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Restoration or More Development?

July 8, 2008

On its face, the state of Florida’s plans to buy the assets of U.S. Sugar Corp. – including 187,000 acres of sugar land – seems like a great first step for continued Everglades restoration. But I’m beginning to worry that these efforts will come with a price: more development. Yes, many positives for fisheries and the environment can emerge from this long-term plan (it will be 6 years before the state actually takes control of U.S. Sugar’s assets and lands). Hopefully, discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers will ultimately be eliminated. And hopefully, the state will be able to construct some sort of “flow way” that will allow water to be cleansed and move south from the Big O before it dumps into the Glades (which, we’re told, would most likely require a “swapping” of lands with other growers). But was it concern for the environment and the Everglades that stemmed this deal? Or was it the fact that south Florida’s water supply is in need of serious overhaul? Over the past couple years, I’ve spoken about this topic with a number of water managers, and their concern over south Florida’s water supply has been palpable. The flood of new residents to the state over the last decade has placed incredible demands and strains on its water supply. Maybe this arrangement with U.S. Sugar came about solely to ensure the state has new areas in which to store water for current and future residents so they’re able to drink, bathe and wash their cars. Development may have slowed in recent times, but I’m guessing it won’t be long before it cranks back up, despite the fact that Florida’s lands really can’t handle any more. Call me crazy, but it’s something to chew on. And at this point, I’m not sure which gives me more willies: Dirty fishing water or more jet skis and a new flood of reckless boaters causing havoc on the water.

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