At our Sept. 30 Rivers Coalition meeting, let's discuss new developments in the unending struggle to save and restore the St. Lucie River. We can't let our storied estuary continue to be assaulted by "alien" discharges from inland.
The meeting will be at 11 a.m. at Stuart City Hall. The public is more than welcome, at no charge. Plenty of free parking and coffee and donuts await you.
The river's future depends on how much citizens are willing to do to end the incoming pollution, as described in detail at RiversCoalition.org.
As you probably know, the state has now greatly reduced its original plan to buy 180,000 acres of drained agricultural land, down to one-sixth the size and not connected to Lake Okeechobee or the estuaries.
Following are two opposing views of the new purchase plan, published in the Stuart News:
Victimized again by bait-and-switch
Water Managers fail to protect people, businesses that need clean St. Lucie, Caloosahatchee estuaries
By Karl Wickstrom
Very sadly, the grand sugar buy-out, heralded worldwide two years ago, has turned so bitter it’s indigestible.
We’ve been baited and switched. Again.
Now, with no flowway through Big Sugar anywhere in sight, our great St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries will continue to be pummeled with nasty farm discharges laden with phosphorous and other indignities.
As you probably know, if you’ve been able to tolerate all the switcheroos and political spin, the announced purchase of U.S. Sugar’s 180,000 acres for Glades restoration was cut back to 75,000 acres and now to only 26,800 acres not connected to Lake Okeechobee and of dubious value unless you’re a U.S. Sugar shareholder expecting to split up $200 million.
Desperate for some kind of good cheer after so many losses, some environmental groups are doing their best to paint a happy face on the new acquisition. They point to supposed clean-ups of some phosphorous from ag country.
I’m afraid that our own face is anything but happy about the downsize, or evisceration.
Millions of people who enjoy fishing, boating, canoeing, swimming, birding and just plain enjoyment of the outdoors suffer from the degradation of the coastal estuaries and nursery areas along the coasts.
Caving in to the pollution establishment, our ever-so-friendly politicians allow the ruination of estuarine life even as they promise new long studies and make bogus claims that help is on the way.
“This new purchase plan (U.S. Sugar property) is but a fig leaf to cover politicians who promised real action and now will not deliver,” said hydrologist-engineer Kevin Henderson of the Rivers Coalition in Stuart.
Henderson knows as well as anyone how the St. Lucie has been inundated by agricultural discharges over the three decades he has fought for help. Sure, it’s a bit awkward to oppose this new mini-purchase after so strongly supporting the original deal that could have provided the flowway south But, we have no choice. They’re different proposals.
“The truth is we have been baited and switched again,” Henderson stated. “This is a bad deal. Unfortunately, many environmental advocacy groups have trouble switching from support to damnation as quickly as private and political interests can change the deal, especially when those interests always have a head start behind closed doors.
“In this case, opposition is the only right thing to do. Kill this deal and start fresh. And do it quickly.”
It’s long past time that our elected and appointed office holders show at least a semblance of interest in the public good.
Let’s put it this way: “We’ll have the flowway south, pretty please, or send you flowing, forthwith.”
Wickstrom is founder of Florida Sportsman Magazine and coordinator of the Stuart-based Rivers Coalition Defense Fund.
Criticism of U.S. Sugar land acquisition ignores key facts.
By Kevin Powers
Advocates for the St. Lucie River cheered in June 2008 when the South Florida Water Management District began negotiating with the U.S. Sugar Corp., to acquire as much as 187,000 acres of land for Everglades restoration. For Martin and St. Lucie County residents, the proposed $1.75 billion land acquisition offered an opportunity to provide much-needed water storage facilities south of Lake Okeechobee and to limit federal freshwater lake releases that have plagued the river and its estuary.
At its Aug. 12 meeting, the district governing board approved a scaled-down but no less historic agreement that is in line with the realities facing the agency today. Under the amended contract, the district will use $197 million in cash already set aside for land acquisition and restoration projects to initially purchase 26,800 acres of land. The agreement includes options for up to 10 years for the district to purchase the remaining acreage should economic conditions allow.
Some Treasure Coast supporters of the original U.S. Sugar acquisition now oppose this latest agreement, claiming it will not do enough to protect the estuary. While this frustration is understandable, especially after this year’s set of damaging lake releases, the criticism ignores several fundamental factors that have shaped the acquisition.
Most important, the immediate and necessary focus for the U.S. Sugar properties is to address pending federal court proceedings related to improving water quality in the Everglades. The acquisition will expand existing efforts to treat water moving through the South Florida ecosystem, which requires strategically located land.
The two parcels in the amended U.S. Sugar purchase can achieve these water quality improvements in key areas. The district can immediately use the 17,900 acres of citrus groves in Hendry County and 8,900 acres of sugarcane land in Palm Beach County to expand the network of treatment wetlands that has proven so effective at cleaning Everglades-bound water.
To date, no other land options have been forwarded to the district to achieve these objectives in a better location at a better price. Without additional proposals, it is in the best financial interest of taxpayers to deal with willing sellers as opposed to the last resort, condemnation, which can cost millions of dollars in legal fees.
Additionally, the district must accomplish all of this in a vastly different economic climate than the one in which the original acquisition was proposed. Since 2008, the agency’s revenues have declined by $150 million. Recognizing those fiscal constraints, the Governing Board has taken great care to honor its pledge to complete the land purchase without increasing the burden on taxpayers or impairing the district’s ability to meet its core missions. This amended purchase also preserves funding for constructing water quality improvement projects in the future.
It is important not to make the mistake of viewing the initial 26,800-acre acquisition as a last step. The district has another decade to buy the remaining acreage. But even if all the land was available now, it would not provide instant relief for the estuary without storage and water quality improvement projects.
The St. Lucie estuary is a natural treasure that is key to our way of life on the Treasure Coast. As a Martin County resident, I believe the estuary should enjoy the same water quality protections afforded the Everglades. At the moment, however, federal and state laws dictate that the quality and quantity of water flowing south to the Everglades is subject to stricter regulations than that dumped on our estuary. This must change.
The district is working to achieve water quality improvements for the St. Lucie, with limited resources and a vast South Florida ecosystem that needs our help. To that end, we continue to look for new and innovative ways to store water north and south of the lake to help protect our unique and precious estuary.
Powers, partner in the Indiantown Realty Corp., sits on the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District.