Glades farmers said they rejoice along with coastal residents after seeing news reports Wednesday from both Fort Myers and Stuart showing property values in those algae-affected communities increased during 2016.
This, "despite the efforts of the Everglades Foundation to spread misinformation and try to create more division between coastal residents and farming communities," according to a written statement from the group Florida Sugarcane Farmers (FSF).
The good news from property appraisers in Lee and Martin counties -- the so-called "algae counties" -- shows property values actually increased despite a record-setting year for rainfall and subsequently, large coastal discharges. It "brought a cold dose of reality to the tale spun by the Everglades Foundation, whose commissioned study in 2015 claimed Lake Okeechobee releases directly decreased property values in the affected areas."
A report on Treasure Coast Newspapers' website TCPalm says property values in Martin County increased by 5.3 percent last year; the Fort Myers News-Press says over the same period, Lee County residents saw a 6 percent increase.
In Port St. Lucie, property values increased by 10.6 percent, and countywide in St. Lucie by 6.75 percent.
In 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discharged more than 1.7 million acre-feet of water to the Caloosahatchee River, 827,000 acre-feet of water to the St. Lucie River, and 718,000 acre-feet of water south of Lake Okeechobee.
“In 2016, we were equally as frustrated with the discharges to the coastal communities that were caused by excessive rainfall north of Lake Okeechobee and the ever-present threat of high lake levels wreaking havoc on the Herbert Hoover Dike,” said Ardis Hammock, an independent sugarcane grower from Moore Haven. “We all share these concerns and have been advocating for finding solutions for these problems, but it’s counter-productive and completely irresponsible for paid environmental activists to twist the facts and mislead the public about the true impact of Lake Okeechobee’s excess water.”
FSF points to a similar "manipulation" incident back in January, when the Everglades Foundation was caught manipulating data by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) in an attempt to show that storage south of Lake Okeechobee would perform better than storage to the north. "In a letter to the Everglades Foundation, a SFWMD scientist said the foundation’s model used 'irresponsible science”' and was 'more of an academic exercise than a realistic tool to support informed policy and decision making.'"
"Ultimately, the Florida Legislature rejected the Everglades Foundation’s attempted land grab, which the bill’s own staff analysis showed would have a “negative fiscal impact … due to the reduction in available farmland,” farmers write in their statement.
“We’re happy to see the estuaries are rebounding and private property values along the coasts are increasing,” Hammock said.
The group Florida Sugarcane Farmers describes itself as farmers who are part of a $3.2 billion-a-year industry that employs 12,500.