For decades, Everglades advocates financed by Wall Street billionaires like Paul Tudor Jones waged war with the sugar farmers and rural communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee. The battlefields ranged from the EPA in Washington, the Legislature in Tallahassee, both state and federal courts, and the national and local media.
It has been an epic struggle. For the enviers, it was a matter of principle. For the farmers and their families, it was a matter of survival. The high water mark of hostility was the environmental groups’ 1996 campaign to amend the Constitution to impose a crippling tax on sugar produced in Florida— a campaign in which they suffered a stinging and expensive defeat.
After that, a grudging cooperation developed between the sugar industry and the Everglades enthusiasts, the most recent example of which was their mutual support of the re-enactment of the Everglades Forever Act in 2012, which continued sugar industry financial support for the final Everglades restoration projects that will result in the water flowing into the Everglades from the Everglades Agricultural Area to the north being cleaner than the rain water that falls there.
But you don’t maintain membership in an advocacy organization by succeeding; you do it by always having a problem to solve, even if you have to create one. Which is why the Everglades enviros are now mounting a campaign to force the state to buy 46,000 acres of US Sugar land – the so-called “small option” – for close to $500 million. This land would be warehoused for projects that do not exist, would cost another billion dollars or so to build out if they did exist, and, by all accounts, wouldn’t work.
Even Eric Draper of the Audubon Society recently remarked that the idea of ‘sending the water south’ is “pie in the sky.”
But that hasn’t stopped the Everglades enviros from breaking the truce on the last lap to the Everglades restoration finish line. The Everglades Trust has begun airing a 60-second television spot around the state that resurrects the Big Sugar Bogeyman and urges the use of Amendment 1 money to exercise the “small option.” Cleaning up rivers and springs, restoring beaches, and protecting water supply in the rest of Florida, all specifically mentioned in Amendment 1, can wait. Again.
You can be sure that the sugar industry will respond in kind. Multiple sources tell me that mail, television, radio, and social media have been in the works and will soon fill the airwaves and computer screens. If the Everglades enviros thinks that the sugar industry has gone soft during the years of relative peace or that they lack the will or the resources to renew the ancestral war, they soon will learn they are mistaken.
Contacted this morning, long time US Sugar lobbyist and advisor Mac Stipanovich said, “We’re not surprised or overly concerned. This isn’t our first rodeo with these people. I’m sure they have a great plan, just like they did in ’96. Let’s see how it works out for them this time.”