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Politics

57 Farmers Fire Back at Negron in His 'War' Against Everglades Ag

March 6, 2017 - 6:00pm

On the day before the 2017 Florida Legislature convenes, 57 Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) farmers used the occasion to deliver perhaps the strongest  letter of opposition yet to Senate President Joe Negron's plan for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. In both tone and content, the farmers  didn't mince words about how and who would be affected by 60,000 acres of farmland taken out of production.

Sunshine State News prints here the farmers' letter in full:

Dear President Negron,

We read with dismay your Memorandum to your Senate colleagues dated March 2, 2017, concerning water discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the coasts. This Memorandum is just the latest fusillade in what can only be described as a war on your part against farmers south of Lake Okeechobee, the hard-working men and women we employ and the communities in which they and their families live. It is in this context that we are compelled to respond to you with directness and candor.

For generations, farming has played an important role in Florida’s economy, employing tens of thousands of Floridians today and having an estimated economic impact of billions of dollars on Florida’s economy. Farming, like tourism, auto racing, and citrus, is part of the very fabric of Florida, which you well know. During your public career you have been a supporter of Florida’s farmers, our way of life, and the traditions we represent.

Until now.

Now it is clear that your agenda as Senate President has been hijacked by out-of-state special interests who seek to do harm to the people in Florida who live on the land and help put food on our tables. Your plan to take Florida farmland, which we have already written to you to say is not for sale, has long been the dream of these extreme environmental activists who do not care about the interests of Floridians, generally, and especially not those in the communities south of Lake Okeechobee. They do not share the values of most Floridians, and certainly not the values that drive hard-working farmers to get up before sunrise each day and care for the land we farm and the food we grow.

It is for these reasons that we must directly challenge the half-truths and overt misrepresentations emanating from your office lest they become facts by default.

In your Memorandum, you selectively chose facts that fit your public relations narrative that acquiring our productive farmland south of Lake Okeechobee in one way or another will magically solve local water-quality problems in coastal communities east and west of the Lake. This narrative is totally at odds with both the applicable science and the experience of decades of studying, planning, and constructing water-management projects for the purposes of restoring the Everglades system holistically and protecting the lives of all those who live in the shadow of the Herbert Hoover Dike. This science and this accumulated experience make it obvious that your plan to prevent unwanted water discharges from the Lake by "sending the water south" will fall far short of what you say you are trying to accomplish while requiring extraordinary expenditures and an unacceptable delay in solving the problems we face.

Here are the facts about your plan to take our farmland:

1. The true cost of your plan has always been grossly understated, presumably for marketing purposes. According to recent estimates from the South Florida Water Management District and recent property appraisals, today’s land costs will push the total cost of the plan from concept to completion to approximately $4.3 billion, almost twice the cost you use in your plan. The cost estimates supporting this statement were prepared in accordance with Army Corps of Engineers’ guidelines and are attached.

2. The time frame for the projects contained in your plan “coming on line" has not really been discussed in detail to date, as it should be if the objective is to provide relief sooner rather than later to the coastal communities adversely impacted by unwanted water discharges from the Lake. The projects you are proposing would take a minimum of 15 years to be designed, funded, permitted, and constructed.

3. The science on which your plan is based is fraudulent; the environmental special interests who supplied you with the data used in your plan cooked the books to reach conclusions unsupported by the actual science. This is not our conclusion; it is the public judgment of the South Florida Water Management District, whose data and predictive models your environmentalist advisors have intentionally manipulated and distorted.

4. Other less expensive, faster options exist that would actually solve the Lake discharge problems plaguing the coastal estuaries, including underground storage, that was first included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. These cost-effective, environmentally safe, short-time-to-completion options have been discarded out of hand for no apparent reason other than politics.

5. The UF report on which the Florida Legislature spent $250,000 clearly states that the timing and sequence of Everglades restoration projects are critical to their success. You have repeatedly ignored the totality of the UF Report, choosing instead to cherry-pick the one section that just so happens to be the one that kills farming jobs and, ultimately, decimates the Everglades Agricultural Area farming community, which is the not-so-hidden agenda of the environmentalist special interests on whom you rely for advice.

6. Your ill-considered plan is a public relations solution to a political problem. It was lobbed into the public arena during the height of last year's elections to please activists in your home county; separated from the politics, it bears no relation to the best use of Amendment One funds statewide or to the health of Florida's economy.

7. In addition to being the most expensive option with the longest time horizon, your plan would have minimal effect. Only a fraction of the discharges into the coastal estuaries would be prevented after billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent and after a lead time approaching two decades has ticked away. This is because -- as the real experts in these matters have pointed out repeatedly -- when water discharges from the Lake are necessitated by abnormal rain events, the Everglades are already flooded and additional water cannot be sent south. Only a few hundred thousand acre feet of the two and a half million acre feet of water that might typically be discharged from the Lake in these circumstances could be statically stored in the reservoirs contemplated by your plan. 

Attached to this letter is a full response to the specific assertions in your Memorandum. But the real significance of your Memorandum is not what it says; rather, it is what it does not say. It is obvious that the real takeaway from your recent trip to Washington, D.C., is that as long as current Everglades restoration projects, engineering and feasibility studies, and the ongoing Herbert Hoover Dike repairs are incomplete, the federal government will not, and cannot, commit to sharing the cost with the state of any new projects, including yours. So Florida taxpayers would be looking at more than $4 billion dollars in costs for your plan without a federal partner to shoulder any of the burden.

With session starting, we look forward to a spirited and fact-based debate that we believe can produce cost-effective water quantity and water quality solutions that will benefit all of Florida. Hopefully, your two years as president of the Florida Senate will end up being remembered as a milestone in the decades-long history of Everglades restoration and Lake Okeechobee water management, rather than as a massive missed opportunity. Borrowing billions the state doesn't have to take farmland it doesn't need to build projects that won't work is not the solution to the problems we all want to solve.

Sincerely,

Atwood Family Farms
BHK Inc.
Big B Farm
Big B. Sugar Corp.
C&C Farms
Chery Lake
Cooperation Produce, Inc.
Deep South Sugar Corp.
Double H. Farms
Evans Groves
Florida Crystals
Frontier Produce, Inc.
Glades Sugar Farms
H&A Farming & Leasing
Herring Farms, Inc.
Hooker-Jones Co.
Hundley Farms, Inc.
Jahna Groves
JEM Farms, Inc.
Johnson Harvesting
Kennedy Enterprises
Kennedy Farms, Inc.
L & M Farms
Lewis Friend Farms
Lipman Produce
Lost Lalle Groves, Inc.
Markham Sugar Farms, Inc.
Meador Family Farms, LLC
Miami Sod, Co.
Nelson & Co., Inc.
nK Lago Farms, LLC.
On Point Ag. Inc.
Orsenigo Farms
Pioneer Ranch & Sugar Farms
R.C. Hatton, Inc.
Riverfront Packing
Roth Farms
Simonson Farms, Inc.
Southern Hill Farms
Star Farms Corp.
Start Ranch Enterprises, Inc.
Stein Sugar Farms, Inc.
Stewart Stein Farms, Inc.
Straughn Farms
Sugar & Spice, Inc.
Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative
Syfrett Ranch
Tater Farms, LLC
Tee Pee Farms
TKM Bengard Farms
Triple F. Farms
U.S. Sugar Corp.
W.E. McKinstry, Inc.
W.G. Roe & Sons, Inc.
Wedgworth Farms, Inc.
Wilder Brothers Farms
William Kennedy Farms


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Comments

Meanwhile our rivers are toxic and dying! BUT its all about the farmers that pollute our waters! thx for the toxic algae blooms BIG SUGAR!

Liberal bureaucrats at the Everglades Foundation, run by Charlie Christ’s right hand man, want to preserve their huge staff, big salaries, and massive expense accounts. They are lying to the public about the Everglades Restoration efforts and they have mounted a disinformation campaign to confused the public.

SB10 is a waste of taxpayer money and will be another long enduring Everglades project that goes nowhere and does nothing

I doubt the state is really going to get near to fair market values for the people they want to buy the land from. Anyways, they don't want to sell in the first place.

Really doesn't matter, there's a legal document for the sale of $60K acres. Doesn't matter, the government clearly has the right to procure the land through eminent domain! Don't believe it look at all the lakes created in Tennessee by the Tennesseen Valley authority.

The fertile, unique custard apple muck soil in the Everglades Agricultural Area is the primary source of fresh vegetables east of the Rockies in the late fall, winter, and early spring. Scarcity and high consumer demand will cause retail prices to skyrocket. A very foolish plan .

Negron is doing what Eisenhower warned us about . . . self selected academic elite, wearing the mantle of Scientist, would get in bed with the very same Government that provided their funding, to provide scientific arguments on demand. He has a few 'Scientists' make the claim that his strong-arm eminent domain play is for the 'public good'. These are the same 'Scientists' who claimed that straightening the St. Lucie River would be an economic boon and of insignificant environmental impact. Now that river has become the Septic Superhighway, carrying seepage and concentrated runoff straight into Lake Okeechobee. Dumping the water East and West caused a problem, but somehow, do to some magic and wishful thinking, sending it South is A-OK. What a lark. The Everglades needs help, not a stake through the heart!

this goes way beyond the "value" of the land. In order for us to participate in farming a lot of us have had to invest in mills, packing houses, equipment, buildings, and PEOPLE. Does the state plan on reimbursing the farmers for all of their farm related investments? Our related investments are worthless without the land that produces the vegetables and sugar. This is a political move that punishes farmers, their many employees, and the citizens of Western Palm Beach County. Negron, please focus your efforts on worthwhile issues that truly benefit the citizens of Florida and call off the self serving "land grab".

God Bless The Glades, Our Farmers and Our People ... So many continual prayers concerning this awful situation... I truly believe we will come through this battle ... We WILL prevail, because it's just who we are and what we've been doing for decades!! .... Thankful to be from the "muck" for the last 65 years!!

This might be the most cogent logical argument I have seen opposing the "Buy the Land" concept. Seems to me the best course is to complete the planned projects as soon as possible and start the EAA planning project that is on the Integrated Delivery Schedule. This would allow for a whole system plan and show how much, if any land dims needed and where it is located as opposed to two vague red circles on a map

Only one fact needs to be known to show the Negron reservoir is a waste of taxpayers money. "If the reservoir had been constructed and in place it would not have prevented the discharges in 2013 or 2016". Why? The point is made in the letter. The reservoir would be filled. ONCE. But could not be emptied into the WCAs as they are already too high. Thus the Lake would rise rapidly and the excess water sent out the C 43 and C 44. No help. A one time reduction of four inches off the Lake when the Lake is rising rapidly by feet is not a good way to spend $2.3 billion. Especially when there are other ways to dispose of the excess water north of the Lake at much lower costs and much shorter time frames.

You are 100% right, it's a total waste

They are wanting to take 60,000 plus acres of some of the most fertile land in the world to store water that will not solve the problem. Florida is the winter FOOD basket for vegetables. These farmers have gone beyond the means to protect the land and I am thankful every meal I eat. The farmer understands stewardship of the land, because the land is what takes care of them and these for the most part are multi-generation farms that want to pass on the family business. Water does not flow north - use a little common sense. We must focus up stream and also place a big focus on development and septic tanks of homes.

Nancy r you an employee of Big sugar.

The farmers are 100% right. I consider myself an environmentalist. But I’m also a scientist who is angry that the environmentalists keep making claims which science can easily repudiate. These false claims include: 1. The EAA reservoir (and massive amounts of water storage) will reduce blue green algae blooms 2. The EAA reservoir (and massive amounts of water storage) will give significant cost effective benefits to the seagrass in the three estuaries, including Florida Bay These claims can be proven patently false by various scientific data accumulations from hundreds if not thousands of scientific research papers and simple calculations. If you are interested in the data just contact Dave at DLBoge2@gmail.com

The part that was missing is that there are over 60 projects that have been planned and some are in some state of completion awaiting State and Federal funding north of Okeechobee. The more water that can be stored and returned to the aquifer north of Okeechobee the less water will be in the lake even in high rainfall periods. I appreciated the article about the Republican Congressional delegation telling Negron that if we shake up the Federal system now with a new large request for money it many keep us from getting money for these projects that is already in the pipeline. Negron is in political trouble. I am an environmentalist. We need some solutions for Okeechobee and the areas that are being impacted by these water releases. However, he is desperate and knows that he has to show that he cares about the environment even if his plan is ill conceived and not functional. I am concerned about the cost. We had hoped that the Amendment 1 Land and Water Conservation referendum would provide over $150 Million per year for land acquisition in Florida. So, Governor Scott took the money (and presumably Rep. Corcoran) and are using it for other things - like taking care of our State Parks and funding the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. It is my understanding that Scott offered about $15 Million for land acquisition in all of Florida for the upcoming fiscal year. The Negron comes along and he wants $100 Million for twelve to twenty years (and that is if the cost of the project is 2.4 Billion - not the 4.3 Billion that these farmers are claiming it will cost. Oh yes - I forgot the part about Gov. Scott running all the experienced scientists out of the water management districts and replacing them with political appointees. That is part of the reason that we are having a hard time getting a straight answer and actual facts about what the best course of action for dealing with the issues in Okeechobee. I am environmentalist. However, I am afraid that people want a solution so badly that they are being blinded to the reality of this situation.

Ted Guy sell your home and move out of your community for fare market value.

Ted Guy sell your home and move out of your community for fare market value.

Ted, Why do you think they will sell? To satisfy your desire to put them out of business. Old school thinking or is the Everglades Foundation spooling you up? Bill

Sure they care about people. That's why they're trying to clean up the water.

We're talking about families and their livelihoods. What good is "fair market value" when you're being thrown out of a place where the flora and fauna mean everything!!!! Does anyone care about people????

This is a powerful argument. Great job making your case.

Nancy, I think a lot of people miss the fact that farmers will be paid fair market value for their land. Doesn't that change the impact?

Fair market value? Most of the family farms are 3 or 4 generations into the farm. Just for curiosity, how much of the "fair market value" would go to capital gains and income taxes?

Comments are now closed.

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