The controversial land buy of sugar farmland south of Lake Okeechobee continues to be a hot button issue entering another session in the Florida Legislature.
This is issue isn’t new, as environmentally-friendly groups like the Everglades Foundation have long been pushing the state to buy up land from sugar farmers in order to allow nutrient-filled water to flow further south.
Representatives from the sugar industry, along with South Florida Water Management District representatives and state business groups like the Florida Chamber, have contended that the agreed upon Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan will more than suffice to meet the ongoing clean-up efforts.
Of course, environment groups like Everglades Foundation don’t agree, and that is why we are still arguing about a land buy they say is necessary to build a water storage reservoir on sugar cane farmland south of Lake Okeechobee.
Senate President Joe Negron (R) is pushing SB 10, a bill introduced by Senator Rob Bradley (R) that proposes the buying of 60k to 165k acres of farmland from sugar farmers, including giants like U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals.
U.S. Sugar and others are being pressed to sell their land to build a storage reservoir to hold dirty water coming from the north.
If the bill is signed into law, the cost to buy the land and build the proposed reservoir is estimated to cost taxpayers $2.4 billion.
That’s $2.4 billion. The center-right James Madison Institute says the bill will kill more than 4,000 jobs and cost Florida $700 million in revenue.
Keep in mind that there are already two water storage reservoirs being built on government land and more than 60,000 acres that were purchased in 1999 south of Lake Okeechobee for the purpose of building a reservoir roughly the same size as the one Negron is proposing.
During a two-hour hearing of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources on Wednesday, arguments supporting and disapproving of the bill were heard by committee members, but in the end, state Senators voted 5-1 in favor of Bradley’s bill.
Opponents of the bill like Everett Wilkerson of Palm Beach County, say that senators need to “kill this bill immediately,” while proponents of SB 10 argue that many jobs will saved, if the dirty water is allowed to move further south.
The Martin County Democratic Party is siding with Negron and Bradley in support of SB 10, a move that could leave Republicans asking why liberal Democrats would be supporting this bill when they are virtually in complete opposition to every other bill Republicans are, or will be offering up this legislation session.
Bradley, who coined the term “Guacamole” to describe the green and slimy algae bloom that has polluted many of Florida’s waterways, sat down with the Shark Tank in his Tallahassee office to further discuss the controversial issue that has environmentalists and pro-Conservative groups pitted against each other.
Bradley says that “the next phase” in the clean water process planning should have already been occurring, adding that “the planning leads us to an idea where using existing government-owned land is sufficient to handle southern storage and provide treatment-if the best scientists in the world reach that conclusion, then God bless America and that’s good for us.”
Senator Bradley: It is the most difficult issue I’ve ever dealt with..Thats some of the best farmland in the world. Its very rich, that muck is gorgeous farmland-its very productive.
We have an obligation, I think, that if we use private lands that we don’t use one foot more than we need to because that it is very valuable land not just for the businesses who own it, that thankfully do good work and employ a lot of people…I am very respectful, you never speak, I don’t speak in any derogatory way, I have a great deal of respect for all of the people there at those companies.(sic)
This wasn’t invented out of whole cloth, the idea of southern storage being one element of a larger picture. This is a very difficult picture trying to find a landing place where everyone is accounted for.
It’s very early. We are in the second day of session,and so I think, I hope, we are going to be judged on where we end up and that’s all I can ask for.
JM: You are a Republican, how do you guys justify the money, the tax dollars that are being spent, the billions tax dollars that are being spent to buy the land from US Sugar who say they don’t want to sell it? How do you justify that?
Bradley: I’m a proud Conservative. Americans Conservative Union, you know, top rating. To me, the fundamental job of a Conservative is to exhibit fidelity to the Constitution. It is a part of our Constitution. We can disagree, by the way, I voted ‘no’ on Amendment 1 in 2015 ‘cause I think that is probably not something that should be embedded in our Constitution.
With that being said, its part of our Constitution now and it demands that we use this pot of money in very specific ways, and included in that is purchases of ‘necessary lands.’ Now, the Conservative approach to that, In my mind, is to make sure that we put it to the ultimate test, that it is absolutely necessary for public purpose.
Then the Constitution also talks about just compensation.
JM: Isn’t that kind of like Eminent Domain?
Bradley: Here me out. It talks about just compensation in the context of Eminent Domain, but that’s not what we are talking about here. But embedded in that is the idea that if there is property that is owned by a private company or individual, and the government feels like the greater good needs it for utilization, you don’t call it a wetland and do a regulatory taking and not give that individual or company just compensation.
You either work it out, or you go to the next step of Eminent Domain. In this case, we are not even contemplating going to the next step, but we certainly own whoever owns the property whatever the land is worth-the fair market value of it.
The government paying a private individual a fair market value for their land to me is not an idea that is not Conservative as long as you don’t try to regulate it. That to me is a liberal approach.
It is fair discussion to have whether the amount to be contemplated absolutely necessary to accomplish the goal to be achieved,not one inch more, not one foot more.
That’s the debate we are having right now.
JM: But again, back to what I said. U.S. Sugar, they own the land. They are one of many, hey don’t want to sell the land. Why force them to sell the land?
Bradley: We are not forcing them to sell the land. If they don’t want to sell the land then we will move on to, you know, whatever is contemplated in the process.
JM: Basically, this whole exercise of passing a bill to allow the state buy the land if they are willing to sell it.
Bradley: If they are willing to sell it
JM: So, in other words, they may say ‘hey, we looked at the deal, and we are not going to sell and guess what, its over and done with.’
Bradley: Well then we move to the next phase to begin the planning of where southern storage is going to be, and that is already suppose to happen now. We’re just talking about moving it up. And if, and I mean this in the context of the process we are in right now, if the planning leads us to an idea where using existing government-owned land is sufficient to handle southern storage and provide treatment-if the best scientists in the world reach that conclusion, then God bless America and that’s good for us.