By: Katrina Elsken, Okeechobee News
OKEECHOBEE — Glades County residents who own the land within the footprint of the tentatively selected Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan want assurances that the project will actually benefit Lake Okeechobee.
At the June 18 meeting with South Florida Water Management District Officials at Indian River State College, many expressed frustration with past dealings with the state and federal government. They also expressed concerns that the project may be detrimental to neighboring properties.
SFWMD already owns part of the land in the proposed project footprint of the wetlands attenuation area – a 12,500 acre L-shaped area which would provide shallow storage of 1 ft. to 4 ft. in depth. SFWMD also owns part of Paradise Run, where wetlands would be restored. Approximately 100 parcels ranging of varying sizes from a few acres to 1,800 acres are owned by 48 individuals and groups, according to SFWMD. The project footprint includes 15-20 structures including some homes, barns and out-buildings, according to Jennifer Leeds of SFWMD.
Keith Pearce, the most outspoken property owner at the meeting, owns about 1,800 acres.
He said the project footprint includes all but about 100 acres of his land.
He said his family has ranched that area since the 1900s, running cattle there on open range before the lake was diked. Mr. Pearce said he is the fifth generation to run the ranch and he had planned to pass it on to his son.
Trading property is not a good option, he explained, because the SFWMD does not own any property “worth a third” of his land near the river and the lake. While the average cow/calf beef ranch operation in Florida needs about 5 to 10 acres per cow/calf pair, the lush grass growing on the former lake and river beds means he only needs about 3 acres to sustain a cow/calf pair, he explained.
“You are going to destroy some of the best agricultural land in this state,” he said.
Mr. Pearce said he does not think the project will hold water when the lake level drops because the water will move underground…