Does anybody believe Senate President Joe Negron decided all on his own -- before he'd studied the completed plans -- to challenge the science behind the South Florida Water Management District models for the reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee?
I know I don't.
Read his letter of Dec. 14 to District Director Ernie Marks, then dust it for prints. I think you'll find the Everglades Foundation all over it.
Negron wants the District to expand the reservoir's footprint, hustling up the termination of lease agreements, land swaps and land acquisition in Senate Bill 10, passed last session and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.
I'd bet the farm the Stuart Republican is being pressured. This is his baby, after all, and in his last year leading the Senate, his time is running out. But make no mistake, it's a disturbing development.
You have to remember what happened to the last southern reservoir when the Everglades Foundation and Gov. Charlie Crist put land acquisition ahead of the estuaries, Florida Bay and the national park: Bulldozers and earthmovers reduced a vast swath of an under-construction 25-square-mile reservoir to a gray moonscape of pooled water and piled rock, and taxpayers were out $272 million of the total $800 million project.
This isn't just Nancy Smith talking. Former Pahokee mayor J.P. Sasser, at Thursday's ninth public, live-streamed Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir meeting, was the first person I've heard say what a lot of folks who witnessed it have been thinking.
That this is "deja vu all over again."
Here are Sasser's remarks in full:
"I want to remind everyone that 10 years ago today a 25-square-mile reservoir, the largest of its kind in the world was under construction in the EAA. The environmentalists sued to stop its construction, the head of the Everglades Trust calling it 'not needed' and 'too expensive.' This action delayed Everglades restoration for a solid decade.
"This year Senate Bill 10 was passed with bipartisan support, and the head of the Everglades Foundation heaped praise on what he called 'this science-based bill' and Gov. Scott's commitment to the Everglades.
"At the same time the Everglades Foundation unleashed their paid attack dogs, Everglades Trust and Bullsugar, to attack the bill, the governor, South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers. So here we are once again on the verge of actually constructing a southern reservoir. And on cue, the environmentalists are trying to derail the agreed-upon process and time line of Senate Bill 10.
"It's deja vu all over again. Before the ink was dry on Senate Bill 10, they were demanding more land, revealing their true reason for existing, which has nothing to do with restoration and water and everything to do with their personal vendetta against agriculture and killing jobs for the 'Glades communities as collateral damage.
"One excuse they're using is that the current planned reservoir in the EAA is too deep and they want to increase its footprint. But on their website they call the C-43 reservoir 'critical to the success of CERP.' The C-43 is deeper than the proposed reservoir currently being planned for the EAA.
"Shame on them for their hypocrisy, shame on them for once again trying to derail restoration and shame on them for trying to take ou land and our jobs."
District staff don't see their progress on reservoir models in quite the same way as environmentalists associated with the Everglades Foundation.
In a Dec. 21 letter replying to Negron, Director Marks respectfully pointed out that the District hasn't ignored land acquisition, it just hasn't turned up willing sellers.
In the meantime, Marks said, "In order to address this uncertainty and achieve the state's ambitious schedule, the District has used its planning period to model four options that maximize use of District-owned land and the land of adjacent sellers who have not rejected overtures to acquire their land."
With the footprint it has already, the EAA reservoir under any model being considered "could reduce harmful discharges to the northern estuaries upwards of 54 percent in comparison with existing conditions," Marks wrote.
Eva Velez, SFWMD director of Everglades policy, said during Thursday's meeting computer modeling for a storage reservoir in the EAA show all of the alternatives under consideration would reduce harmful discharges from the lake to the coastal estuaries, as well as improve flow to the Everglades and Florida Bay.
Each would store 240,000 acre-feet of water by using a 10,100-acre reservoir and 6,500-acre stormwater treatment area (STA) on the District-owned A-2 parcel and lands to the west. The main difference between the two alternatives is the location of the STA.
These two, when coupled with the completion of other restoration projects -- for example, the remaining components of the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) -- would reduce the total number of Lake Okeechobee damaging discharge events to the coastal estuaries by 56 percent. Each is estimated to cost about $1.4 billion to build.
Two other alternatives are R360C and R360D, which would each store 360,000 acre-feet of water by using a 19,700-acre reservoir and 11,500-acre STA on the A-2 parcel and lands to the west, as well as the adjacent A-1 parcel. The main difference between the two alternatives is the location of the STA. These alternatives, would reduce the total number of Lake Okeechobee damaging discharge events to the coastal estuaries by 61 percent. Each is estimated to cost approximately $1.9 billion to build.
Alternative C360C: This alternative would have the same configuration as Alternative R360C, as well as being able to serve multiple purposes, such as supply water for environmental restoration and other uses as identified in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). C360C, when coupled with the completion of other restoration projects, would reduce the total number of Lake O discharge events by 61 percent. It is estimated to cost approximately $1.9 billion to build.
According to the District, all of the proposed alternatives would --
- treat water to meet the state's stringent water quality standards as required by Senate Bill 10;
- meet the CERP goal for increased flow to the Everglades by sending south an annual average of about 98 billion gallons of treated water; and
- increase the flow of treated fresh water to Florida Bay at the southern end of the Everglades.
A progress report on the District's findings for all of the alternatives, including benefits and estimated costs, is due before the Legislature in January, in keeping with state law.
After that, a Post Authorization Change Report describing the most cost-effective alternative for the project as the next increment of the congressionally approved Central Everglades Planning Project will be sent to the assistant secretary of the Army, Civil Works, for federal approval and cost sharing in March 2018.
Paul Tudor Jones, the power behind the throne at the Foundation and its chief benefactor, has made no secret of his motives. He's always said his principal objective was to take all the sugar land he could out of production.
At Thursday's meeting, Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of the Everglades Trust, denied that was the Trust's intention. "We're not trying to put them out of business," she said. "We just want them to move out of the way a little bit."
Like Sasser, I hope Jones's ambitions don't come as they did in 2008, at the expense of the estuaries and Everglades restoration.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith