January 23, 2013, Putnam voted to extend leases for 30 years on state-owned land in Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) with provisions that make it nearly impossible for the state to take back the land if and when it is needed for an Everglades restoration project.
Everglades experts argued correctly that these leased lands would be needed and crucial to putting together the correct reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. As we saw in 2017, we were unable to use land that is already owned by the public to build the most efficient and cost-effective EAA reservoir.
The leases were not competitively bid. Hundley Farms and Roth Farms objected to the extensions on the grounds that they weren’t competitively bid. Upon the recommendation of DEP, the requirement to competitively bid the leases was waived by the Cabinet.
- Agenda: http://www.myflorida.com/myflorida/cabinet/agenda13/0123/BOT012313.pdf
- Transcript: http://www.myflorida.com/myflorida/cabinet/agenda13/0123/Transcript.pdf
DEP Secretary Vineyard (now at a law firm representing sugar) and SFWMD Executive Director Melissa Meeker presented the agenda items to the Cabinet. The way it was framed was that the leases were needed to secure land swaps for Restoration Strategies, and Ms. Meeker said she was “very confident that we have the language we need if we need those lands for future projects.”
In 2017, when those lands were needed for the proper EAA reservoir project, the lease agreements entered into by the state proved sugar had won, as they refused to move off the leased lands – citing the “agreement” from 2013.