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He started his career in the family real estate and hotel business in Florida from which his concern for the environment steered him in public life. He has served six Florida governors and two presidents in many positions, including terms as chairman of the Florida Department of Air and Water Pollution Control, and Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Beyond his government service, he helped found 1000 Friends of Florida and has served as both president and chairman of the board of the organization. He currently or has served on the boards of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic Society, Yellowstone National Park, Everglades Foundation and Hope Rural School.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stuart New Senate lagoon forum: 10 big ideas that emerged. Will they work? | Social media report

Senate lagoon forum: 10 big ideas that emerged. Will they work? | Social media report

Read our expert journalists' take on them

By staff report
Friday, August 23, 2013

STUART — Scientists, water managers, agricultural interests, environmental activists and the public gave testimony that was often impassioned about how to help the troubled Indian River Lagoon in a hearing that lasted from 1 to 9 p.m. Thursday. Much of the discussion was centered on the high-volume releases of Lake Okeechobee’s fresh water into the St. Lucie Estuary.
An estimated 500 people showed up, some of them to testify and some to hear what political and industry leaders had to say in response to residents’ concerns.
The panels ran long, so they didn’t stay on schedule. But Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who spearheaded the committee, made adjustments to ensure people had enough time to air their views. He took their comments until 9 p.m.
“There will be changes,” Negron said.
Here are the 10 big ideas that emerged from the Senate committee hearing and our journalists’ take on why each is or isn’t feasible.
1. Revise the Lake Okeechobee schedule
State Sen. Joe Negron repeatedly said he believes the Army Corps of Engineers should update the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule, the document that determines when releases are made to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. But Army Corps Col. Alan Dodd told the committee the document will not need an update until more of the Herbert Hoover Dike is restored.
Our take: Revising the lake schedule would be a time-consuming bureaucratic exercise. Even if a new schedule required holding slightly more water in the lake, it still wouldn’t protect the estuaries from the most damaging releases during rainy years such as this one.
2. Declare eminent domain on sugar lands
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a Republican commissioner in the town of Sewall’s Point, said she believes the state should consider taking land owned by sugar cane farmers south of Lake Okeechobee to restore the natural southward flow of water.
Our take: There’s no political will in Florida for taking of private property, but all possibilities for acquiring land owned by U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals — including eminent domain — should be analyzed for costs and benefits.
3. Re-examine a flow-way south
One of the most notable moments of Thursday’s hearing came when Bubba Wade, an executive with U.S. Sugar Corp., said he supported publicly re-evaluating the idea of building a flow-way south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. Wade has previously dismissed the concept, known as Plan 6.
Our take: In light of the current crisis, Plan 6 deserves a fresh analysis from the South Florida Water Management District and the state. It is the most feasible proposal on the table for restoring the natural flow south from Lake Okeechobee, and it should be seriously considered.
4. Septic tanks need to be removed
Brian LaPointe, of FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, said septic tanks and nutrients are a real problem killing the Indian River Lagoon and the wildlife in it and need to be removed.
Our take: Yes, this is serious problem. The 237,000 septic tanks in the northern lagoon counties of Indian River, Brevard and Volusia are adding nitrogen at a rate of 9 pounds per person per year, and generating “brown tide” events that have killed off sea grasses, manatees and dolphins. This is a long-term and expensive solution that must one day be achieved. The more immediate priority is to stop the water coming from Lake Okeechobee.
5. Rehabilitate the Herbert Hoover Dike
Herschel Vinyard, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, said the dike needs to be rehabilitated and called it part of the “ultimate solution.”
Our take: It won’t change the quantity or quality of water pouring into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. Lake Okeechobee environmentalists would never allow the waters of the lake to be maintained at a higher level because it would destroy the aquatic plant life that serves as critical habitat and helps clean the water there, too. It’s an expensive solution needed for public peace of mind in the ’Glades communities, but not germane to a solution for the river and Indian River Lagoon.
6. Put water from Lake o onto the sugar lands
Monica Reimer, EarthJustice, stressed the need for politicians to have the will for this solution.
Our take: This solution would satisfy some of the problems with the discharges, namely quantity. The problem is a certain group is using that land to make a living. It would be an expensive fix, and probably not a short-term one either by the time the infrastructure to do so would be permitted, contracts awarded and the plan executed.
7. Shut the gates sending polluted water from Lake Okeechobee
Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society, said to “close ’em all down.”
Stop sending polluted water from Lake Okeechobee east to the St. Lucie Estuary and west to the Caloosahatchee River.
Our take: While certainly a dramatic proposal, it doesn’t seem very feasible and could be downright dangerous. Perry himself said earlier in the hearing that because of the way the South Florida drainage system has been built, the Army Corps of Engineers currently has no alternatives to sending water east and west.
Asked if stopping the discharges would put the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake and the communities to the south at risk, Perry replied, “Absolutely. ... But there’s a risk in sending water to the east and west.”
8. Ask Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency for both estuaries
This was suggested by Perry, who showed the panel a plastic bag of water with toxic blue-green algae taken from the estuary Thursday morning.
Our take: There’s no doubt the estuary in particular and the Indian River Lagoon in general are in an emergency, environmentally and economically. What exactly the declaration would accomplish is unclear. Are we sure we want Scott to have increased power to bring about changes in our lagoon environment?
9. Take control of Lake Okeechobee water levels and discharges away from Army Corps of Engineers and give it to a state agency
State Sen. Joe Negron has made the suggestion to take Lake O control away from the Corps before, suggesting that a state agency subject to popular election would be more in tune with residents needs.
Our take: It’s true that in most cases, after the Corps builds a project, it hands over control to a local authority. For that reason alone it’s worth consideration, with the understanding that control not simply go from one bureaucracy to another.
10. Store water on public and private lands
Negron, R-Stuart, continued pushing for an option to store more lake water on a variety of lands, both public and private.
Our take: Negron has a goal to reduce the discharges by 50 percent within 90 to 120 days, a plan that centers on finding land to store the water. But the acreage available is limited, and it’s simply a partial short-term fix.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Stuart News: Editorial: Wanted: A new generation of Treasure Coast, Florida politicians untethered, financially, from Big Sugar

Editorial: Wanted: A new generation of Treasure Coast, Florida politicians untethered, financially, from Big Sugar

By Editorial Board
Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The seeming hypocrisy is infuriating.
Big Sugar has been one of the biggest impediments to the creation of the best viable, long-term solution to the discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. That solution? A flow-way south of the lake to carry water into and through the Everglades to Florida Bay.
That solution would be as close to the way Mother Nature had it plumbed before people messed it up.
Not only does Big Sugar own and control huge tracts of land in the Everglades Agriculture Area south of Lake O — land necessary to create a flow-way — it also receives federal price supports, quota and tariffs that artificially prop up sugar prices.
Big Sugar greases the skids of this process by actively contributing to the election campaigns of political candidates and incumbents in Congress. Then, when price supports, quotas and tariffs come up for a vote, our elected officials are more than willing to do the bidding for Big Sugar.
Recently, when an effort was made in the U.S. House to limit the sugar program, only three of Florida’s 27 House members voted to enact the limitations. The amendment died, 206-221. U.S. Both Sens. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, helped kill a comparable amendment in the Senate.
Not surprisingly, all but two members of the state’s U.S. House delegation have taken sugar campaign money since 2007. (Freshman Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is a member of this small minority, yet he has not ruled out taking donations in the future.) Both Nelson and Rubio have accepted political donations from Big Sugar.
Coincidence? Hardly.
The relationship between Big Sugar and politicians gives the appearance of a quid pro quo — you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
At the state legislative level, many political candidates and incumbents are more than willing to accept donations from the sugar industry.
At least $57,750 of the millions of dollars donated last year by U.S. Sugar, Florida Crystals Corp. and their subsidiaries went directly to the campaigns of legislative candidates from Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties, according to a report by Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. Additionally, the sugar industry gave $728,500 to political committees associated with Sens. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, who represent parts of the Treasure Coast.
WANTED: a new generation of state and federal lawmakers willing to reject political contributions from the sugar industry.
We ask again: Who will be the first politician in our region to hold a press conference and announce he/she is rejecting any and all contributions from Big Sugar?
We’ll be watching.
We hope readers will, too.
It’s worth noting Martin County’s Democratic Executive Committee announced recently it will no longer support or endorse state legislative, county commission or other local candidates who have accepted campaign donations from the sugar industry. The committee’s view is welcome, yet it rarely fields a full slate of candidates.
Ultimately, we — the voters — bear the responsibility for charting a new course. As long as we continue returning elected officials to office who accept political contributions from Big Sugar, we will continue getting what we always have gotten: Huge volumes on polluted water in our river, estuary and lagoon.

Stuart News: All lagoon committee members have taken Big Sugar money

All lagoon committee members have taken Big Sugar money
By Jonathan Mattise
Sunday, August 4, 2013

Each Florida senator tasked with addressing the policies that pollute the Indian River Lagoon has benefitted from Big Sugar donations.
All eight members of a new state Senate panel on the harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges into the lagoon have accepted campaign cash from sugar’s biggest players within their last two elections. Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who convened and will chair the panel, is the committee’s biggest beneficiary of sugar donations.
Three of the committee members didn’t take sugar money in the 2012 election cycle, but received checks from Big Sugar in their second-most recent elections — either 2008 or 2010, since senators serve four-year terms on a staggered schedule.
Even with three senators abstaining last election, committee members took in at least $69,250 combined from sugar. That doesn’t include what they accepted through seven no-limit political committees, which totals $828,500 since 2008.
The Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin is tasked with writing a report on potential policy and budget changes to aid the ailing lagoon. Those suggestions could end up in a bill or the budget next legislative session, which starts in March.
Environmental advocates argue Lake Okeechobee discharges should flow naturally south toward the Everglades, right through sugar lands. Instead, the water is released east into the St. Lucie Estuary and west to the Caloosahatchee River via canals. The nutrient-laden freshwater can be harmful for marine wildlife and vegetation, and can produce algae blooms toxic to humans.
Sugar critics also contend the companies don’t pay their fair share to clean up the River of Grass, and taxpayers foot the bill.
“It really should shock the conscience of the community to have such a big lobbying industry going on all the time,” said Karl Wickstrom, coordinator of Stuart-based Rivers Coalition Defense Fund.
Nathaniel Reed, a Jupiter Island resident and Everglades Foundation vice president, said the sugar love shouldn’t come as a surprise. The industry hasn’t sprinkled cash solely to those on the new. Its influence spans the entire statehouse and beyond.
“They own the Legislature to the extent that they donate to every single leading member,” Reed said.
U.S. Sugar Corp. and Florida Crystals Corp., the two biggest sugar players, gave candidates, committees and parties millions of dollars in 2012 through various related companies, subsidiaries and executives. Republicans received more, but they also hold majorities in both legislative chambers and occupy the Governor’s Mansion.
Each campaign account check is limited to $500 for a primary election, $500 for the general. Some lawmakers received 30 or more $500 donations from a bevy of differently named companies and individuals, each ultimately under the sugar umbrella. The checks featured names of railroad companies, citrus producers, international exporters and homemakers, but the money stems back to powerful sugar conglomerates and executives.
The biggest sugar cash poured into lawmaker-operated political committees that don’t face contribution limits. Negron and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, share two fundraising groups that brought in $90,000 combined from sugar since 2010. A Negron committee accepted the biggest single check, $150,000 from U.S. Sugar.
Benacquisto, who represents a Gulf Coast region similarly bombarded by lake releases, received at least $23,750 in sugar money last election. The Senate majority leader’s campaign account total is the highest on the lagoon committee.
Negron said campaign checks don’t determine how he votes.
For instance, Negron was the lone senator to vote against HB 999, which blocked lawsuits on 30-year, no-bid leases for sugar farmers in the northern Everglades. Gov. Rick Scott has signed the bill into law.
“I think my voting record shows that whether it’s the insurance industry, agricultural community, whatever group it is, I will weigh each issue on its pros and cons and make the best judgment that I believe is possible,” Negron said during a June forum on the lagoon at the Stuart News.
Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers sifted through state campaign finance records and found dozens of sugar-related donors, almost all of which trace back to U.S. Sugar Corp. or Florida Crystals Corp. Here is a look at how some donations are in the industry’s interest, but don’t indicate ties to sugar at first glance.
South Central Florida Express
Subsidiary of U.S. Sugar; short line railroad with 156 miles of track, 14 locomotives, 950 railcars and 54 employees; hauls sugar cane, fertilizer, lumber, paper and citrus products
Donated to Negron, Benacquisto, Montford, Grimsley, Dean (2008), Hays (2010)
Donated about $55,250 in 2012 state elections
St. Lucie River Co. Ltd.
Limited partnership listed in state incorporation and campaign finance records at two West Palm Beach addresses used by Florida Crystals; listed as partner of Closter Farms Inc., which includes a Fanjul sugar family member as chairman/director; described as “sugar” in certain contribution records
Donated to Negron, Benacquisto, Hays (2010), Dean (2008)
Donated about $10,500 in 2012 state elections
Florida Pioneer Investments
Listed in campaign finance records at the same West Palm Beach address as Florida Crystals; includes a Fanjul sugar family member as director
Donated to Benacquisto; Dean (2008); Alliance for a Strong Economy, a Negron committee; Floridians for Better Leadership, a Montford committee
Donated about $91,500 in 2012 state elections
Here is a look at how much sugar money state senators on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee committee have received:
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart (chairman)
Raised for 2012 election: $692,731
At least $15,500 from sugar interests
$690,000 to unlimited contribution committees from sugar interests:
Alliance for a Strong Economy (shared with Benacquisto)
$345,000 from sugar interests since 2008
Freedom First Committee
$235,000 from sugar interests since 2009
Protect Our Liberty (shared with Benacquisto)
$60,000 from sugar interests since 2011
Florida Conservative Majority
$30,000 from sugar interests since 2010
Florida Conservative Action Committee
$20,000 from sugar interests since 2012
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee (vice chair)
Raised for 2012 election: $344,967
$7,500 from sugar interests
$100,000 to unlimited contribution committee, Floridians for Effective Leadership, since 2010
Sen. Charles Dean, R-Inverness (vice chair)
Raised for 2012 election: $113,225
$0 directly from sugar interests (two donations from committees with large sugar contributions)
Raised for 2008 election: $460,644
$10,500 from sugar interests
$10,000 to unlimited contribution committee Nature Coast Conservative Coalition from Alliance for a Strong Economy (large recipient of sugar money; see Negron)
Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring
Raised for 2012 election: $914,449
At least $19,500 from sugar interests
$38,500 to unlimited contribution committee, Saving Florida’s Heartland, from sugar interests since 2008
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers
Raised for 2012 election: $729,846
At least $23,750 from sugar interests
$405,000 to unlimited contribution committees from sugar interests:
Protect Our Liberty (shared with Negron)
$60,000 from sugar interests since 2011
Alliance for a Strong Economy
$345,000 from sugar interests since 2008
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach
Raised for 2012 election: $343,566
$3,000 from sugar interests
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa
Raised for 2012 election: $66,913
$0 directly from sugar interests
Raised for 2010 election: $56,838
$1,000 from sugar interests
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla
Raised for 2012 election: $220,335
$0 directly from sugar interests
Raised for 2010 election: $396,142
$15,500 from sugar interests
Source: Florida Division of Elections