Some people simply won’t take no for an answer, such as Republican state Sen. Joe Negron.
After the South Florida Water Management District rejected a land deal where the state would buy thousands of acres south of Lake Okeechobee for water treatment and storage, environmentalists and a handful of politicians – including Negron – are not letting go.
This prompted a recent email from the Miami Tea Party with an ominous warning: Will eminent domain be the next tool used to seize this private land?
SFWMD, in what the group sees as a reasonable move, nixed the offer to buy as much as 46,000 acres south of Lake O. The land would be set aside to build a 26,000-acre reservoir to funnel water to estuaries south of the Lake and into the Everglades.
The board saw the project for what it was: too costly, with too little return.
“Ultimately, we believe that history may show the water district made the right decision,” says an editorial from The Palm Beach Post. “Because, in the end, the details really did matter.
“The purchase apparently would have cost far more than contemplated, accomplished far less, and encumbered the resources needed to more quickly solve the system’s most pressing environmental problems.”
Apparently, that argument wasn’t what Negron wanted to hear, as he campaigns to become the next Senate president.
In the past, Negron has been practical in such fiscal matters, friendly to the Tea Party in its push for responsible government.
So what happened, the email wonders?
Negron is pushing to amend the state’s budget during the upcoming special session to grab $45 million – and have the state borrow another $450 million – for buying private land south of Lake O.
Negron’s unprecedented action would essentially create new powers of eminent domain, allowing the government to seize that land from owners who do not want to sell.
The prospect of eminent domain has brought a chill down spines of landowners, not only south of Lake Okeechobee, but statewide. Few would be safe from seizure, if such vague terms like what is in Negron’s proposal is allowed to pass.
While the exact land under consideration isn’t specified, one thing is clear – land would be taken, even while owners refuse to sell.
If accepted, the amendment could lead to a nightmare scenario for Floridians as well. Taxpayers would take on millions in new debt and private property seized from unwilling sellers, all for a land grab that experts believe would have minimal impact on the Everglades or overall water quality.
The email continues:
“Experts, including those managing the Everglades restoration program, agree that the solution to Lake Okeechobee and the estuaries water quality lies north of the Lake–not south. Negron’s amendment would force us to borrow millions to seize land from private property owners in the wrong place! Only a reservoir north of the Lake would serve to increase water flow in the Lake, the estuaries, and the Everglades.”
This is simply not the Joe Negron everyone knows, the authors of the email contend.
Florida already owns more land than any state east of the Mississippi; the government controls more than a quarter of the state’s entire land mass.
Also at issue is the scope of the proposal: U.S. Sugar-owned land under consideration would be bought piecemeal, is not contiguous, and only certain parts would be suitable for restoration.
For those reasons, says the Tea Party, lawmakers must give the people – including those who actually own the land – a damn good explanation why, particularly the real costs and viable use.
“The biggest and most useful part of the land could be made into a functional reservoir,” the Post writes, “but at an ultimate cost of $2.5 billion.”
A recent study projected 1 million acre-feet of water storage is needed south of the lake to hold 4 feet of Lake O water. Estimates of the proposed reservoir is that it would hold only 84,000 acre-feet, providing a relatively miniscule benefit.
Certainly not $2.5 billion worth.
Questioning Negron’s uncharacteristic actions, the Tea Party believes his motivation might be more political than practical.
Somehow, someone convinced Negron – powerful special interests, the email suggests — to offer this ill-fated legislation, which would “increase debt, seize private property and add unnecessary land to the state’s already-ample real estate holdings.”
All of which leads the Tea Party, as well as many faithful voters, to proclaim: “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”