Aug 15, 2010

The Ongoing Everglades Restoration Project

Sadly the politicians of the Great State of Florida spend more time in the swimming pools and on the golf courses of Florida than in out in the special and unique varied habitats of the state.

Governor Photo Op(that is Charlie Crist) had many large presentations a few years back(when he was campaigning for Vice President) where he promised a once in a lifetime deal to buy back significant Everglades land from the large sugar producer US Sugar and return the land to it's more natural habitat and to the state.

Well as with much of what Governor Photo Op promises it did not come to fruition.

For those of you outside our state and not exposed to continued coverage of the Everglades, here's a humorous opinion piece by Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel on where the restoration stands now.

 The latest sequel of "Honey, I Shrunk the Everglades Plan" premiered last week to rave reviews.

It was the most entertaining installment yet.

As you may recall, Charlie Crist announced his original "I Saved the Everglades" plan back in June 2008. He promised to buy out U.S. Sugar Corp. and return its 290 square miles to the gators, panthers and their new best friends, the pythons.

Chuck was a green superhero.

Problem is, his powers didn't include coughing up the $1.7 billion to make the deal go down.

And so the plan was downsized to $1.4 billion.

That, too, was a no-go, and so it was downsized again to $536 million.

Still too much. So the South Florida Water Management District — a subsidiary of the Charlie-Crist-for-Senate campaign — downsized the deal a third time last week to $197 million.

My prediction last year that we'd eventually end up with a barn and two acres for $5,000 is starting to look pretty good. Whatever it takes to keep this dying dog of a deal breathing until Chuck gets to Washington.

If this version goes down, we will own 42 square miles of contaminated sugar fields and diseased orange groves.

 But everyone involved is putting on their best, downsized happy faces.

For the greenies there is the promise of more green in the Glades.

For the lawyers and consultants, there is the promise of never-ending green in their bank accounts, because you can't have a new Everglades plan without lots more lawsuits.

And while U.S. Sugar Corp. was hoping to dump its entire farm off on taxpayers, it still gets to unload the flotsam and jetsam for top dollar. And if its biologists find $1 billion in abandoned drug money out in the swamps, the district still plans to buy the rest of the farm in the next few years.

Even Bill McCollum is happy because he recently found about $700,000 in his gubernatorial campaign account from U.S. Sugar. That might even be more than the company gave Charlie Crist. I guess buying a governor has a bigger payoff than buying a senator.

Bill is putting the money to good use, running ads that depict opponent Rick Scott as a corrupt toad who steals money from crippled seniors.

Scott retaliated last week by showing up at the water district's headquarters before the vote on the land purchase. He declared that Big Bill had been "bought and paid for'' by Big Sugar. He was hoping to bond with a Tea Party crowd that had gathered to protest the deal. But one of them was a McCollum supporter who loudly heckled Scott. The candidate retreated to his car with the heckler in hot pursuit.

"The only thing we were missing were the elephants and pink tutus," said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative. "Other than that we had the whole circus."

And that means the show must go on.

So there is plenty more hijinks to come.

This takes me to a massive 26-mile reservoir sitting empty out in the Everglades. The district couldn't afford to finish it and buy the sugar land. So construction was halted after $280 million was already spent on it. The district had to pay the contractor another $12 million to walk away.

And now a federal judge has ordered the district to finish the job. That would require paying the contractor come-back money, as well as another $500 million in construction costs.

Meanwhile the district budget took another hit, this one for $61 million, because of declining property taxes.

And then there are the legal costs.

The Miccosukee Tribe is suing to stop the sugar deal.

So is Florida Crystals, the other major sugar grower in the Everglades. That dispute is headed for the Florida Supreme Court.

In another lawsuit, a federal judge is demanding that Everglades pollution be cleaned up. There's no telling where that could lead.

By the way, this is a different federal judge than the one who told the district to finish the reservoir.

The Everglades is so big, it requires two federal judges.

The elephants and tutus can't be too far behind.

Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or

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