Joe Negron recently visited Pahokee High School for a town hall meeting to discuss his plans for taking farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).
During the meeting, the Senate President said he is in discussion with “many owners of land south of the lake” in the effort to acquire 153,000 acres of productive land to set up a reservoir for Lake Okeechobee runoff.
That claim didn’t go over well with farmers and landowners.
In a letter to Negron sent Monday, owners of more than 2,500 acres of farmland in the EAA each reaffirm that they will not support any government acquisition of lands south of Lake O.
Negron argues the land is necessary to store water to avoid discharging into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Last summer, discharges were connected to a rash of blue-green algal blooms in regional waters, leading the state to declare a four-county state of emergency.
Nevertheless, many in the Glades area communities insist taking such productive farmland would result in widespread job losses. They are unwilling to sell private property to the government under Negron’s SB 10, which seeks to buy the land from “willing sellers.”
At the town hall held March 17, state Rep. Rick Roth asked, “If we find no willing sellers, which I believe is the case, you are not going to find any, sir, what does the second part of the bill say and what is going to happen if the bill becomes law?”
Negron replied: “Well, first of all, with all due respect, I do not agree with you that we will not be able to find sellers. And there are many owners of land south of the lake that are in discussion with us to try to solve this problem once and for all.”
Negron’s claims forced landowners in the EAA to reassert their position, calling the senator to reveal these so-called “willing sellers.”
For Negron’s plan to work, said John Scott Hundley, of EAA Farmers, Inc., it would require the “participation of landowners who own larger tracts of contiguous land.”
“If Senator Negron is in discussion with landowners south of the lake, he should make it clear who he is referencing because they are not the co-signers of this letter,” Hundley said.
EAA Farmers stands for a coalition of farmers and supporters in the Everglades Agricultural Area, which they point out is one of the nation’s most vital farming regions and the largest supplier of winter vegetables — sweet corn, radishes, green beans, lettuce and other leafy greens.
According to Everglades farmers — who strongly oppose Negron’s SB 10 — the EAA region is the largest producer of rice in the Southeast and the nation’s top producer of sugar cane.