At issue: whether Florida's whole living system from Orlando south is to be addressed with the state’s limited resources, or just the part of it illustrated in Paul Tudor Jones’s 20-year-old logo
By Raoul Bataller
CLEWISTON, FL (Friday, August 12, 2016) — The Army is not a “Waste Management, Inc.,” but they find themselves in a very similar role.
So Tuesday the Corps of Engineers come to Clewiston, and coiled and waiting are two diametrically opposed sets of advocates.
(1) From the farms is a vision of the future consisting of up-to-date headcounts with corresponding estimates of their liquid and solid waste by volume, all part of an emerging economic bio-chemistry at the heart of managing this peninsula’s spongelike hydrology. The future starts now and here this Tuesday, in Clewiston.
Undeniable in the heart of the farm community is its record this year in achieving, against the overwhelming obstacle of a 100-year-record rainfall, its besting for the 21st consecutive year of the phosphorus cleanup requirement.
In fact, farmers lead their lives by principle, and the rest of Florida is going to have to learn to do so too, and care about the land as well as farmers do.
The entire problem with the water system has much less to do with how and where we redirect it, as the fundraisers and Paul Tudor Jones erroneously claim, than it has to do with what damage non-farmers are doing upon the dry land.
(2) From the past, one of the oldest voices the Corps hears from is Paul Tudor Jones of Connecticut, one of America’s great investment bankers and business prognosticators. He deals at levels that determine political futures, even of the Army itself. Judging from the plaints of his obsessive Everglades foundation, whose ranks are filled out with mendacious millenials, billionaire Jones seems to have missed the new awareness in the wake of this year’s rains.
More acidic than blue green algae are the tongues of his Everglades Trust and Audubon society observers, and environmentalist groups focusing entirely on the great park at the south end of the huge problem.
The farmers’ standard of cleanliness was the envy of acid-tongued environmentalist fundraisers, so much so that last week they went into denial immediately. “The (pollution reduction) accounting system is stacked in a direction that almost guarantees never failing,” said Charles Lee, of Audubon Florida. “This year's 27% is 'barely scraping by,'” he said.
Corps abused, paranoia in Clewiston
The Corps in recent decades has had more than its share of verbal abuse. This year’s rains gave it something new to think about —the presence in the water it redirects of nutrients and acids in alarming increases from the unnoticed, gradual, incremental growth of population, indeed from every living thing from Orlando south, depositing in the ground. All of it winds up in Lake Okeechobee. And it raced there faster than the existing release gates of the Lake can empty it because the Corps long ago turned the Kissimmee into a sluiceway.
The Corps has an uneasy awareness that it is giving no attention to estimates of population growth long term, nor quantifying expectations of effluent and solid municipal wastes, decades by decades to come. The Corps bureaucracy wasn't made for being in the middle of this, nor do they handle crowds yelling at them, or wailing populations pleading for their lives, all that well. Their idea of communication is typically to take public comments, one-way, duly noting.
Clewiston has been through a lot over the last two decades, and it feels threatened still. Retired county Health administrator Pat Dobbins, an honored local public health official, called last month’s “town hall meeting” at Clewiston’s New Harvest church a “Powerful meeting! Thank you to the panel for accurate information, maps, etc. Some terribly ignorant statements have been made to the residents in the Glades Region and enough is enough!”
It may be that the flyer for the well-organized meeting was more revealing than intended. (a portion of the flyer is reprinted above) It bewailed, “What will happen to us?” and declared, “They don’t care about us,” in a bold-faced headline superimposed on a drawing of a community street being destructively flooded.
Information is power, and to get it Clewiston has had to journey to Gun Club Road, WPB, and a day’s ordeal of sitting through endless SFWMD agenda items and scientific presentations. And farm people, who wear no neckties, feel out of place in West Palm surrounded by opinionated, arrogant types of the sort that have victimized the farmers in the past in a money-driven adversarial atmosphere created largely by northeastern billionaire Paul Tudor Jones of Connecticut.
Amendment 4, '96
Twenty years ago Amendment No. 4 on the Florida ballot sponsored by Jones singled out sugar companies as the root of all evil, a capricious and incorrect premise with undisguised contemptuousness of local processes that pitted conservationists of the entire nation against south Florida farmers.
It was the beginning of the local paranoia, if that’s what it is. After ineptly retaliating with a war of ineffectual hostile words, United States Sugar tactically retreated in October of 1996 to put sugar employees on the road. The employees were released from 10 days or so of work in Clewiston to travel everywhere they could find voters, and appeal to them, in a state of shock to be sure, that they shouldn’t be singled out for a one-cent tax on their product. They conducted a remarkable door-to-door appeal for support throughout south Florida.
There were funny moments, such as getting a call back from a crew dispatched to Boca Raton that had encountered for the first time in their lives gated communities that barred them from knocking on doors. But in the end they, not Jones’s or Sugar’s conventional acerbic public relations broadsides, carried the day. On November 10, 1996, Jones’s one-cent tax on sugar in Florida Amendment Four was repudiated by 55% of the voters in Florida.
The pariah town
Since ’96, U.S. Sugar’s public image has remained toxic in the environmentalist world, one of the world’s worst. And the press has smeared the people here unmercifully. It has described local farmers in Washington, movies, books and everywhere as the predator encroaching on the Everglades. Frivolous Florida newspapers including the News-Press in Ft. Myers beat the drum regardless of the subject, anything remotely environmental including the notorious PETA fanatics, picked up by Miami's Associated Press and run nationwide. No one knows that the Company and Clewiston today live according to the principle, “What effluent starts on your land, stays on your land.” And the shabby news media aren’t about to tell anybody.
Everyone in neighboring Ft. Myers area seems to love the News-Press acid version of reality, which one Ft. Myers visitor two weeks ago to Clewiston revealed, declaring on facebook of the meeting at New Harvest church, “They have been sold so many lies in the name of U.S. Sugar's greed. Years of science has proven that a reservoir is needed to accept much of the lake water to send the water south to save Florida Bay and the Biscayne Aquifer. Very disheartening to see the corporate greed of a federal subsidized company working to pit the citizens of the state against each other rather than working together for a solution that benefits us all.” 'Us all' presumably would consign farmers to perdition.
But to New Harvest also came Nyla Pipes, director of One Florida Foundation, journeying down from Martin County, who hails from a poor logging area of Washington state, who just wanted to meet us. “I was at the meeting in Clewiston tonight,” she wrote on facebook, “and what I heard was a community of people who are tired of being talked about instead of talked to, tired of being blamed and attacked themselves. “Just because they live in the Glades doesn't mean they are “parroting” the views of “Big Sugar. . . . I am certain that people use their brains just fine without being told what to say.
“It doesn't mean they are there because they are too poor or uneducated to move elsewhere... Many love the rural lifestyle. They do not need to be ‘saved’ or their communities ‘improved’ by coastal residents...
“The things I've seen and heard make me angry and embarrassed as a coastal resident. Can you really blame them for standing up and trying to tell their story?”
Scope and scale
Florida appears this summer to be emerging as the country's most high-maintenance state, and SFWMD, second largest such district in U.S., as only half as big as the problem area, with the Corps functioning as an humongous municipal public works department, not giving as much attention to the biology and chemistry of the water it redirects as it is to the logistic challenge of moving it.
“An astounding accomplishment by the ... agricultural community,” South Florida Water Management District Board Member Melanie Peterson said last Monday of the farmers’ achievement "under the worst conditions.”
Yet nattering news writers such as Andy Reid of the Sun-Sentinel chided, “Sugar cane growers and other farmers near Lake Okeechobee barely met their Everglades water cleanup requirements this year. Part of the effort involves requiring sugar cane growers and other farmers in the agricultural region south of Lake Okeechobee to cut back on water pollution.”
Constant, expert, unimpeachable inspection is becoming seen as a great future need, and increasingly as we get to the point of demanding that nonfarmers become required to care for effluence —septic, sewer, runoff, feces and wastewater of all types— and step up to a new level of commitment to match the achievements on the farms.
Can’t demand sacrifices of one group and not another.
And that goes for media language as well.
If farmers are written off by sarcastic scribblers like Reid as “polluters,” then the same word should be applied by copy editors at the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel to the upscale homeowners in the Coastal Effluent communities living on septic. All are “polluters” alike.
That goes for Audubon members and where they themselves live. Having nice thoughts doesn’t count if you remain one of the comfortable problem residential polluters.
Tuesday, Aug. 16
The Corps will conduct another meeting for “public input” Tuesday, Aug. 16 at John Boy auditorium in Clewiston. There will be an open house at 6 p.m., and presentation at 6:30, consisting of some generalizations about maintaining water quality, followed by opportunities for questions.
By Raoul Bataller
PAHOKEE, FL (Friday, March 17, 2017) — One thing was sure after State Sen. Joe Negron took questions this evening in Pahokee High school about his plan to buy the land.
This is a man without a plan. The Negron program has disintegrated, by all outward appearances, its protagonist in confusion.
Confused-for-sure, since there aren’t any willing sellers of some 60,000 acres generally southerly of Clewiston for water storage. None the State Senate president was willing to mention tonight.
And that was after he stated plainly, tonight, that in his view, there are willing sellers.
What he meant, he explained, was that there used to be willing sellers, and he assumes those folks are still around. A planner like that is like having no planner at all.
What was left of the Negron proposal "to buy the land" was his impassioned exhortation as Americans in 2017 to prevent a repeat of the '16 algae crisis. All he REALLY wants is absolute assurance that green goop with Emergency room bacteria content doesn't show up on TV screens up north.
Buying land to have another place to move water to, is not a preventive measure. Negron walked the line until Palm Beach County Sixth district Commissioner Melissa McKinlay reminded him that "no swimming" river bacteria signs predated lake discharges in '16, and then Negron vascillated.
And absent big rains that fill the lake, the crisis won't be repeated, if ---a mighty big if, brother--- the coastal effluent society types among Negron's Martin county constituents will only acknowledge that they are a filthy people and start shoveling their waste against the tide. No, Lake Okeechobee won't hurt them.
But they're gonna look filth in the face, and it's color will be their own fertilizer/septic earth toned.
So there it was, a politician out on a limb ignoring the culpability of his favorite Martin county constituents. He faced choices, as tonight's organizer made clear:
Organizer Janet Taylor stated, "It is not fair to take from us in order to give back to us." She implored Negron, "Please don't make this issue about saving one area of your district at the expense of another. We have every right to stand up for our communities which will be significantly harmed by your legislation."
WATER STORAGE IN EXCHANGE FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The audience wanted to know, tonight, since everything they have in the world is at stake, what does Negron do in the event there really are no willing sellers?
It gets a little spooky after that. He talked about some hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds earmarked for alleviating the next algae bloom. The crowd wanted to know what he expects to do with such sums, and he simply didn’t say.
He had introduced the subject of cash.
Spookier still was the way the conversation at times turned to the continuing needs in Belle Glade, Pahokee, and South Bay, for the kinds of huge infrastructure investments that have transformed those communities in the last two decades, that still needing finishing up.
McKinlay reached slowly, deliberately for the microphone.
"Our need for our communities' economic development is far more reaching than the need for water storage," she declared. Huge unemployment and other woes "is a conversation that is happening and that should continue irregardless of where we are on the water storage issue."
Considering behavior throughout the U.S. these days, tonight's sit-down Q&A with Negron, the president of the State Senate, and sponsor of SB-10, was a remarkable performance of decorum that completely unburdened some 450 people in this school auditorium, things getting said that had to be said, in full, bluntly, respectfully.
Better, as well, than many a coastal gathering for tonight's thoughtful participants.
No sign here tonight of the garbage-in, garbage-out principle at work as when coastal speakers regurgitate rotten journalism's Ed Killer and TCPalm, Miami Herald or Chad Gillis of the News-Press, and the thinly veiled nuke-em tactics of the notorious Everglades Trust. Nor tonight the choking, lapse into arrogant sanctimonious elitism of lily-white effluent coastal communities lording it over blacks.
This largely black population is a big important part of one of this country's major vegetable patches. They work with their hands. They don't have deceitful newspapers. Some families are fourth, fifth generation local. They're not keeping the faith or hoping a hope, not any more. They're fighting to protect a major foundation they built from scratch from which a future will rise.
White or black, affluent who-gives-a'damn, they tell the truth as they see the truth to be. Far, far more interesting people they are tonight, with flowers in lapels and all, than Martin county's species of charlatan.
By the way, the Pahokee-Belle Glade area is hugely grown and improved in 20 years. Infrastructure, streetscaping and lively, locally owned new businesses are everywhere.
What scares them is the irresponsible, unreliable, worst kind of retiree we have here in Florida, loose cannons who wrap themselves in the role of "stakeholders," stick their nose in everywhere, and show no comprehension whatever of this huge water management project. Many, notably readers of the News-Press, still think Florida groundwater moves northbound.
The notorious Everglades Trust, with its discounted, discredited single, useless idea of when (first, prematurely) and where (wrong place) to add a key component, meddles officiously in the 20-year project.
Holding areas and other components under construction promise to be the nation's, perhaps world's, second largest water management system to be eventually operated by the Army and a management district.
At stake are the Army's ability to protect water quality for some of the nation's prized environmental reserves, to help us survive inundation in hurricanes, guard potable water sources, and safeguard one of tourism's great watersport centers.
Repudiation of Everglades Trust
Everglades Trust and its considerable fundraising apparatus are generally observed to disregard project requirements with impunity, substituting hired witnesses, with appeals to historic sentiments, generally understood to camouflage their sinister goal of annihilation of Florida agriculture. The area south of Lake Okeechobee is among the nation's leading producers of sugar cane and vegetables.
Everglades Trust's final substantiation, using hired testimony, to its point of view as a "stakeholder" was thoroughly repudiated this month in a rare position paper by Florida's leading hydrologist, SFWMD Hydrology and Hydraulics Bureau Chief Akintunde O. Owosina.
His sharp response, directed at Foundation testimony written by Thomas Van Lent, stated, "The assumptions you made in the model input were obviously selected to reduce northern storage and create an outcome in favor of southern storage," wrote Owosina. "In fact, the entire article claims findings based on irresponsible science, which presents a false choice not reflective of South Florida's current water management system."