Four in favor, one against. Last week Martin County Commissioners voted 4-1 to draft a resolution in support of Sen. Pres. Joe Negron’s SB 10. (Only Comm. Doug Smith voted no.) It was a show of support and gratitude for Negron’s courage, for using his political capital to fight for a solution to the toxic discharges that plague the Treasure Coast, and for opposing US Sugar’s and Florida Crystals' massive campaign to keep the status quo.
Virtually no one outside the sugar industry thinks the status quo is acceptable. As Negron bluntly put it: Are you telling me that in 2017, in the United States of America, with the best research universities in the world, with everything that we have, the best we can do when the water rises is we’re going to flood communities east and west of Lake Okeechobee? I don’t accept that reality and I don’t hear anyone now defending it.
Everglades and Florida Bay stakeholders don’t accept that reality, either, because the status quo protects the sugar industry’s water supply at the expense of these two world-renowned ecosystems. Negron’s solution, backed by more than 200 scientists, delivers badly needed freshwater flows to revitalize South Florida’s environment and recharge the thinning aquifer that Miami drinks from. Support for SB 10 and the Now Or Neverglades Declaration, which outlines the solution, has come from all over Florida.
Of course the earliest and loudest support for the Now Or Neverglades Declaration came from Martin County. As reeking mats of toxic “guacamole” algae closed businesses and beaches, just about every person running for local office signed it--including Doug Smith.
Negron’s SB 10/HB 761 is exactly what Declaration signers asked for: a dynamic reservoir in the EAA to store, treat and send water south--the keystone project in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), funded through Amendment 1 to purchase the land, to cut damaging discharges to coastal estuaries and rejuvenate Florida’s fabled River of Grass. And to follow the Declaration and deliver a win-win for glades communities, SB 10 supporters are working to make economic stimulus for local residents part of the bill. It’s just common sense that CERP, a 50-year, $17 billion public works project, should include training and jobs in the same region where unemployment reaches 40%.
Negron’s plan can be a win-win for Floridians everywhere, because ultimately we all want the same things: access to good jobs and safe, healthy places to live and raise our families.
Or almost all of us. Two families, the Motts of US Sugar and the Fanjuls of Florida Crystals are bitterly opposing the idea, propping up fake groups, phony newspapers, and cloaked attacks. Bullsugar.org has been calling these out for years, and finally--and almost refreshingly--the two shy billionaire sugar families came out from behind their smokescreens this month and said it directly: they won’t help. They won’t willingly back SB 10, they won’t sell land for Everglades Restoration, they won’t support a reservoir to stop toxic discharges, they won’t enable CERP, not now, not ever. At least they’re being honest now...or at least open, even if their stance turns out to be a negotiating tactic.
While they’re at it, they should be honest about one more thing: They’re not from here. The Motts run US Sugar from their foundation and family office, a thousand-plus miles away in Flint, Michigan, insulated from the destruction their operations cause in Florida’s estuaries. The Fanjuls run Florida Crystals from the safety of their Palm Beach enclave, overseeing sprawling operations across the Caribbean, unaffected by the toxic discharges, flood risks, and economic rot they sow.
On the Treasure Coast we’ve seen growing outrage as people learn about how these two families spend millions to block Negron’s effort to safeguard our health and prosperity. But we’ve seen something uglier, too: the betrayal of Negron--and us--by the Economic Council of Martin County and one politician that owes his seat to the sugar industry.
One Angry Man: Doug Smith Reneges on Pledge
Doug Smith, the lone “no” vote on the Martin County Commission, chose sugar over water. Signing the Now Or Neverglades Declaration helped get him elected, but so did US Sugar and Florida Crystals donations to the anonymous PAC that attacked his opponent for not being a “real republican.” And so did the Jensen Beach Chamber’s Ron Rose, who helped to close the republican primary to “real republicans” by faking a high school kid’s registration.
Voters shouldn’t be surprised that Smith broke ranks with republican leadership, reneged on the Now Or Neverglades Declaration, and refuses to support an effort to stop toxic discharges in his district. Elections matter, and instead of electing a “real republican,” Martin County chose a sugar-funded candidate whose agenda comes from out-of-town families desperate to maintain their hold on South Florida’s water supply. Doug Smith’s loyalties lie outside his district.
Four Heroes and Counting
Thanks to Negron and the support he continues to build for SB 10 and HB 761, we have the first real chance in years to fix Florida’s broken plumbing for good. The four Martin County Commissioners who voted to draft a resolution in support of SB 10 recognize what ending the discharges would mean for residents’ health, the local economy, and our estuary. They’re also joining hands with Gulf coast residents, friends of the Everglades and Florida Bay, people in Miami-Dade and the Keys and in glades communities, because we’re all affected by South Florida’s water management crisis and we all stand to gain a better future by solving it. Even the sugar industry can win in the solution--but not by defending a status quo that benefits no one else.
Four-fifths of our County Commission acted heroically last week, and it’s time for everyone with a stake in Florida’s future to follow their lead, stand up to the Motts and the Fanjuls and their agents, and support this historic effort.