By: Katrina Elsken, Lake Okeechobee News
WEST PALM BEACH – Former Governor Charlie Crist’s “River of Grass” dream ended quietly last week when the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board terminated the state’s option on 153,209 acres of U.S. Sugar’s holdings. Without this action, the agreement would have expired Oct. 11, 2020.
At the Dec. 13 meeting of the SFWMD Governing Board, Brian Accardo, SFWMD general counsel, said this option agreement was specifically named in Senate Bill 10. Florida Statute 373.4598 entitled “Water Storage Reservoirs” required the SFWMD to terminate the option agreement with U.S. Sugar Corporation provided in the Aug. 12, 2010 contract if U.S. Sugar requested it and the post-authorization change report for the Everglades Agricultural Area (“EAA”) Reservoir received congressional approval. Congress approved the post-authorization change report in October 2018. U.S. Sugar has submitted a letter dated Nov. 29, 2018, requesting that the district terminate the option.
SFWMD Governing Board Member Brandon Tucker said at fair market value, the cost would be around $2 billion. “Where on earth would we even come up with this money?” he asked.
Kimberly Mitchell of Everglades Trust spoke at the SFWMD meeting to oppose the termination of the option on the U.S. Sugar holdings. She said the planned footprint for the EAA reservoir is not large enough, and the land option could be used to leverage a plan for a larger EAA reservoir.
“I’ve heard the care for plants, for pets, but not people,” said Rev. Lionel Camel said. “This would impact the life of living people … people who rely upon that land, and U.S. Sugar to feed their families. I encourage this district to back out of it, not to purchase this land.
“When we first entered into this agreement, I think we all were looking for solutions … We’ve discovered other solutions that would help with providing clean water to the Everglades,” Rev. Camel continued.
“I thank you for relying on the science,” he said.
“We are pleased the South Florida Management District followed the dictates of Senate Bill 10 and unanimously terminated the decade-old option agreement, allowing the EAA reservoir to proceed as the Florida Legislature intended. U.S. Sugar has and will continue to support the construction of the EAA reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee,” said U.S. Sugar spokeswoman Judy Sanchez, Senior Director for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs…