Opinion: Time to pull eminent domain on Big Sugar
January 7, 2006
Words worth borrowing:
"Here is a New Year's wish: that the agony of Florida's environment and
coastal economies, increasingly threatened by polluted water gushing from Lake
Okeechobee, will be relieved by the one measure no government agency has had the
courage to propose — the taking by eminent domain of large tracts in the
Everglades Agricultural Area, replacing sugar cane with vast storage and
"It is an amazement that coastal real estate,
tourism and fisheries, representing hundreds of billions of dollars in real
value, are at grave risk by a crop that could not be profitable if not for
immense subsidies through Big Sugar's manipulation of U.S. farm policy and
international trade agreements.
"That Big Sugar dominates the political landscape is no excuse for silence
while the state of Florida professes nothing more can be done and nothing can be
done more quickly than to wait years, if not decades, for results.
"Nothing, that is, except eminent domain."
I would second the notion, expressed by Sierra Club advocate Alan Farago in
an Orlando Sentinel column.
Although the wish may be more wishful thinking than likelihood, it is
increasingly agreed that Big Sugar simply must give up more of its land that was
drained at great public expense and replaced the natural River of Grass. The
reclaimed land formerly stored many billions of gallons during the wet season.
Without that storage area, and coupled with mismanagement that keeps Lake
Okeechobee levels far too high, bureaucratic puppets of Big Sugar discharge more
than 500 billion gallons of fresh water to the sea. The discharges cause immense
damages to both coasts, damages that dwarf the propped-up value of sugarland.
It should be obvious to all that Florida's "public interest" would justify an
eminent domain taking of a sufficient amount of sugar country to serve as a
"simulacrum" (an approximation of natural flow) to both stop the estuary
ruination and restore the big lake itself.
Unfortunately, our elected leaders (better identified as sugar followers)
disdain eminent domain and play into an array of supposed complications that
make the process extra difficult.
Thus, the wish for condemnation probably will remain just a wish. That's
painful because there is a solid concept indicating that the public acquisition
of just 58,000 more acres for a flowway (combined with really low lake level
management) would eliminate the vast majority of discharge horrors on the
All of which leaves us with another wish: That a planned lawsuit (see
Riverscoalition.org) to stop the big discharges will succeed and bring a
clean-up of the estuaries.
May the rivers once again teem with life, for wildlife, plants — and humans.
Wickstrom is founder of Stuart-based Florida Sportsman Magazine.
This is his February column. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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