Maggy Hurchalla: Keep fighting until Legislature buys land for Everglades restoration

(Editor’s note: These comments are from a talk by Maggy Hurchalla at the Tropical Audubon Centennial on April 26.)

The great thing about being old is that you can tell stories about how things used to be, and, the older you get, the fewer people there are to contradict you.

Here at the Doc Thomas House, I could be tempted to take you on a nostalgia trip. When I was 4 or 5 years old we lived on four acres just south of South Miami. We had all kinds of animals and a pony and buggy that took us to Turner’s Grocery and the OK Feed Store.

Maggy Hurchalla
Maggy Hurchalla

Doc Thomas’  drugstore was right next door to the feed store on US1. He was very much the Norman Rockwell pharmacists of days gone by. I could tell you about forgotten things like the warm smell from Holsum Bakery when we all still ate white bread and about the German prisoner of war camp across from Dadeland where blond boys stood among pine and palmetto surrounded by barbed wire and guard houses.

But that is not why you invited me.

I’ll walk reluctantly away from nostalgia. It’s going to be more difficult to walk away from preaching to the choir.

I just spent three days with scientists at the GEER Conference – that’s Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration. They are so excited. They are learning so much we didn’t know. They have tools we never dreamed of fifty years ago. I told them I felt like Galileo. Back then scientists were  doing brilliant things scientifically while the Inquisition was going on.

Currently we seem to have a similar disconnect  between intelligent thought and public policy makers.

I come from a family of political junkies. My parents were both newspaper reporters. My brother Bob was a syndicated columnist. Janny and I were politicians. My brother Mark was the only one with enough good sense to spend more time with alligators than with public officials.

In all my years of watching Florida politics, I have never seen the powers that be raise such a blind stone wall to what the people want.

Usually there is lots of room to argue about what the silent or the loud majority REALLY want. This time it’s clear. 78 percent of us voted for Amendment 1, the Water and Land Legacy Amendment.

We voted to buy land.

We voted to put back in place the Florida Forever program that every Florida politician had supported since Rubin Askew.

We voted to buy Florida’s beautiful places – around springs and rivers and beaches all over the state. We voted to put our money where our mouth was for the land we want our grandchildren to know and love as perpetual wild places.

What could be more conservative?

For South Florida it was a threefer.

It was about saving Florida’s sense of place . It was about preserving God’s creation for the sheer wonder of it.

It was about the future of South Florida.

Amendment 1 gives us the money to close on the US Sugar Option that expires in October. It’s an opportunity that probably won’t come again in my lifetime.

The why is pretty simple. Anyone who knows anything about Everglades Restoration and is willing to say  “climate change” out loud knows that if we don’t send the water south from Lake Okeechobee that used to flow south through the Everglades, that Everglades National Park will die. Miami will lose its drinking water aquifer. The coastal estuaries east and west of Lake Okeechobee will die.

We have a plan. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan calls for over 300,000 acre feet of storage to hold the water from sugar cane fields and send water south from the Lake.

We don’t have the land to put that storage on. We need to own it.

We have a contract. We have an option with US Sugar to buy the land at market value. If the legislature doesn’t act by the end of the session, that option won’t be exercised.

We have the money. We have Amendment 1 revenues that make it possible to exercise the US Sugar option.

Here we are, near the end of the legislative session.

They are dumping toxic blue-green algae into the St. Lucie Estuary because there is too much water in Lake Okeechobee. Meanwhile there is not enough water south of the Lake. Dade County is in a drought and there are fires in the west.

Still, the great stone wall in Tallahassee says we are not going to buy land with Amendment 1 money and we are not going to exercise the US Sugar option.

But you knew all that.

That’s preaching to the choir.

What are we going to do about it?

This really is South Florida’s future. You can’t give up and hide under the bed.

If you’ve already done a lot, you need to do more.

If you haven’t done anything yet, you need to do something.

Every one of us here needs to:

1. Call YOUR legislator. They mostly don’t care if you don’t vote in their district. Other than grabbing them and shaking them, nothing is more effective than a phone call. You can get the phone number of your representatives and senators from several websites – Audubon,, the Everglades Foundation. The message is simple. Use Amendment 1 money to buy land. Exercise the US Sugar option.

2. Get two other people to do the same thing.

3 Send emails to your legislators. That’s not “instead of.” Call them AND send them emails. Get two other people to do the same thing.

4. Get the Dade County Commission and the Dade legislative delegation to take a strong public stand.

4. Email and call the governor, the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House.

5. Sign every online petition you can find that says, “Buy the land. Send the water south.” Get two other people to do likewise.

6. Go to rallies and wave signs.

7. Write letters to the editor.

8. Don’t forget to thank the good guys. Joe Negron and Thad Altman in the Senate are working to allocate Amendment 1 money for buying land.

9. Take names. Most legislators care only about their home district. Those running for higher office are aware that the rest of us matter. They think we are forgetful.

Rumors are flying in Tallahassee about who’s running for what. They say Rick Scott wants to be a U.S. senator and will run for Rubio’s seat. Adam Putnam wants to leave the Deptartment of Agriculture and be governor. Steve Crisafulli is House Speaker and wants to be secretary of agriculture. Marco Rubio will settle for being governor if he doesn’t get to be president.

If they fail us on Amendment 1 and the sugar option, don’t forget their names. Don’t ever vote for them even for dog catcher. Don’t let your friends and relations and neighbors vote for them.

It used to be that if you did any one of those activist kind of things I listed on an environmental issue you could be smugly proud of yourself.

It’s not like that this time. You have to do all of the above. Then you have to get someone else to do it. Then you have to do it again. We’re way past newspapers and social media and television. They’ve been saturated

Now it comes down to people. There are more of us than there are of them. This is still a democracy of the people, for the people and by the people. Only you can make a difference.

The stone wall is higher than ever before. The consequences are worse than ever before. You have to do more than ever before.

What if we lose? What if they ignore us?

You’re not allowed to think about that until after the session ends.

We have a reprieve. They are talking about extending the session to June 30 because of the controversy over Medicaid funding.

Until the Legislature is over you can’t stop doing everything you can do.

Remember how lucky we are. They don’t shoot us and they don’t tear gas us when we protest.


What if Tallahassee makes clear that they don’t give a damn about the Everglades and they really never liked Miami and would be happy if it fell off the map?

There is a temptation to say it’s over. There is a temptation to ask them to quit wasting money pretending to save the Everglades when all they are doing is building water supply reservoirs and stormwater cleanup areas for sugar.

Don’t go there. Don’t give up.

Remember there are more of us than them.

You know they have lost the battle for public opinion when they have to hire actors to pretend that someone in the public is on their side.

If Ernest Coe had given up because they didn’t do what he told them they had to do, if Marjory Stoneman Douglas had given up just because she was blind, if all of us had given up when we lost the Penny a Pound sugar tax vote in the 90s, we wouldn’t have an Everglades to save.

Remember Sisyphus from Greek mythology? He was a bad guy king that made Zeus mad. He was doomed to push a boulder up the hill and have it always roll down on him before it got to the top.

Those of us who have been at it awhile know that we are not always doomed to failure. Lots of times the boulder rolls down on us. It does it over and over again Then – we finally get it to the top.

If we can’t solve the problem by exercising the option on the smaller parcel of US Sugar, let’s buy the whole thing.

If we can’t get Florida politicians to care about South Florida and the Everglades, let’s get Congress to do away with the sugar subsidy.

We will think of something.

In the immortal words of Ronnie Best – long time coordinator of Everglades Restoration for the US Geological Survey:

“We have to save the Earth! It’s the only planet with chocolate.” 

(And french fries.)

If you haven’t signed all these petitions, sign ’em and pass them on to others.


Maggy Hurchalla is a former Martin County commissioner and sister of Janet Reno and the late Newsday columnist Robert Reno. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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