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Nancy Smith

Somehow, Conservation Coalition Manages to Give Charlie Crist Another Pass

December 4, 2011 - 6:00pm

Apparently if you're an environmentalist in Florida, Charlie Crist is like a polar bear in a blizzard. You don't see him..

That's the only explanation I can figure for former Gov. Bob Graham and a new conservation coalition blaming the 2011 Legislaturefor weakening the state's green programs -- yet not a word of admonition for Crist, Gov. Rick Scott's self-serving predecessor.

At a rally last week of about 100 environmental activists and former administration officials outside the Old Capitol, Graham said the Legislature reversed 40 years of Floridas progress in water and land conservation.

We are in a time machine which has now delivered us back to the 1960s, the former governor and former U.S. senator said. ... We need strong gubernatorial leadership to reverse the damage thats been done.

Darn right. That's because we didn't get that leadership from Crist. Last year, when Crist handed over Everglades restoration, there was no restoration. None. Restoration was at a standstill.

Graham is right. We have regressed. But he conveniently skipped over how we got there.

How did he miss the years of waste under the Crist administration? It could be Graham was the fella in the time machine for the last four years.

Remember the U.S. Sugar Corp. deal that Crist pushed like a cattle catch on a steam train? Ultimately the price the South Florida Water Management District paid for the twice-downsized parcel of USSC land amounted to some $200 million.

And, wait. There is waste upon waste.

Taxpayers had already shelled out $300 million of the $800 million price tag for a 16,700-acre reservoir when Crist and the water management district shut its construction down in 2008. Then they began to dismantle it. Why? Because money would be better spent on Crist's proposed U.S. Sugar deal -- even land, as the USSC land was, with no flow-way south.

Had the shut-down never happened, the A-1 reservoir would have been completed in 2010, would have been ready to store 62 billion gallons of water -- the equivalent of more than 5 million residential swimming pools.

Graham could have mentioned what really lurked at the heart of the Legislature's decision to scale back the water management district budgets and the districts' authority to spend.

It was the vote of the South Florida Water Management District to blow $200 million on a frivolous land deal. It was the need to dose up with medicine -- something to take away the pain that Crist and the SFWMD left taxpayers thanks to the U.S. Sugar Corp. land deal.

Meanwhile, Scott and his administration --- plus Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection Hershel Vinyard, SFWMD Executive Director Melissa Meeker and many others -- have been meeting with federal government branches such as the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of the President to try to get Everglades restoration moving again.

Rick Scott and the Legislature weren't the slowers of environmental progress after all; the advocates of the wasteful U.S. Sugar deal were.

Even Meeker, a SFWMD board member in 2010, is an example of how wrong they were. Sugar dealers pressured her to vote to buy land at the time. Now, at least, she's getting a chance to do the right thing, to "fix" her vote, to make the district more successful at pursuing real Everglades restoration, a kind that also protects taxpayers' wallets from more schemes.

This is an opinion column: Reach Nancy Smith at or at (870) 727-0859.

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nancy smith


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