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"Big Sugar" Getting a Sweet Deal from Florida Lawmakers?

PHOTO: Florida's conservation community says state lawmakers are ignoring a deadline to purchase land owned by the U.S. Sugar Corporation to be used for a new reservoir to keep polluted water from reaching the Everglades. Photo credit: Elle Randi/Morguefile.
PHOTO: Florida's conservation community says state lawmakers are ignoring a deadline to purchase land owned by the U.S. Sugar Corporation to be used for a new reservoir to keep polluted water from reaching the Everglades. Photo credit: Elle Randi/Morguefile.
March 31, 2015

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - With the passage of Amendment One in the November election, Florida now has the funds to protect the Everglades and the state's water supply. But now, state lawmakers appear to be losing their resolve to purchase land the sugar industry agreed to sell in 2010.

Progress Florida is circulating a petition asking lawmakers to buy the critical land. Damien Filer, political director with Progress Florida, says it's time the sugar industry and the state make good on their commitment to protect water quality.

"This was a great thing for press releases for the sugar industry, but now that voters have said, 'Yeah, this is exactly how we want our money spent,' this issue has gotten mired up in the legislative process," says Filer. "At this point, sugar is actively lobbying to kill this deal."

The contract between the U.S. Sugar Corporation and the state to buy the land expires in October. By purchasing the land, Filer says the state could build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to contain polluted waters generated by the sugar industry, and keep them from flowing into the Everglades.

Attempts to reach the Florida Sugar Cane League and U.S. Sugar Corporation were made for this story. Neither responded with comment.

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Everglades have shrunk to less than half of their original size, a process the NRDC says has been accelerated by the sugar industry. Filer says maintaining the Everglades' health is key to the health of Florida's economy, people and wildlife.

"There are two critical issues at stake here," says Filer. "One is the Everglades are a national treasure and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect it. The other is about one in three of us gets our drinking water directly from the Everglades. So there's both practical and other reasons to make sure we do everything we can to get this right."

The Everglades are the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the lower 48 states, and are home to 56 endangered or threatened species. The region also draws 1.6 million annual visitors.

So far, Filer says more than 5,500 people have signed the Progress Florida petition.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - FL