So while temperatures are beginning to rise outside, the debate surrounding Senate President Joe Negron’s proposed land acquisition is really what’s heating up. Negron intends to use $1.2 billion dollars of state money and a $1.2 billion dollar match from the federal government to purchase 60,000 acres of land from US Sugar south of Lake Okeechobee. If passed as it’s currently written, SB10 will allow DEP to:
- increase the holding capacity of overburdened Okeechobee
- create new holding and treatment reservoirs south of Okeechobee
- provide programs to clean and reuse Okeechobee’s water
- decrease pollution into the Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie Estuary, or Caloosahatchee estuary through drainage improvements
While the State of Florida and US Sugar agreed to, essentially, this very land transfer back in 2010, the sugar tycoon is no longer willing to play ball. In fact, they have told the state to direct their attention north of the Lake to address the issue. The Everglades Foundation and Everglades Trust have urged the corporation and the state to move forward with the previous agreement, but ‘Big Sugar’ hasn’t budged. Instead, they’ve spent nearly $12 million on elections and campaigns for like-minded candidates since 2014, about 20 times what the Everglades groups have managed. Further, US Sugar employs 64 current lobbyists – roughly 5 times the number employed by the Everglades affiliates. They argue that the loss of jobs and industry created by agriculture and sugar south of Okeechobee wouldn’t be worth protecting Florida’s natural resources and would cripple the economy. Negotiations and compromises have been posed to coax the land from US Sugar, but they have staunchly maintained their position.