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Deleting History (and Land) in South Florida

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Fox News Florida branch, Sunshine State News, printed recently, “Putnam on Water Policy: Get Priorities Right From First, Then Spend Accordingly” (January 23, 2015). Some interpretation is needed for readers inclined to take the faux news source literally.

Adam Putnam is the telegenic, multimillionaire farmer and two-term Secretary of Agriculture for Florida. We last observed Secretary Putnam paving the way for the Cabinet to green light Florida Power & Light’s two new nuclear plants at Turkey Point.

So, it bears paying attention when Sunshine/ Fox surrogate reports what Putnam said to the Florida Legislature about water policy.

“Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Thursday urged members of the House State Affairs Committee – the lawmakers charged with increasing spending on water sources and sensitive lands – to first create ‘an overarching, already prioritized (water) policy’ that will keep the state on the right course for land purchase in good times and bad.”

The background for the story is the jockeying by politicians to grab the $20-plus billion in funding through Amendment 1, which 78 percent of Florida voters approved in November.

But wait: the basis of the story is that Florida has no “overarching, already prioritized water policy” for land purchases. Who says?

For decades, priorities for water policy and land purchases have been right at the tip of environmentalists’ tongues and clearly stated in state policies through Forever Florida – gutted by the GOP Legislature during Scott’s first term – and missions of FDEP and the state water management districts.

At the top of the environmentalists’ list has always been: Buy Big Sugar Lands For Restoration Into Everglades Wetlands. So why is Putnam deleting history?

The issue is – and has always been – that large property owners who control Florida elections have zero interest in setting their land prices so long as they perceive endlessly increasing values.

There are some well-publicized cases of state land purchases by willing sellers who recognized the importance of protecting Florida’s natural heritage. These are not, however, the extraordinarily wealthy farmers – supported by billion-dollar subsidies – who control state elections.

Those farmers – Big Sugar billionaires – take elected officials like Putnam on all-expense paid trips by private jet to the King Ranch in Texas where they discuss strategy, how to expertly game the system through delay, litigation and more delay.

The second paragraph of the Fox News affiliate’s story: “Putnam recommended a long-term plan that focuses on the state’s three areas of current emphasis: springs restoration, the northern Everglades and the Central Florida Water Initiative.” What, no land purchases in the Everglades Agricultural Area?

What about state purchases of significant acreage now in Florida sugarcane, beginning with the tendered US Sugar properties, the absence of which is bottling up Everglades restoration as completely as a waste water pipe stopped with feminine hygiene products? Nada. Not a word.

Sunshine State News added, “Nobody on the committee, chaired by Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, had a question or comment for the commissioner during or after his presentation. Putnam later said he wasn’t surprised – “this is a lot to dump on somebody at one meeting.” Wait!

Now the bullshit meter is racing.

Putnam’s omission of buying Big Sugar lands with Amendment 1 funds is exactly what the sugar industry wants. No one had a question on Caldwell’s committee because the script did not call for questions. Just blank-faced nodding.

And what about the great unwashed public? Here is what Big Sugar tells you and me, through a press release reported by the Palm Beach Post a few weeks ago during the annual meeting of the Everglades Coalition:

“Surely the preference for Amendment One Funding will be the significant number of shovel-ready projects that will benefit the Everglades, estuaries, lakes, springs and beaches and other environmental priorities all over the state. While the SFWMD holds a legal option on U.S. Sugar land, Everglades restoration plans have taken a much different direction over the last several years… (W)e have not seen any serious interest in purchasing a large amount of land for which there is no plan or project.”

“No serious interest” is a lie, pure and simple, and that lie is at the heart of Putnam’s comments and its purpose is to do what Big Sugar has always wanted: push off the date to the infinite future when Everglades restoration might be finally addressed.

Environmentalists, and especially the Save the Indian River Coalition and its allies, have been clamoring for years about the need to purchase sugar lands to restore a semblance of natural fresh water flow to the dying River of Grass. Store more water and cleanse it, on Big Sugar lands, and less pollution will rip through the estuaries, the Indian River and Caloosahatchee River.

By the way, when then-Gov. Charlie Crist initiated negotiations to purchase US Sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee, the largest sugar producer in the state – the Fanjuls of Coral Gables and Palm Beach – immediately jumped behind Marco Rubio’s campaign for US Senate against Crist.

You see: Big Sugar wants to complain that no one is demanding purchase of its lands, while making sure its proxies in the Legislature and the Ag Secretary-who-would-be-Governor keep any mention of buying Big Sugar lands out of sight, and any mention of eminent domain as far from the public forum as Pluto from Florida Bay.

The Fox Sunshine State concludes, “Several groups applauded Putnam’s address to the committee, including the H20 Coalition, an offshoot of one of the state’s largest business organizations, Associated Industries of Florida. AIF had recommended against Amendment 1 before the Nov. 4 election.” No kidding. Now they are at work to direct traffic on how funds are used for Amendment 1.

In other words, the Great Destroyers got Florida Wildlife Federation and Audubon of Florida to do the heavy lifting to pass Amendment 1, and now the black hats have moved in with legislative wire cutters and are in the process of hijacking the largest pot of money ever made available in Florida – some $20 billion – to protect the environment.

It’s a real life “Ocean’s Eleven” except instead of a casino that is getting robbed with hi-tech wizardry, it’s the do-gooders opening the vault doors for the black hats to come in, at the last minute. As they leave, they’ll hand out a few hundred thousand dollars to any of the groups who will put them on their board of directors or maybe give them an award at their annual meeting.

The do-gooders will get their own plaques featuring wading birds that went extinct despite their earnest efforts and a thank you note.

“Commissioner Putnam’’s recommendations provide an excellent framework to increase Florida’’s water supply and enact common-sense, science-based water quality reforms,” AIF President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Feeney said in a written statement. Wait, Tom Feeney?

Oh that Mr. Feeney, as the Tampa Bay Times reports, is a former state House speaker who, after election to the U.S. House, repeatedly was named one of the “Most Corrupt Members of Congress” by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Need to read more?

At the Davos World Economic Summit, former Vice President Al Gore said that along with putting a price on carbon emissions, “we need to put a price on denial in politics. People need to stop financing denial.” Snap.

People need to stop voting for denial, but Al Gore, when he had the chance as presidential contender in 2000 to put pressure on Florida’s Great Destroyers, couldn’t find his way to the microphone. He was advised by the same Florida Democrats who direct party traffic flow today. Yeats said it best in his 1919 poem, The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Alan Farago writes the daily blog, Eye On Miami, under the pen name, Gimleteye. He is president of Friends of the Everglades, a grass roots conservation organization based in Miami, FL. A long-time writer and advocate for Florida’s environment, his work is archived at alanfarago.wordpress.com

Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net

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