Gov. Rick Scott will have a front-row seat in what has become -- overnight, apparently -- the battle of the Everglades experts.
Politico Florida's Bruce Ritchie said in a story Monday that Scott will receive a letter from "dozens of water policy experts and scientists across the state of Florida (who) have come together in support of finishing the work that was agreed upon more than 15 years ago."
The letter clearly is a direct response to Senate President Joe Negron's No. 1 priority in the Legislature this year -- a bill to spend a 50 percent share of $2.4 billion on 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee to divert harmful discharges to coastal estuaries.
What the 60 signers of the letter don't want to do is "compromise the potential for moving toward restoration." But the letter focuses on the positive -- staying the restoration course and avoiding further delay. It does not mention Negron, R-Stuart or his plan by name.
Says the letter, "Water is Florida's most precious resource, and the state's largest freshwater system -- which spans from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades -- deserves a thoughtful, comprehensive solution in addressing water quality and quantity issues. This solution has already been developed with input from some of the most knowledgeable scientists, engineers and water quality experts in the world."
Henry Dean, South Florida Water Management District director from 2001-2005, who signed the letter on behalf of the water experts, will deliver it to Scott personally on Tuesday, Politico Florida says.
In an interview with Politico Florida, Dean emphasized the letter's purpose is to support finishing work on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan rather than criticizing Negron's reservoir proposal. "Obviously, I have tremendous respect for Senator Negron," Dean said. "But I really don't think buying the additional land south of the lake as is being proposed will accomplish the fix that it's intended to fix, and it's vastly expensive."
The letter to be delivered by Dean includes signatures from former Florida Department of Environmental Protection secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., former South Florida Water Management District executive director Melissa Meeker, former district deputy executive directors Tommy Strowd and Ernie Barnett and Irene Kennedy Quincey, former deputy general counsel to the district.
Politico's Ritchie pointed out that some who signed the letters "have ties to the sugar industry, including Barnett, who represents the Florida Sugar Cane League and the Florida Land Council; Kennedy, a lawyer who now represents U. S. Sugar Corp. and the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida; and former DEP deputy secretary Greg Munson of the Gunster law firm."
Everglades Foundation leader Eric Eikenberg last year produced a list of 207 scientists/experts he says support altering the restoration to "buy the land and flow the water south."
In the end, legislators likely will want the answers to seven questions to decide the issue:
1) Will a 60,000-acre reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee cancel the need for lake discharges and end the threat of algal blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries?
2) Can the southern reservoir already in the CEPP plan, together with land the state already owns, be adapted to store the same amount of water?
3) How much time will it take to complete and permit a new reservoir?
4) How much delay will the process of land purchase and construction cause in completing projects just waiting for funding?
5) How will a 60,000-acre reservoir affect the local economy -- will it alter a way of life in the Glades, cost jobs, lose money from the county tax rolls and necessitate a tax hike?
6) Will this water really help Florida Bay and during very wet periods, what are the dangers to wildlife?
7) New reservoir or staying the course? Which gives Floridians the best bang for their buck?
Negron's reservoir proposal, filed last week, calls for the South Florida Water Management District to begin identifying willing land sellers in the Everglades Agricultural Area in 2017. If the district can't do that by the end of 2017, the legislation authorizes the Cabinet to exercise a 2010 option to buy 153,000 acres from U. S. Sugar.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith