything but its bottom line.
``It's ridiculous,'' said Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation. ``If we thought the purchase would paralyze every restoration project, we wouldn't support it.''
During a phone interview last week from a car crossing Alligator Alley, Crist bristled at critics' allegations.
``I understand Florida Crystals plays hardball, but I really don't give a damn,'' he said. ``What's important is doing what's right. What is right is preserving this magnificent place.''


Looking north for the Glades
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, March 5, 2010 - Paul Quinlan, Cox
Vast new refuge weighed for northern Everglades
Palm Beach Post News, March 3, 2010 - Paul Quinlan
WEST PALM BEACH - To stanch pollution flows into the headwaters of the Everglades, Obama administration officials are considering designating a new national wildlife refuge north of Lake Okeechobee.
The refuge could place 100,000 acres or more under federal protection, according to several sources who were briefed on the plans.
The project could create one of the first new refuges in Florida in more than a decade and amount to a major step to clean a region whose farming, cattle and Orlando-area urban development represent one of the worst and most ignored sources of Everglades pollution.
Planners also envision the land serving as habitat for animals driven north out of the southern Everglades by the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, documents show.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a team working on the project and an inventory of available land is under way, said Nat Reed, vice chairman of the Everglades Foundation and a former assistant secretary of the interior in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He described the progress as "well along in the thinking stage."
"It all sounds very interesting," said Reed. "I sort of critically noted to myself, I don't know where the hell the money's going to come from."
Land under study includes everything from preserves near the Walt Disney World Resort to the 54,000-acre Kissimmee Preserve State Park.
"If you combined everything, it would be fairly large," said Reed. "It would be over 100,000 acres."
The Florida Chapter of the Nature Conservancy has driven the planning effort and, in a paper published last November, floated a concept that calls for purchasing a 20,000- to 50,000-acre core of "high quality habitat suitable for public access," along with other parcels throughout the region that could be managed as "satellite preserves."
Conservancy spokeswoman Jill Austin confirmed that a plan is "being finalized" that should be ready for the media soon but declined to elaborate in detail. "They're studying it," she said.
The conservancy has identified a much larger area, encompassing much of what is considered the Northern Everglades, for a multi-faceted approach to reduce nutrient pollution. The primary culprit is phosphorus, which leaches out of fertilizer. Cow manure from ranching and treated human sewage that is sprayed and dumped for disposal throughout the region also seeps into the wetlands.
Runoff washes the stuff into the Kissimmee River and other tributaries of Lake Okeechobee, triggering toxic, fish-killing algae blooms and destroying native plants.
The state is under federal pressure to reduce pollution flow into Lake Okeechobee by 2015 to 140 metric tons annually, but that's a target most agree Florida will miss by a mile, given current annual flows of 500 to 600 tons.
Much of the efforts aimed at cleanup thus far -- including Gov. Charlie Crist's proposed $536 million purchase of land from U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration -- has focused south of Lake Okeechobee and do nothing to stop what feeds the problem from the north.


Florida water quality standards comment period extended
The News-Press
March 4, 2010
2:57 P.M. — The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection has extended until April 28 the comment period on the agency’s water quality standards for Florida.
The EPA will also hold three public hearings in Florida on the subject.
Proposed water standards concern the amount of nutrients that would be allowed into Florida’s lakes, rivers, streams, springs and canals.
According to the EPA, the proposed standards would make it easier and quicker to address the economic, environmental and health issues of nutrient pollution.
RELATED EARLIER ARTICLES - controversial issue:
Murzin wants time out in water fight with EPA
Protecting the Water-State's resource
FL water bodies wouldn't meet limits
l Cleaner water costly for Florida
l EPA-Florida water war draws a crowd
l EPA hearings on water rules
l Putnam speaks on FL-EPA issue
l Federal water standards costly
l Canals test US-EPA rules
l Earth and the Balance of Powers:
l Putnam speaks on FL-EPA issue
l Putnam jumps into water debate
l Fla. Farm Bureau blasts EPA
l EPA rules worth every penny
l Fla.- EPA cooperation on water
l EPA Water Quality Standards - FL


The making of the Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge ?
Palm Beach Post - by Paul Quinlan
March 4, 2010
Last November, the Nature Conservancy closed a deal on 5,134 gorgeous acres of scrub, sandhill and flatwoods north of Lake Wales called the Hatchineha Ranch. The seller, who paid $27 million for it five years earlier, planned to build 4,900 homes on a portion of the land. As the real estate market tumbled, the Conservancy stepped in with a generous offer: $38 million.
“From a conservation perspective, this is a great result,” said Ernie Cox, who represented owner Steve Myers of West Palm Beach. The land, he said, “is absolutely beautiful.”
It’s now the seed for what Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials hope will become the Northern Everglades National Wildlife Refuge. It would be Florida’s first national wildlife refuge in more than a decade. (Read yesterday’s story here.)
Conservation plans could ultimately encompass as many as 150,000 acres around the Kissimmee River north of Lake Okeechobee and prove instrumental in saving the big lake and the larger Everglades ecosystem from a slow death by urban and farm pollution.
And it’s shaping up to be a rare tale of victory for conservationists in a state better-known for paving over wetlands and buiding up strip malls.
The Conservancy “had a willing seller, and they took advantage of the opportunity,” said Charlie Pelizza, the project’s lead for U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The conceptual refuge plan, he said, “started out looking at that particular parcel, but it’s just evolved into a much larger project.”
That big picture: three projects that call for restoring wetlands and protecting wildlife habitat while still preserving cattle ranching operations from the Kissimmee all the way down to the Big Cypress National Preserve.
The boldest creation — the refuge — would likely lie between the Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve and the Avon Park Air Force Range, said Pelizza. Envisioned now is a 50,000-acre outright land purchase, followed by the purchase of development rights, or conservation easements, of about 100,000 acres.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife team is 2-3 weeks from having a preliminary document up to regional offices for review, he said. From there, it will go to Washington. After that, lines would get drawn, numbers crunched, public notice given and public comment taken.
“Ultimately, if everything is OK and they like what they see and everybody signs, you’re probably looking at a year-and-a-half, at the earliest, before we can put a parcel property on the ground,” Pelizza said.
Interest in selling land and conservation easements for environmental purposes has skyrocketed since the end of real estate boom. Pelizza said the project would only approach willing sellers and negotiate based on fair market appraisals.
While it may be banned in the refuge’s core, hunting would likely still be allowed on much of the restoration area and easement lands, although specific rules about huting, fishing, airboating and other uses are still a long way from being written.


Audubon in Action - News From the National Audubon Society
March 3, 2010
The Last Hurrah
Audubon’s departing president reflects on a cradle of conservation.
I recently joined Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at a groundbreaking for the reconstruction of the Tamiami Trail highway on the north side of Everglades National Park. The road had been acting like a dam, preventing water from flowing south into the park. A new one-mile bridge will lift the road so water can flow under it.
This ceremony was particularly meaningful to me as I step down as Audubon’s president after 15 years. When the Audubon Society began more than a century ago, we hired wardens in the Everglades to guard roosting sites from poachers who were shooting wading birds into extinction for their plume feathers. In 1903 Audubon requested help from President Theodore Roosevelt with a roost site on Pelican Island. Roosevelt responded with an executive order creating Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the first-ever federal wildlife refuge.
Roosevelt then asked Audubon warden Paul Kroegel to become the first refuge manager. When the president couldn’t get federal appropriations for Kroegel’s salary, Audubon covered it with private donations. Another Audubon warden, Guy Bradley, was shot and killed by poachers as he guarded his territory.
Eventually, Audubon won the Plume Feather Wars, and wading birds recovered. Half a century later, these same birds were again sliding toward extinction because of DDT and other toxins. Again Audubon came to the birds’ defense, leading efforts to ban DDT and other dangerous pollutants. And again the birds recovered.
But the recovery was short-lived for some birds, including roseate spoonbills, because of yet another threat. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was draining the Everglades for development. The decline of roseate spoonbills in Florida Bay was an indicator that the bay’s ecology was suffering, too, because of reduced freshwater flows. Audubon scientists were the first to sound the alarm. Their research helped shape a $9 billion Everglades restoration plan that included the project to lift part of the Tamiami Trail to restore water flows to the park.
Audubon’s long and rich history in Florida is not unique. Our dedicated staff and volunteers are fighting to protect hundreds of critical ecosystems across the country. It has been a privilege for me to steward Audubon during my tenure as president, and to advance the mission we all care about so strongly.—John Flicker


Congress must protect Central Florida's waters
Orlando Sentinel - by Linda Stewart 
March 2, 2010
Central Florida's great waterways, such as the Kissimmee River and the headwaters of the Everglades, are threatened by toxic pollution and development. The Everglades is the hallmark of our state, providing a unique ecosystem for Floridians to boat, fish and explore, and attracting visitors from around the globe.
Although the Everglades is a monument to our state's heritage, polluters continue to dump directly into our waterways and into the streams that feed them. In 2007, industrial facilities dumped 1.16million pounds of toxic chemicals into Florida's waterways, including the source waters of the Everglades. Uncontrolled pollution threatens our water quality — and puts public health and safety at risk.
We have regulations to protect our rivers, lakes and streams. Unfortunately, during the past 10 years, the protections have been weakened, allowing people to dump unlimited pollution in the streams and wetlands that feed our great waterways and unique ecosystems like the Everglades.
The Clean Water Act is the key piece of legislation designed to protect our waters. It was passed in 1972 when America's rivers were so polluted that some, like Ohio's Cuyahoga River, caught fire. We have come a long way in almost 40 years. Unfortunately, recent Supreme Court decisions have set us back, taking away Clean Water Act protections for thousands of streams and millions of acres of wetlands.
Now developers can pave over wetlands and pollute the streams that feed our waterways, and there is nothing the federal government can do about it.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 29 percent of Florida's streams may no longer be protected by the Clean Water Act. Protecting all of Central Florida's water bodies, both large and small, under the Clean Water Act is vital to the future of Florida waterways. Limiting the discharge of toxic pollutants and enforcing those limits with credible penalties must occur. This can be accomplished by switching from hazardous chemicals to safer alternatives. Controlling pollution now provides a clean future for all of Florida.
This year we have an opportunity to restore the Clean Water Act to its original intent and once again protect all our waterways by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act. This simple bill reaffirms that all of our waters are protected.
Right-wing ideologues and special interests that want carte blanche to pollute our waterways will argue that this bill is something it is not. For years, they have claimed that the Clean Water Restoration Act would bring the federal government into your backyard, requiring permits for every birdbath, mud puddle and swimming pool. Not only is this untrue, but it is inconceivable that the EPA would have the desire, let alone the resources, to regulate the water quality of your birdbath.
This bill does not impose any new regulatory requirements and does not broaden or add any new category of waters to the scope of the Clean Water Act. It would simply restore the law, clearly protecting what was protected before the Supreme Court's 2001 decision that weakened the act. There are also exemptions for farmers in the Clean Water Act legislation that passed the Senate committee in June.
This important legislation is to be taken up by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We urge U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown to protect America's waters by helping this bill pass in the House. We applaud Brown for co-sponsoring the Clean Water Restoration Act in 2007 and thank her for her past support, but we cannot wait another year, as our waterways continue to be polluted. We need Congress to act now to preserve and protect all of America's waterways.
Linda Stewart is an OrangeCounty commissioner and a candidate for OrangeCounty mayor.
Sarah Bucci is the federal field associate with Environment Florida.


Environmental Report Says Improvement Shown
South Florida Environment Report Online
March 02, 2010
CLEWISTON, FL. -- The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) this week released the 2010 South Florida Environmental Report detailing a year of restoration, scientific and engineering successes in the Kissimmee Basin, Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and South Florida coastal areas.
The 2010 South Florida Environmental Report spans two volumes comprising more than 50 individual reports. The illustrated volumes, including a 44-page executive summary, provide extensive research summaries, data analyses, financial updates and a searchable database of environmental projects.
The 2010 report highlights state-federal partnership agreements between the SFWMD Governing Board and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that lay critical groundwork for Everglades restoration for decades to come. These agreements allow federally funded work to move forward on key Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects, such as the Picayune Strand restoration, which broke ground earlier this year.
The State and the District also continue to pursue a historic opportunity to broaden Everglades restoration on a scale never before envisioned. In 2009, the Governing Board approved a contract to acquire 73,000 acres of strategic lands to benefit the River of Grass, with options to purchase an additional 107,000 acres in the future.
Additional findings documented in the 2010 report:
Wading bird nesting records lofty year. In 2009, the estimated number of wading bird nests in South Florida was nearly 80,000. As the largest nesting effort recorded in the region since the 1940s, this year's significant increase is more than four times greater than the last breeding season and surpasses the previous record year, 2002, by approximately 11,000 nests.
Improving water quality. The existing 45,000 acres of effective Stormwater Treatment Areas treated about 1.1 million acre-feet of runoff water in Water Year 2009. Since 1994, constructed wetlands and agricultural Best Management Practices have together prevented more than 3,200 metric tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades Protection Area. Construction on an additional 12,000 acres of valuable treatment marshes is under way.
Lake Okeechobee continues rebound. Lake Okeechobee continues to show signs of recovery from the enduring impacts of the 2004–2005 hurricanes, including lower nearshore turbidity, more submerged aquatic vegetation beds and no severe algal blooms.

The 2010 South Florida Environmental Report is available online at

Absorbing ideas address runoff
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - by Heather Vogell
March 1, 2010
AJC special investigation: Awareness of flood-control ideas spreading 
in Georgia
Ideas that sounded utopian a few years ago — such as roof gardens and pavement that absorbs water — are cropping up across the country to meet new mandates for controlling rainfall after it hits the ground.
Some local governments are taking a more aggressive approach to managing storm water because of growing concerns about flooding and pollution. Driving the trend are new federal and state rules and a belief that storm water drainage problems cost taxpayers and homeowners long-term.
The new mandates have at times put developers in a crunch, adding time and money to their projects while forcing them to learn complex new approaches that continue to evolve.
But the trend shows no sign of reversing. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials recently began what could become a major overhaul of storm water rules that would force local governments to get significantly tougher on runoff.
Plants and rocks on roofs
Philadelphia already has. Several years ago, officials decided urban runoff had become too great a burden on the city budget and local waterways. They feared the cost of enlarging and maintaining the city’s massive storm water infrastructure would keep rising, pushing taxes higher with it.
The city set strict new rules in 2006 for anyone who disturbed 15,000 square feet of land, which is roughly the size of a chain drugstore. The goal: To keep most water on site, instead of allowing it to run off buildings and parking lots into city gutters and catch basins.
The first inch of rain became the developers’ problem. They could use grassy areas, plants on the roof, porous pavement or other means to make it stay put. Excess rain had to be detained, cleaned and released, very slowly.
Developers complained loudly about the cost. The city struggled to implement its new rules. But three years later, water department Planning and Research Director Christopher Crockett said the change is “one of the best things we’ve done in the city.”
“It’s just like putting money in your savings account,” he said. “That’s infrastructure we don’t have to maintain and operate.”
Today, Philadelphia has the largest area covered by so-called green roofs, which use plants and media such as stacked rocks to contain runoff, of any city nationwide except Chicago, he said. The city expects its seven acres of green roofs to more than double in the next few years. Credits on storm water bills encourage land owners to make changes such as adding porous surface to existing developments.
“There’s no silver bullet,” Crockett said. “Once you’ve gotten yourself into that hole you can only dig yourself out one shovel at a time.”
In Florida, porous pavement is popular as a way for builders to turn developed land such as parking lots into a drainage feature, said Marty Wanielista, a storm water expert and professor emeritus at the University of Central Florida.
The state has long been concerned with minimizing flooding, Wanielista said, and its pro-active measures have eased the problem. Florida’s watershed management districts can and do overrule local land-use decisions if they are harmful to the watershed. Georgia has no such process.
Local regulations in Florida vary in strictness, depending largely on how bad a flooding problem the area has, he said. “It depends on the will of the people and the politicians how well they want to enforce these things,” he said.
The problem with clay
Georgia’s hard-packed clay soil makes porous pavement or driveways pointless, unless layers of rocks are installed below the pavement to help water drain, said Steve Haubner, a water resources engineer with the planning agency the Atlanta Regional Commission.
In general, the state has been slower to adopt effective anti-flooding measures.
That appears to be changing.
At the state’s request, the ARC published a storm water manual in 2001 offering local governments their first formal guide on how to control runoff. It also recommends rainfall be absorbed or detained instead of being dumped.
Over the past decade, Haubner said, he has seen a change in how subdivisions are built in the metro area, with less mass grading and more trees and natural areas preserved. Such an approach often works best here, he said, because grass, trees and plants are good filters for runoff.
Yet, while the region has made progress in controlling storm water through land-use planning, local governments still have work to do, he said.
“Even though our communities have programs, I don’t think they’re anywhere near as effective as they need to be,” he said. “Addressing the problems when we develop rather than having to go back and address them later is just way more cost efficient.”
Michael E. Paris, president and CEO of the Georgia developers’ association the Council for Quality Growth, said that his group has supported most measures passed by metro governments to decrease flooding.
“The council has generally believed that getting out front in those issues is better than catching up in the end,” he said.
But, he said, tighter regulations could squeeze developers and builders and make it harder to recruit new companies to bring jobs and build new facilities. State and local officials are usually easy to work with, he added, but federal mandates can be inflexible and harmful to the industry.
In the end, homeowners bear the cost of such mandates, he said.
“Every dollar that is spent is a dollar the homeowner has to pay for,” he said. “It’s not as if the money is ending up in the builder’s pocket.”
Storm water utilities
In Georgia, local officials say they are mostly focused on finding money to maintain the storm water elements they have. Some are more successful than others.
Those that created storm water “utilities” in recent years said the agencies are instrumental to maintaining infrastructure and preventing flooding. Utilities charge property owners a fee based on the square footage of impervious, or nonabsorbent, surface, such as roofs, driveways and parking lots. The revenue provides a steady source of cash for repairs.
In Fayetteville, south of Atlanta, a storm water utility provided $2 million for upgrades to nine culverts and a dam. Public Services Director Don Easterbrook said the work helped keep water out of houses during the September storms. No serious flooding of homes or businesses was reported. “And there almost certainly would have been otherwise,” he said.
Gwinnett started a storm water utility in 2006, largely because the county realized its rapid, sustained growth had left behind massive storm water infrastructure to maintain, said Steve Leo, director of the county’s storm water management division. Older, corrugated metal pipes from the 1980s were likely to start failing, for example.
“We saw the curve,” he said. “You have two waves. You have the wave of development and you have the wave of maintenance and development that was going to come later.”
Because the county’s infrastructure is so sprawling — it has enough storm drain lines to stretch from Gwinnett to Albuquerque, N.M., for instance — it estimates the risk of failure for storm water elements and prioritizes fixes, instead of inspecting each structure regularly.
The city of Griffin, south of the metro area, created the state’s first storm water utility in 1998.
Years of flooding prompted officials there to use the revenue to perform complex modeling to better understand where floods had the greatest impact. That led to culvert repairs to end flooding on key roads, said Public Works and Utilities Director Brant Keller.
The city also posted detailed flood maps it developed online and notified property owners who appeared most at risk. The city has banned building in the flood plain for years.
Todd Edwards, associate legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said local officials are gaining a greater understanding of the link between development, flooding and pollution. They are doing what they can with limited money.
“There’s definitely a better awareness,” Edwards said. “We could have done things better in the past, but we’re coming together for a better future.”
How we got the story
For this series, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed more than 60 homeowners, local officials, engineers, environmental officials and policy experts and reviewed state storm water permits and annual reports filed by 15 metro area cities and counties. The newspaper performed its own analysis of the effect of development on streams and creeks in metro Atlanta, using monitoring data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Florida C&D pit stirs up controversy
American Recycler Newspaper – by Pam Brannon
March 1, 2010
A permit for a construction and demolition (C&D) pit within one mile of wells that provide drinking water for the south end of Santa Rosa County, Florida was recently approved by commissioners.
Most of the commissioners voiced concerns over approving the permit, while pointing out that legally they had no choice.
Commissioner Lane Lynchard from Gulf Breeze, land-use attorney, said he did not want to vote yes. “I wish there was a way for me to vote no legally,” he said. “If we did have a right to say no, this would be an easier decision. But as I see it and as our county attorney sees it, if they met the criteria of our ordinance when they first applied, and have checked all the boxes to meet the requirements, we do not have the right to reject the permit.”
Suncoast Concrete Inc. had requested a permit to turn 7 acres of their 60-acre parcel into a C&D pit. After their request, months of discussion and petitioning by residents concerned with the drinking water followed. Fairpoint Utility Co. has six wells that provide water to the south end of Santa Rosa County and is located within a mile of the Suncoast property. Several residents petitioning the county to reject the proposal outlined potential problems with groundwater and pit leeching.
Last September, commissioners changed their ordinance to more stringent requirements and also prohibited any C&D pits to be placed south of U.S. 90, which is where this new pit is to be located. But since Suncoast had already applied for their permit, county attorney Tom Dannheiser explained to commissioners that as long as the company meets the requirements of the ordinance in place when they first applied, the county had no choice but to approve the request.
Suncoast owner Ken Bryan addressed commissioners last Monday.
“I’ve been working on this for years trying to do the right thing,” he said. “We have gone even above and beyond what we were asked to do by your engineers and by the state. If I felt for a minute that this pit was not safe, I would back away.”
The county’s ordinance for several years has required C&D pits to have liners. The state did not require liners until a month ago. Suncoast project manager Tony Mellini explained that the Suncoast pit has not only a plastic liner, as required by the county ordinance, but also a clay liner. He also explained in detail the plans to rid the pit of leeching materials, from recirculating to spraying outside the pit and allowing some evaporation.
Suncoast representatives pointed out that there previously was a hearing with an administrative judge from Tallahassee held in Milton several months ago, and the judge recommended that the state must grant the permit because Suncoast had followed all the requirements of the state. They said Suncoast worked through eight months of challenges and petitioning, showing that they were meeting or exceeding all standards and requirements of both the state and county.
“We had originally a petition with 30 people wanting to stop the pit,” resident Etta Lawlor said. “We ended up with only three going that day to the hearing. The rest got scared after they received calls or mailings from the attorneys representing the pit wanting to know what their objections were, etc. But the hearing did not look outside the pit – not at any water issues. It only looked at whether the pit itself met all the requirements of the state.”
Suncoast’s owner promised commissioners that he would do everything possible to keep the pit safe for the surrounding groundwater.


Phosphate's mining of water scars region
Tampa Tribune – by John Rehill
March 1, 2010‎
Recent sinkholes have generated concerns about the costly repairs and dangerous conditions that are popping all over the place, with suspicions narrowing to the excessive use of water by strawberry farmers. They claim their business would go down the drain if water restrictions were imposed on their tap to the aquifer, which has diminished by more than 50 feet, to coat berries for protection against a damaging hard freeze.
Farmers oppose any suggestion that solely places the blame on them but do understand the need to protect Central Florida's water supply. They feel it's just a few very cold nights a year that such concerns are forced to take second seat to securing their crop.
It's not just the farming industry that depends on an occasional helping hand to get through an unavoidable anomaly threatening their bottom line. It's the bottom line in the deals corporations construct with regulatory commissions and oversight agencies that allow them to pass along much of their operational cost to the public. This is done by design. It's called "externalizing."
Externalizing is double-dipping - operating in violation of environmental regulations because fines for doing so equate to a fraction of the cost saved when not staying within those guidelines. This is externalizing a portion of the operational cost to the public.
In defense of strawberry farmers, almost all crops grown in the Tampa Bay region are farmed in the same manner - with lots of water. But there is another industry with a larger impact than that of farming on Central Florida's struggling environment - one that uses as much water, is destructive and externalizes huge expenses. This is phosphate mining.
Phosphate mining is seen by many as Florida's cancer. It would only take one fly-over of Central Florida to see what they mean: 100,000 acres of barren, scorched earth.
This type of mining uses an equal amount of water as strawberries. The water, after use, is held in gigantic gypsum stacks 40 feet deep. The tens of billions of gallons are held back by a 20-foot levee filled to the brim. The water stored in these 50-acre ponds is so toxic it would kill all fish and vegetation in its path, as evidenced by past levee breaches. And each time it happened, the fines were a fraction of the public's cost.
The phosphate mining industry has enjoyed externalizing the cost of the hazards that have plagued their industry for many years. But it's the externalizing of their operational costs that has kept their hand deep in the public's pocket.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District has been the facilitator, permitting Mosaic Mining 99 million gallons a day of Central Florida aquifer water. This surpasses what the city of Tampa is permitted to pump from the same wellfield.
The citizens in the surrounding counties were persuaded to spend $600 million on a water desalinization plant that only a few weeks ago began producing the 25 million gallons a day for which it was designed. The sole purpose of investing in this water plant was to relieve the overpumped aquifer.
Mosaic pumps for free. Stuck in its stacks, the contaminated water becomes a very hazardous accident waiting to happen.
Strawberry farmers shouldn't bear all the blame. Most should be directed to the phosphate miners, county commissioners and the water management district.
John Rehill of Duette is an organic farmer, native palm grower and freelance writer.


Murzin Wants Time Out in Water Fight With EPA
The Jacksonville Observer
February 26, 2010
With federal officials holding another round of public hearings in Florida on proposed water quality regulations on Wednesday, a Panhandle Republican who is opposed to the plan is gearing up for a water fight.
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency conducted its latest hearing on a tour of the state, fielding comments from central Florida residents, Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, said he has about 30 of his colleagues in the House on board for asking the agency to delay imposing tougher standards for Florida water pollution. The proposed standards, while not complete, have angered the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the state’s business community.
Meanwhile, the chairman of a new Senate committee that will work on springs protection said he hopes any legislation that his panel produces will prove Florida has a new outlook on water.
The EPA proposal, which would set limits on the amount of pollution in state bodies of water containing the chemicals phosphorous and nitrogen, known colloquially as nutrients, is the result of a lengthy legal fight between the state and Florida environmentalists.
But Murzin said that a flood of new regulations, which he called arbitrary, was not the answer.
“We’re drafting a letter (to the Florida Congressional Delegation) asking them to hold off for 60 days so we can pursue doing an actual study,” he said Wednesday in an interview. “If we can delay the game a bit, we can do a thoughtful review (of the best solution to water pollution).”
The EPA has telegraphed that tougher standards for how much pollution will be allowed in fresh water in Florida were in the pipeline, and the agency hosted a public hearing on the proposed changes Wednesday in Orlando.
The hearings follow a consent decree over numeric water quality standards for inland waters, which was reached after environmentalists sued state regulators for failing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act.
Under the EPA plan, Florida waters would be grouped with different nutrient allotments depending on the characteristic of the water.
Murzin said that although his letter has drawn support in the Legislature, lawmakers will likely not be able to pre-empt the regulations in the legislative session that is scheduled to begin next week.
“I’m not a constitutional scholar, but if some federal judge or federal agency decides on arbitrary standards for Florida, I don’t know that we can thumb our noses at it,” he said.
But Sen. Lee Constantine, R- Altamonte Springs, who chairs the newly created Select Committee on Inland Waters, told the News Service of Florida that he hoped his panel could counter the perception that lead to the EPA standards: that the state has dragged its feet on water issues . Constantine has held meetings of the Inland Waters Committee at springs around the state in anticipation of the 2010 session and pushed last year for a broad springs protection measure that ultimately didn’t pass, partly because of concerns from builders over pollution requirements.
“Certainly we hope that anything we do in the water bill, if we’re so fortunate to actually pass it, will be taken into consideration and help EPA as they continue down their process,” Constantine said. “It’s clear that this could be a very difficult process to work through, if we don’t work together. We’re hoping that they’ll see that most states are solving their own problem. And obviously if we do something like I’m talking about, that would have to be taken into account.”
No measure has been filed yet for the 2010 session, but Constantine said he was not interested in passing a weak bill to overcome the opposition last session from builders, who argued that the spring requirements would have required expensive new septic systems. “I want groundbreaking legislation,” Constantine said. “This opportunity for us to protect and refill our water resources is long overdue.”
Environmentalists agree, which is why Florida Clean Water Network director Linda Young said the EPA standards are necessary for Florida. Young said the state has failed to adequately address water pollution, which she said could ultimately impact its biggest cash cow: tourism.
“We’ve never had a (nutrient) limit in Florida,” Young said. “It’s kind of like a diet. It’s always been sort of ‘well I don’t drink too much.’ It’s a loosey-goosey kind of thing, where – depending on your political clout – you could have more wiggle room.”
Young told EPA officials during a Tallahassee public hearing this month that opposition to the federal plan was “the result of many months of organizing that’s been done by …our own state government.” She told the News Service before the meeting that claims the regulations would increase the cost of doing business near Florida waters were unfounded.
“It’s change. It’s the unknown,” Young said. “DEP has exaggerated the threat and there is a little bit of panic created by a state agency screaming fire.”
She added that although the proposed EPA standards were the result of a lawsuit by environmentalists, they are not everything the green lobby wanted.
There are “loopholes galore, which the state of Florida passes out like candy,” she said. “It’s a quarter glass full of what we need, but we’re so desperate we’re willing to go ‘OK, it’s a start. We’ll take it.’ It’s not like it’s the Cadillac of regulation. It’s more like a Volkswagen.”


$4.2M project will enhance Biscayne Bay
South Florida Business Journal -
February 25, 2010
A recently approved $4.2 million project will redistribute water flowing into Biscayne Bay near the Deering Estate, resulting in improved freshwater flows into the bay.
The South Florida Water Management District governing board recently approved the project – part of a larger master plan to restore Biscayne Bay – known as the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Project.
It also is part of the multibillion-dollar Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
The flow-way is expected to improve natural habitat along the bay, and lead to better recreation opportunities.
According to a district news release, the flow-way will redistribute excess freshwater runoff, directing it away from existing canal discharges and spreading it out prior to discharging into Biscayne Bay, providing a more natural overland flow of water.
Improved freshwater flow and salinity distribution near the shore should also help re-establish nursery habitat for shrimp and shellfish.
The district is working with the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Department to develop an education site on two acres of the Deering Estate, a 400-acre environmental, archeological and historical preserve.
The flow-way is expected to be completed in May 2011.
The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was approved in 2000 and serves as a framework for restoring, protecting and preserving the water resources of central and southern Florida.
The state and the South Florida Water Management District have invested about $2.4 billion toward the effort, which includes about $300 million for construction.
Click here for a map of the Deering Estate flow-way project.
Click here for more information on the district’s Everglades restoration efforts.

Environmental group hopes to extend deadline for Everglades restoration project
TCPal, Vero Beach Press-Journal - by Jim Mayfield
February 25, 2010
The Rivers Coalition voted unanimously Thursday to urge the South Florida Water Management Board of Governors to extend the closing deadline for the $500 million land purchase from U.S. Sugar Corp. for the district’s River of Grass Everglades restoration project.
On March 11, the board faces a crucial vote on whether to extend the closing to purchase 73,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee for $536 million. That purchase is the initial phase of what could be a 180,000-acre land acquisition by the district to store, treat and restore water flows south to the Everglades.
The existing contract requires a closing by March 31. The delay allows the Florida Supreme Court to rule on a pending legal challenge to the land deal.
The Coalition voted to send each board member a letter urging them to vote in favor of the project it says is vital to improving and preserving the St. Lucie River and estuary.
Gabe Margasak, spokesman for the SFWMD, said, “We value the input of the Rivers Coalition and we look forward to bringing it to the Governing Board. The board is scheduled to host a strategic planning session at its March public meeting to consider the most prudent course of action.”
Though the project was announced by Florida Gov. Charlie Christ in June 2008, Matthew Morrison, SFWMD planning director, cautioned coalition members not to get too anxious to see dirt beginning to move.
“You’re probably still looking five years down the road,” Morrison said.
The River of Grass concept will involve some form of water storage and conveyance system that is still under study north and south of Lake Okeechobee that will enable water managers to divert water south into the Everglades.
Presently, water is diverted primarily east and west from the lake into either the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee rivers and their estuaries, which has been wreaking havoc on those sensitive environmental ecosystems.
Additionally the extra storage capacity could “take some of the stress off the lake,” during high-water periods, Morrison said.
Current total cost estimates on the project range from $747 million to $11.8 billion, Morrison said.
Morrison said the district will begin the next of three rounds of public meetings on the project in March to begin narrowing potential plans for the project, with engineering and design work possibly to begin on some of the more inexpensive aspects of the project this fall.
However, the entire proposal is currently subject to affordability, bond validation and the availability of financing, Morrison said.
Coalition member Ed Fielding, said the restoration project was a step in the right direction, but that more needed to be done north of the lake.
“If the district doesn’t take responsibility to impose on those dumping volume and pollution into the lake from the north, you’re just wasting our money,” Fielding said.


1001dd- Title - Source - Author - Date - Text


© 2009-2014, Boya Volesky