OCCUPIED TALLAHASSEE–When the Death Mermaid shows up, pay attention.
Back in 1881, she appeared to Hamilton Disston, warning him against trying to drain the Everglades. Old Ham, never the most emotionally stable of multimillionaires, shut his eyes tight and swore on his mother’s grave he’d stop drinking cologne.
In 1969, she scared the feds into killing the Everglades Jetport, a project beloved of South Florida Democrats. It would have been the largest airport in the world and bang in the middle of the Big Cypress Swamp.
Last week she materialized at the South Florida Water Management District meeting, urging the water czars to stop screwing around with the Everglades.
You’d think they would listen to a skeletal apparition with long green hair (probably from all that toxic algae gagging Florida waters) and a tail. But these are Rick Scott appointees: they don’t believe in mermaids – or measurable water standards. They shrugged her off: just another crazy eco-chick.
SFWMD tried to ignore the hundreds of citizens who came to the meeting in West Palm Beach, too, 93 of them testifying, begging, demanding the state buy some of Big Shug’s Everglades agricultural land to clean up the runoff and restore the southward – that is, the natural – flow of the River of Grass.
A new study by University of Florida scientists says the ’glades need vast water storage areas south of Lake Okeechobee if we want it to be a healthy ecosystem again. The land will cost at least $350 million – which is still cheaper than buying bottled water for every man, woman, child and pet iguana in Miami for the next 50 years.
And here’s the beauty part: five years ago, when the state cut a deal with U.S. Sugar to buy 27,000 acres of critical ’glades land, we got an option on another 46,800 acres. Since Amendment 1 passed last November, making north of $600 million available for conservation purposes, the state can afford to buy the land.
This would be the smart, sensible, right thing to do. Therefore, our state government, a fiesta of short-sightedness, venality and detachment from reason, would prefer not to.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli “interprets” Amendment 1 to mean he can spend money on sewer projects, not land, even though the language is quite clear: “acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands.” Sen. Alan Hays went belligerent, accusing Amendment 1 backers of “misleading” the witless voters of Florida, and claiming the legislature had been “good to the environment.”
Sen. Hays is clearly due a little visit from the Death Mermaid.
Of course, the biggest impediment to buying U.S. Sugar land to save the Everglades is U.S. Sugar itself. We’re not in a recession any more. Every poor, deluded Yankee from Ypsilanti to Hoboken once again wants to move to Florida (God help us), so Big Shug’s no longer keen on selling.
Not that they admit they want to build yet another godawful, habitat-destroying, water-ruining subdivision on what should be part of the Everglades. Instead, Big Shug insists the reservoir environmentalists plan won’t be big enough. It won’t work. Besides, all those sugar-serfs in Clewiston will starve if the state drowns their cane fields. It’s not “cost-effective.” The fish won’t like it.
OK: Floridians didn’t just say yes to Amendment 1 last year, we hollered it, shouted it from the tops of our phosphate slag heaps and from the depths of our sink holes. More than 75 percent of everyone who cast a ballot voted for it. No state politician got anything like the affirmation of Amendment 1. And never will.
Big Shug had better thank its lucky glucose it’s never on the ballot.
The option to buy Big Shug’s land runs out in October. The company, its wholly-owned state officials and the Profits Uber Alles lobby, want to run out the clock on it.
This would be spectacularly stupid – stupid even by Florida standards. Listen, don’t take my word for it, here’s an expert making the case for buying the land:
“All prior restoration projects had to be designed around the fact that no land was available in the Everglades Agricultural Area for reconnecting Lake Okeechobee with the historic Everglades. The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan consists of 68 small projects, each with only limited regional benefits. Acquiring this much land south of Lake Okeechobee provides the opportunity to provide massive storage and treatment that will benefit not only the lake and the Everglades. It will also help prevent damaging releases to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries.”
This is from a piece written in April 2010 for the Tampa Bay Times. The Death Mermaid couldn’t explain it better The author? Robert H. Buker Jr., president and CEO of U.S. Sugar.
Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Column courtesy of Context Florida.