A year ago, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava proposed a simple resolution. It called on the Florida legislature to allocate $500 million to purchase additional water storage and treatment lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee; a fix to massive pollution problems plaguing the state but opposed strongly by Big Sugar.
When more than 200 scientists put their names to a similar plea to Gov. Rick Scott, Big Sugar billionaires went predictably ballistic.
Big Sugar’s meddling in local county politics often happens under the radar. The industry understands how local media attention rarely percolates to the surface of state-wide news. No one hears the complaining phone calls that some scientists received from upper management or the lobbyist calls from Fanjul representative Gaston Cantens to county commissioners.
What is happening in the Florida Keys today, however, shows Big Sugar and its proxy, the State of Florida, exerting its influence in full view. On Wednesday, the board of commissioners in Monroe County — serving the iconic Keys — is taking up a resolution on water policy that was first offered earlier this year and blocked by sugar lobbyists and their proxies.
It is in Big Sugar’s strategic interests to stop other counties from following in Miami-Dade County’s footsteps. Big Sugar claims the public owns “enough” lands in Florida, but it’s end game is only a matter of money.
What that means is simple: anticipating how much its shareholders can take from taxpayers through government. The balance includes profits from outright subsidies (Taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist calls the sugar subsidy, “cronyism in its undiluted, inexcusable majesty”) approved by Congress, or subsidies implicit in zoning changes to build suburbs or industrial facilities like inland ports and power plants approved by state and local politicians, or through sale of land to the public at the highest possible per acre price. In each of these cases, Big Sugar requires the closest control possible of public policy and decision-making.
Big Sugar needs science and diligently pursues the best science money can buy. But the only science that Big Sugar requires is political science.
So the dithering goes on in Monroe County over a non-binding resolution that would only have the force of public pressure to “buy the land, send clean water south.”
In March, a first version of a resolution was discussed by the county commissioners.
Florida’s top water manager, Pete Antonacci, politely offered a top-line analysis of why Gov. Rick Scott’s administration was doing everything possible, where “everything possible” is defined as exactly what is acceptable to Big Sugar.
The problem for Antonacci, Scott and the Florida GOP is palpable and beating in the background of an unnecessary drift towards wordsmithing, revisions, and running-the-clock on the Monroe County resolution. That problem is described, roughly, as the fact that historic winter rainfall and, now, summer rains have coated Florida’s rivers and coasts with toxic scum.
Coastal residents — mainly Republicans — in Palm Beach and Martin Counties on the east coast, in Lee and Hendry Counties on the west coast are furious with state legislators who have a long record of kowtowing to Big Sugar. Thanks to redistricting — Big Sugar invested millions opposing Fair Districts — incumbents are nervous and anxious as public opposition builds among Florida’s heavily populated, urban vote.
The ultimate “tell”, lightly reported in the press, was the connection between the devastating defeat in the GOP presidential primary of Big Sugar’s chief proxy, Marco Rubio, and distraught voters affected by the non-stop discharges of billions of gallons of polluted water into Florida’s estuaries and rivers from Big Sugar’s traditional septic tank; Lake Okeechobee. There was a piece of political science that didn’t escape the attention of Big Sugar.
Monroe County is a small player compared to northern neighbors, but one with outsized influence because the Keys and Florida Bay are iconic to the state and nation. It is not only a place where indicator species like bonefish and tarpon disappear when the bay fills with algae blooms, it is also where massive investments and public attention are focused on reconciling environmental protection with economic development. That is not going so well, especially when state water management policies upstream are causing havoc downstream. Its current county manager, Roman Gastesi, previously worked in Miami-Dade county government as that county’s point person for water-related issues; where farming and developer-related flood control needs took highest priority. The wordsmithing of the Monroe County resolution in Gastesi’s hands is going nowhere, fast.
“Stay the course” is the best that the State of Florida can do for Monroe County, but it is not the best Monroe County can do for its residents, taxpayers and tourism-based economy. Monroe County commissioners should not get stuck on endless rounds of debate, soaking up irreplaceable time and energy. Big Sugar’s credible opponent, Bullsugar, say it best: “Buy the land, send clean, fresh water south”.
Yes, the ancillary components of Everglades restoration — costing billions of dollars — have to be in place and pace quickened, but until more acreage is purchased to store and clean dirty water upstream, downstream resources and places like the Keys will keep getting kicked in the teeth. Lastly, there are a lot more voters in Florida than Big Sugar billionaires. That is another fact of political science.
11A25 Resolution Daniella Levine Cava, Prime Sponsor, Rebeca Sosa, Co-Sponsor
RESOLUTION URGING THE FLORIDA LEGISLATURE TO SET ASIDE $500 MILLION IN FUNDING FROM AMENDMENT 1, OR OTHER AVAILABLE SOURCE, TO ACQUIRE LAND SOUTH OF LAKE OKEECHOBEE FOR THE PURPOSE OF STORING AND TREATING WATER FROM THE LAKE AND SENDING IT SOUTH TO THE GREATER EVERGLADES ECOSYSTEM; AND URGING THE LEGISLATURE TO ALLOCATE 25.7 PERCENT OF AMENDMENT 1 FUNDS FOR EVERGLADES RESTORATION, AS PROPOSED BY THE GOVERNOR