It didn't strike me until Thursday, when I read Senate President Joe Negron's reflection on his two-day trip to Washington ... good heavens, this reservoir thing is back to the future with Charlie Crist.
It's deja vu all over again.
The plan to pull a domino out of the CERP stack and let approved-and-ready-for-funding projects topple because you have a vision for something better -- that was pure Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008. And darn if it isn't Joe Negron nine years later. Negron's plan to scramble the order of restoration-project completion is plain as day in the "Five Things" he learned in Washington last Monday and Tuesday.
It came to me as I read No. 4 on his list: "Under both the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), redirecting damaging Lake Okeechobee discharges southward to improve the flow, timing, and distribution of water through the Everglades has already been authorized," he wrote. "The issue is not if we will have additional southern storage, it is when and where."
Wait a minute. I suddenly realized ... The feds would never authorize a gleam in a politician's eye, a reservoir in an undetermined location. Plain wouldn't happen.
The authorization Negron is talking about is for reservoirs already planned for south of Lake Okeechobee, the A1 and A2 under CERP and CEPP respectively. A1 is ready to go now.
So, it looks like what Negron wants to do, is kill A1 and A2, then reapply their "authorization" to his own southern reservoir.
It's pure Charlie Crist.
Let me explain.
The original A1 Reservoir was quite something -- you should have seen it before Crist got his South Florida Water Management District board members to halt construction and dismantle it like an Erector Set. Nicknamed "the environmental Stonehenge," it would have been the world’s largest free-standing reservoir.
Started in 2006, the A1 was priced at a total $800 million. It would have been nearly the size of Boca Raton and hold more water than 100,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. Its 22-mile perimeter wall would stand three stories tall. Completion: 2010.
But, two years and $272 million into construction, work on the reservoir was abruptly halted. That was May 2008.
The shutdown coincided with Gov. Charlie Crist’s announcement of "an even bolder and costlier Everglades restoration initiative:" a $1.75 billion state buyout of U.S. Sugar Corp. and its 180,000-acre farming empire" -- the idea being that they could recreate the historic flows of the Everglades.
Well, suddenly the governor looked at the A1 Reservoir as a dinosaur.
Besides, officials decided they couldn't afford to pay for both at once -- the U.S. Sugar buyout and the reservoir. So the land deal required scrapping the reservoir plan, as the larger Everglades restoration blueprint was overhauled to incorporate the new acreage.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
- Crist wanted history to carve his name in Everglades lore -- it didn't happen, of course. In fact, all it did was create delay, waste money already spent and cost more to get CERP back on track.
- Now Negron wants to save property and lifestyle in coastal communities, plunging the state in debt, relying on a federal partner that can't keep up with the obligations to Florida it already has, plowing ahead on a plan engineers have shown won't solve the algae problems in the rivers. Outcome: not yet decided.
Sadly, had the A1 been built as it first was designed, it would have taken much of the damaging lake water that ravaged the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries in 2013 and 2016.
The rebuilt A1, a smaller animal, and the just-beginning A2 Reservoir, are perfectly able to store water sent south. They also have the capacity to take deep well injection.
Both Crist and Negron had visions of the promised land. I genuinely believe both had/have the best of intentions. But I hope Negron's vision won't screw up CERP the way Crist's did.
Which brings me to my last "strange coincidence:" Eric Eikenberg.
Eikenberg, the little bird who whispered in Crist's ear in 2008, is the same one whispering in Negron's ear today. Eikenberg was Crist's chief of staff nine years ago when the A1 came tumbling down; today he is CEO of the Everglades Foundation, everybody's south-reservoir champion. This is why -- when Eikenberg cries crocodile tears over a "desperately needed" reservoir south of Lake O -- you might want to take it with a grain of salt.
The five talking points Negron returned from Washington with could work to convince the Senate, where he holds sway. But it's doubtful the House contingent, who also went on the two-day Washington trip -- Speaker Richard Corcoran, Michael Bileca, Jose Felix Diaz or Carlos Trujillo -- feel any more inclined this week than they did last about signing a $2.1 billion IOU and risking further federal funding delay on a solid Central Everglades Restoration Plan.
Certainly the residents of the Glades, most of whom are farmers with generational ties to communities and their rural lifestyle, feel threatened by Negron's Senate Bill 10 and think they have a senator who doesn't represent their concerns.
"He says right there in black and white we aren't worth $800 million," said Mavis McCloud of Belle Glade. "He doesn't want to spend money fixing the dike to keep us safe but he will pay twice that to keep his property values up over where the rich folks live."
Danielle Alvarez, spokesperson for EAA Farmers, Inc. holds out hope Negron will come to his senses. "We are hopeful that Senator Negron will begin to focus on real solutions for the discharges laid out by scientists and stakeholders in CERP, which is storage and treatment north of Lake Okeechobee. It has been made clear that any plan to acquire more land south of the lake would be nothing more than an anti-farmer, job-killing land grab.”
Tammy Jackson-Moore, of Guardians of the Glades, a community activist group representing Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee, echoed McCloud: "It is disheartening that Senator Negron is willing to spend billions of dollars for his coastal constituents but is unwilling to expedite dike repairs for the safety and protection of his constituents south of the lake."
And J.P. Sasser, former mayor of Pahokee, wrote in an email, "The most revealing thing about Senator Negron's memo on his trip to Washington is NOT what it says -- but what it DOESN'T say. Negron declared that a federal cost-share is key to his proposed project's success to stop the discharges. Yet it seems he came back home empty-handed. We here in the Glades are thankful that the federal government is focused on finishing all the projects already in the pipeline -- completing the rehab of the Herbert Hoover Dike and the many projects in CERP and CEPP. This will do more to correct our water issues than a constantly changing wish list of projects that are not supported by science."
The James Madison Institute has prepared two lengthy reports on the efficacy of Negron's plan for a 60,000-acre reservoir south of the lake. They most certainly have weighed in from the beginning. I asked Bob J. McClure, Ph.D., president and CEO of JMI, if he feels more confident about the plan after reading the five points the Senate president brought home from Washington. He responded with this:
"No one disputes that saving the Everglades and resolving the myriad of other environmental issues we face in central and south Florida is a complex and difficult tangle of competing interests. While we applaud President Negron for his passion and determination, we do not believe that, on balance, it makes sense for the government to purchase 60,000 acres of productive lands. The cost in jobs, displaced families and economic loss is simply too high. The best solution is the one that has been developed over many years by countless experts and scientists -- the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. We should move forward with the approved water storage projects it includes both north and south of Lake Okeechobee as soon as possible."