J.P. Sasser: Environmental activists rewriting history, fraudulently manipulating data to sell land plan

everglades 04-21
J.P. Sasser

It’s incredible how foggy some people’s memories are when it comes to past efforts to restore the Everglades, buy farmland and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Time and again, environmental extremists are quick to blame the sugar industry for every ill in the region, past, present and future, without any regard to science or the truth.

And speaking of the truth and science, recently, they were caught by the South Florida Water Management District manipulating data to show a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee is preferable to one to the north. The real science shows it is not.

For starters, no one is arguing that the discharges do not create problems for coastal communities due to the infusion of fresh water (up to 80 percent of which is later filled with nutrients in the local basins) to the estuaries.

The simplest way to capture and clean this excess water is to put it in a reservoir where it originates: north of the lake. This is the thinking behind the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) that — combined with the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) — is scientifically designed to reduce the discharges plaguing the area.

No part of CERP or CEPP calls for buying additional land. The land for a southern reservoir was already purchased before both plans were developed.

Would-be land grabbers label the sugar industry as an opponent of storage south of Lake Okeechobee, but it was the sugar industry that gave up 120,000 acres of farmland over the last 20 years for Stormwater Treatement Areas (STAs), flow equalization basins (FEBs) and other projects.

The first of two reservoirs, the A1, has already been constructed. Additional reservoir construction was halted not by the sugar industry, but by environmental special interests, including the Everglades Trust. Following a ruling in 2010 by U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno forcing the completion of the reservoir, Everglades Foundation attorney Thom Rumberger wrote this in his opposition to the reservoir: “The reservoir is unnecessary and expensive … It is our opinion and that of the scientists … that it’s more advantageous to have the property.”

The gamesmanship involved in the construction of this reservoir shows that the motives of the groups funded by Paul Tudor Jones II, including the Everglades Foundation, Sierra Club and Audubon Florida, are less about fixing water quality problems and more about taking land from sugar farmers. Because buying land is their answer to everything.

Want to solve local water quality problems in communities 60 miles north of the Glades? Buy the land. Want to stop red tide? Buy the land. Want to fix Florida Bay? Buy the land.

All of these claims are made without science or any regard for the people living in these communities.

Clearly, the people of the Glades communities have done their part. In addition to cleaning water every year by an average of 55 percent, they gave up 60,000 acres of the Talisman sugar-cane property in 1999, which shut down at least one sugar cane processing mill. They’ve also spent more than $250 million through an agricultural privilege tax and another $200 million or so that is a combination of the $5 per acre to fund research on BMPs and restoration efforts and the estimated cost of performing on-farm BMP. All of this despite the fact that the communities north of Lake Okeechobee are contributing more than 95 percent of the nutrient load and water flows to the lake. What have these communities given us other than dirty water and the headache of calling for the purchase of our land?

The Glades communities are more united against current proposals in the Legislature to buy their land than at any point in recent memory. Predictably, environmental groups such as the Everglades Trust are rallying behind this plan as if it’s Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Floridians should be skeptical of this plan for a variety of reasons. Why is more land needed when plenty of land has already been taken? Recent revelations about the Everglades Foundation’s fraudulent manipulation of the modeling used to calculate their reservoir is another cause for concern.

The Everglades Foundation’s fraud was called into question by a South Florida Water Management District scientist in a recent journal article where they were peddling more lies.

The sales job involved in pushing this misguided policy tells you everything you need to know: It stinks to high hell. When the history of Everglades restoration and Lake Okeechobee has to be rewritten, and numbers have to be made up to sell it, it’s clear those pushing for it are becoming more and more desperate by the day.


J.P. Sasser is the former mayor of Pahokee, Florida.

Guest Author


  • Dyana Boyd Voss

    January 19, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Thank you for speaking this truth. I believe there is more than a single player (in the perpetuation of the fraud that is still “Plan 6” in any disguise it’s given) but the players seem to recruit minions easily from the ranks of Coastal residents. It is hard to blame those most heavily hit by the discharges from Lake O except they are not supporting “the Fix”, they are supporting continued discord benefitting people and organizations who have gotten rich exploiting a problem the rest of us want to see solved as soon as possible. Please keep up the pressure and let’s see and end to the corrupt powers that seek to derail all the good work that will our keep progress moving forward.

  • Peyton Pool

    January 20, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    This is so true. It is almost the same way that the Chesapeake Bay has been improving. They started by making the 13 tributaries stop their runoff and made the use of phosphate illegal in cleaners and controlled on land. The WWTP s have had to start denitrifying and there was never any land purchased.

    • Peter Boyce

      January 21, 2017 at 5:56 pm

      There is nothing in common between the Chesapeake Bay and the complicated Everglades situation – well, at least very little. Here we have a polluted lake which has to be de-nitrified and a shallow bay (which, by the way, is part of the Everglades National Park) which needs water during dry years. The SFWMD is making up its own facts – as is Mayor Sasser, who probably has no credentials to allow him to denigrate the science put forth by the Everglades Foundation.
      As a new resident, I have no dog in this fight, but my PhD gives me the right to state an opinion as to the validity of the science – which will be true whether or not the Mayor believes it. I find this editorial to be outside the bounds of reality.

  • Mike Ewald

    January 21, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Thank you, Mayor Sasser, for sharing this information….
    Although I do not follow this particular issue closely, it seems that what is so often presented is only part of the story……

  • John Shwiner

    January 22, 2017 at 12:04 am

    Mr. Sasser…your presentation exudes logic which is not what the environmentalists want exposed. The people who grew up in, around Lake Okeechobee, know first hand how the Water Management District have caused the lake to dry up and overflow. Again, they use big sugar as the culprits when, in fact, are one of the most federally regulated industries in America. Reduce your post and play it in the Editorial Pages.

  • David Best

    January 22, 2017 at 9:17 am

    All I know is that the water that shoukd be flowing through “The river of grass” is not doing so. Also, the phosphates discharging into lake Okeechobee are primarily from “Big Sugar”. And this run off is then released into thee rivers which cause health issues and a financial burden on the communities that depend on tourism and fishing along those rivers . Stop using phosphates, mandate clean water standards, and return clean water back I into the environment to restore the ” River of grass”. This is the wish of the Floidridians that passed Amendment 1. And I think that a southern reservoir used to clean the water and release it into the Everglades seems to be a logical solution.

  • Ben Kolstad

    January 22, 2017 at 10:29 am

    This piece mentions lands being “taken” “grabbed,” and “given up.” I had thought the land was purchased? And at rather inflated values at that?

  • Sissandy

    January 23, 2017 at 11:57 am

    As much as I sympathize with the people of the Lake O region, especially on the East and South shores, they mostly all “owe their souls to the company store” of the Big Sugar companies. I fear that these ties keep them somewhat blind and deaf to issues.

Comments are closed.


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