With less than two weeks remaining in the legislative session, the Everglades Trust is seeing growing support for fulfilling the U.S Sugar land agreement. This week, President Obama is visiting the Everglades to highlight the importance of the Everglades and the work that needs to be done to protect our natural resources.
As a proud Floridian, I welcome President Obama to our most sacred and beautiful treasure. On Earth Day, I am honored the President has chosen to highlight the Everglades, especially at this critical juncture, as the Florida legislature considers an important land buy that will help save and restore the Everglades that provides drinking water for 1 in 3 Floridians.
Our message to Governor Scott and the Florida legislature could not be clearer - move forward with the binding written contract to purchase the land from the U.S. Sugar Corporation and build a reservoir that will help store and purify the polluted water. (VIDEO) It’s on our lawmakers to make the right choice and to use the set aside funds from the constitutional amendment, overwhelmingly supported by Floridians, and purchase this land.
Since March, the Everglades Trust has invested in a six-figure media campaign running in five different media markets throughout the legislative session that informed Floridians about the importance of this issue and the impact on their drinking water. A robust, statewide digital campaign supported our television and radio ads and engaged supporters and volunteers across the state.
Advocates supporting the U.S Sugar land contract have made significant progress in the recent months, garnering attention and support around this critical issue, including 200 scientists who called for additional water storage for Everglades restoration. In addition to President Obama, a steady stream of high profile supporters have lent their support for the Everglades including: Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, former Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah, Florida Wildlife Federation’s Manley Fuller, former CIA Director and Florida Republican Congressman Porter Goss, and former DEP Secretary Victoria Tschinke.
The Everglades Coalition brought nearly two thousands supporters together for a rally with Jimmy Buffett in Tallahassee to celebrate Everglades Day and demand action on the agreement with U.S. Sugar Corporation to save our waters. The pressure is on. Over the last six weeks, the campaign has communicated with millions of Floridians and collected thousands of petition signatures from Floridians demanding action.
In the Court of Public Opinion, a No-Brainer. Against the backdrop of overwhelming support for a constitutional amendment (Amendment 1), which allocated money for land purchases and Everglades restoration, nearly every major newspaper in Florida has weighed in to criticize the legislature, urge respect for the will of the voters and advocate funding of the U.S. Sugar land buy. In addition, we’ve received support from newspaper editorial boards across the state, including: Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, Orlando Sentinel, Naples Daily News, Tampa Tribune, Gainesville Sun and the Bradenton Herald. Among the editorial comments:
Miami Herald: “Florida lawmakers may be on the verge of making a mistake of historic proportions by letting a splendid opportunity to aid Everglades restoration and clean up waters east and west of Lake Okeechobee slip through their fingers this session…Sooner or later, it has to happen, so why not now? The money is available. The land is available. The time is right. The only thing missing is leadership.” (Editorial. “Sweet Deal.” 3/27/15.)
Naples Daily News: “If the governor and lawmakers hold to what we believe was the voters' intent when they approved a constitutional amendment in November, they will agree to acquire U.S. Sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee…” (Editorial. “Timing, funding right to buy U.S. Sugar land.” 3/2/15.)
Palm Beach Post: “The (University of Florida) Water Institute’s report, noting Florida has an option to buy the 46,000 acres at market prices until October, said plainly that the state should consider buying the land.” (Editorial. “State must consider land buy in wake of UF Report.” 3/11/15.)
Sun Sentinel: “…(L)awmakers are defying the will of Amendment 1 voters.” (Editorial. “Respect Will of Voters on Amendment 1.” 4/3/15.)
Tampa Bay Times: “A smarter move would be for the state to exercise its option to purchase 47,000 acres of U.S. Sugar property south of the lake before the October deadline.” (Editorial. “Overpaying for Waterfarms Wrong Approach.” 4/3/15.)
What’s at Stake?
If Gov. Scott and the legislature fail to act in the final weeks of the legislative session, the contract with U.S. Sugar Corporation will expire in October and we will be back to square one in finding a solution to send polluted water south. The state and U.S. Sugar agreed to this deal five years ago but now with the improved economy, U.S. Sugar is trying to find a way out of the deal.
Yet back in 2010, the U.S. Sugar Corporation was touting the very contract they now want to get out of. The U.S. Sugar Corporation very publically pushed the project’s benefits and cited the deal as an example of their “environmental stewardship.” Among the many comments made to the media highlighting the importance of the land, Robert H. Buker Jr., President and CEO of the U.S. Sugar Corporation told the Palm Beach post, “The bottom line: Florida has a very rare opportunity to reacquire a large swath of the historic Everglades from a willing seller at a fair, appraised price that will advance Gov. Crist's Everglades restoration plan” as reported on April 2, 2010.
Now as we debate the current issue, what legislators seemed to forget was the 75% of voters who supported the constitutional amendment that set up an annual $700+ million fund to buy conservation lands. The GOP’s $2 million allocation sent a strong message to Florida voters: your voice does not matter.
With lack of public support, Big Sugar and their allies hit the peak of desperation when they staged a demonstration with more than 50 paid actors at a Southwest Florida Management District meeting in April.
Amid howls of protest from newspapers across the state for their “insult” to Florida voters and under increasing pressure from grassroots activists across the state and a six-figure public education campaign funded by the Everglades Trust, legislators are feeling the pressure in these final weeks of session – will they cave to Big Sugar or finally listen to the will of Florida voters?
The Everglades Trust is a 501(c)(4) corporation created to ensure that Everglades restoration is completed on time and on budget. The Trust is committed to defend America’s Everglades and hold polluters and lawmakers accountable. For more than twenty-years, through grassroots support and a network of citizen action teams, the Trust has been fighting for government action and adequate funding for Everglades restoration.