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Pressures Mount On Lawmakers To Buy Sugar Land For Everglades Restoration Plan

Lisann Ramos

Last November Florida voters passed an amendment that allocated billions in state funds in the course of 20 years for land conservation.

Now environmental groups are urging Florida lawmakers to buy a huge swath of land from U.S. Sugar for Everglades conservation. The plan would store and clean excess water from the lake on the purchased land that would eventually flow down to Everglades National Park.

Outside the West Palm Beach offices of the South Florida Water Management District, protestors implored state lawmakers to buy the 46,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee.

Inside, the Water Management Governing Board held their monthly meeting. The board agreed to put the land purchase on their meeting agenda as a discussion item.

Over 50 people showed up for the public comments section of the meeting.

Megan Remick is a member of a Martin County group called The River Warriors.

“If we personally have a diseased heart we do whatever we can to fix it. Lake Okeechobee is Florida’s heart and it is diseased. It is pumping its disease into the most diverse estuary in the world,” said Remick.

Lawmakers have been holding off making a decision, citing the cost of the land, muck that needs to be cleared and the 20-plus years it would take to swing the restoration plan into action.

Governor Rick Scott’s appointed board is hesitant to push for the purchase.

“We’ve seen how difficult it is to get dedicated reliable funding for our projects and if we spend those resources today on something we can’t use for 20 years, do we lose other opportunities to advance projects?” said Mitch Hutchcraft, one of the board members.

Tony Politico is a also a member of River Warriors.

“All of you have the opportunity to be heroes for all future generations of Floridians to begin that process. It is complicated. It’s huge. But it can be done,” Politico said.

The state of Florida has until October to purchase the land.