President’s visit is ‘vital’ to land deal, Everglades Trust says

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President Barack Obama’s planned trip to the Everglades this week is being used by some supporters to boost the proposal to buy U.S. Sugar Corp. land for water storage.

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Obama said he will visit the Everglades on Earth Day, which is Wednesday, to talk about how climate change threatens the economy.

Obama didn’t mention the proposed land deal involving 46,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land. The state has until Oct. 1 to exercise an option to buy the land at market value, estimated at $500 million or more.

Mary Barley of the Everglades Trust sent an email message to supporters on Sunday saying that the Everglades are at a crossroads.

“Florida has a contract with U.S. Sugar Corporation to buy land that would save the Everglades,” she wrote. “But if our legislature does not act by May 1, we could lose this natural treasure. That’s why the president’s visit and attention are so vital.”

Other environmental groups apparently aren’t picking up on that message of tying the president’s visit to the proposed land buy.

Gov. Rick Scott has said he is focused on finishing other projects. He won support in 2012 for an $880 million plan to create reservoirs to clean up water flowing toward the Everglades from Lake Okeechobee

And U.S. Sugar says the land sale now won’t help the Everglades as much as other cleanup projects.

“This ‘exciting news’ is simply the Everglades Foundation’s tired old rhetoric against sugar farmers,” company spokeswoman Judy Sanchez said Monday. Sanchez said she considers the Everglades Foundation and the Everglades Trust to be the same group although they are registered separately with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

University of Florida study released March 2 said planned and existing water storage projects are insufficient. The study said additional land is needed, including possibly the U.S. Sugar Corp. land.

In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama said the Everglades is “one of the most special places in the country.”

“But it’s also one of the most fragile,” Obama said. “Rising sea levels are putting a national treasure – and an economic engine for the South Florida tourism industry – at risk.”

Audubon Florida’s Eric Draper said Monday the focus of the president’s visit seems to be climate change and sea-level rise.

“Highlighting the Everglades as one of the nation’s special places that could be affected by sea-level rise is an important thing for him to do,” Draper said.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.