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Everglades Trust delivers petitions urging governor to buy U.S. Sugar land

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A small clutch of activists gathered on a foggy Tuesday morning to deliver petitions to Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders.

Executive Director of Audubon Florida Eric Draper was handed a bottle of water infused with a blue-green algae bloom beforehand, FedExed straight from central Florida the afternoon before.

The green, murky water came from Lake Okeechobee and is the product of too much agricultural runoff polluting the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, Draper told assembled reporters on behalf of the Everglades Trust.

His message to the governor and to leaders in both chambers of the legislature — augmented by what organizer Joseph Romero of the Everglades Trust estimated were 20,000 petitions — was simple: buy the land U.S. Sugar Corp. has agreed to sell to the state of Florida and use it for conservation purposes.

“You just can’t watch this slick of green water going into that river heading to the coast without saying ‘Wait a minute!’ — we can’t put this off just because U.S. Sugar doesn’t want to execute a contract that they signed legally five years ago,” Draper told reporters.

What about a recent argument circulating among anti-land acquisition legislators that we ought not buy the land and send the water south because the state needs to treat the water where it is first?

“It’s a bogus excuse,” Draper replied.

Below is the text of the petition, which will be delivered to Gov. Scott, Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, House budget chief Richard Corcoran and state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto

“Dear Governor Scott and members of the Florida Legislature:

“We need you to act now to protect and save Florida’s drinking water.

“Last November, 75 percent of Floridians voted for Amendment 1 to the Florida Constitution, setting aside funds to clean and protect the Everglades and protect our drinking water.

“The US sugar industry is encouraging you to ignore the voters.

“You should reject the arguments of the sugar industry and force them to honor their binding written contract to sell 46,800 acres of sugar land to the state for construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. Unlike projects being advanced by the sugar lobby, the new reservoir will help control pollution and save the Everglades. In addition, the reservoir will have a major impact on saving our state’s water supply as the Everglades provides water to 1 in 3 Floridians.

“We urge you to follow the will of the voters over the US Sugar lobbyists and prioritize Everglades restoration and fund the purchase of this critical land.

“I add my name to tens of thousands of Floridians who voted to save the Everglades and protect Florida’s drinking water for decades to come.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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