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A new year brings more overreach by environmentalists on Lake O reservoir

A new year brings yet another attack by environmentalists against the South Florida Water Management District’s plan for a reservoir to help clean Lake Okeechobee discharges.

This time, the Everglades Foundation is offering its own plan — even though the group is criticizing a proposal it helped create.

First, a timeline of events.

In January 2017, Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley files Senate Bill 10 — a bill that (at one point) called for the purchase of nearly 60,000 acres of working farmland south of Lake O — using language created, in part, by the Everglades Foundation.

As reported by POLITICO Florida, Senate President Joe Negron’s office used an October 2016 Foundation report as “the basis for the cost estimate [in SB 10 as originally proposed].”

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By April, an overwhelming bipartisan Senate majority agreed to strip the most controversial part of SB 10, which would have bought 60,000 acres of privately-held farmland.

According to TC Palm, the Everglades Foundation backed this reconciliation: “The state’s top environmental groups, such as the Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida, support the bill.”

When signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in May, the Everglades Foundation and CEO Eric Eikenberg ultimately praised SB 10 — which included instructions for the SFWMD to use its modeling.

As the newly enacted law states:

“The total acreage necessary for additional water treatment may not exceed the amount reasonably required to meet state and federal water quality standards as determined using the water quality modeling tools of the district. The district shall use the latest version of the Dynamic Model for Stormwater Treatment Areas Model modeling tool and other modeling tools that will be required in the planning and design of the EAA reservoir project.”

In a November Tampa Bay Times op-ed, Eikenberg applauded the SFWMD for its open process in planning the southern reservoir, saying: “ … the district has performed commendably.”

However, the next month, representatives of the Everglades Foundation meet with the SFWMD, with another plan in hand — that included a 13,000-acre stormwater treatment area, more than the 11,500 acres in the original plan.

TC Palm reported: “The meeting took place, said district spokesman Randy Smith, but the foundation representatives ‘didn’t present any data or technical documents to support their plan.'”

When SFWMD staffers requested data for evaluation, Foundation staffers said they were “not willing to provide that.”

Nevertheless, the Foundation’s plan acquires 13,000 acres for the reservoir through a swap of as much as 20,000 acres of state-owned land among the farmland south of the lake with private land adjoining the reservoir site.

Despite vocal resistance by Glades farmers against losing productive agricultural land, Eikenberg is not giving up.

Instead, the Everglades Foundation again overreaches, once again calling for SFMWD to negotiate (forcefully, if necessary) a land swap for “state-owned land known as the A-2 parcel” to the west — about 13,000 acres of land obtained in swaps with adjacent landowners.

Thomas Van Lent, the Foundation’s director of science and policy, told TC Palm that his group “offered to share our modeling results with the (SFWMD) if they had any interest in considering this as an alternative … But, clearly, at every opportunity, (SFWMD) has made it clear that they have no interest in looking at anything besides what they have already put out there.”

Except for this — the plan environmentalists are now blasting is one the Everglades Foundation once endorsed, a proposal they had helped set up in the first place.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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