Hundreds of the world’s top Everglades scientists, policy experts, and engineers met this weekend to trade information and build consensus on how to keep Everglades restoration moving forward. As you’d expect with the ink barely dry on SFWMD’s Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir report to the legislature, the plan to revitalize South Florida’s estuaries dominated the discussion. Here are three telling points from the stage:
- It was encouraging to hear Senate President Joe Negron talk optimistically while saying in no uncertain terms that the district hasn’t used the tools lawmakers gave them to get Florida taxpayers the best possible plan, to get the most possible reduction of discharges into our rivers and the most possible clean water into the Everglades and Florida Bay. We’re talking about spending almost $2 billion on a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse decades of damage. Legislators cannot waste this opportunity on a gamed, half-baked box-checking exercise that federal partners struggle to take seriously.
- It was less encouraging to hear Florida DEP’s Drew Bartlett and other state officials try the Jedi mind trick to convince a room full of experts what the goals of the reservoir are. There’s only one: optimal performance. Anything less is ducking the responsibility to make this project work.
- On the other hand Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, chief of engineers for the Army Corps, stood up in front of that same room and made direct commitments on behalf of the project’s key federal partner to work in good faith and support the reservoir and the district. That’s what leaders do, he said. His advice to the room: “Keep up the passion” and “be aggressive… things don’t happen if you don’t.”
We absolutely will keep up the passion. What we said two months ago about the district’s proposal was right. The 500 messages that Bullsugar supporters sent to the district were right. The letters that Florida Sportsman and Patagonia and Florida Keys Fishing Guides and Friends of the Everglades and Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association and scores of other businesses and organizations sent to the district and to Rick Scott were right. The alternative plans that the Everglades Foundation shared with the district and the governor were right, too.
So none of us should give up on getting the best possible plan for taxpayers, for the estuaries, and for the Everglades. Don’t let anyone tell you that the plan delivered to lawmakers this week, this staggering betrayal of Joe Negron and everyone who fought for a real solution, is the best we can get.
It’s true that we don’t have much time to fix this. And that we need Joe Negron’s leadership more than ever. It's also true that one phone call from Rick Scott can make this work. We may never have a another shot like this to get our water right. We can’t roll over now.
And if you need a break from all of this or a shot of inspiration then--right now--watch Carl Hiaasen tell you in six minutes why spending your energy on this screwed up fight and this place we love is so important.