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St. Lucie River

Martin County Democrats

Opinion: Time to pull eminent domain on Big Sugar

January 7, 2006
Words worth borrowing:

"Here is a New Year's wish: that the agony of Florida's environment and coastal economies, increasingly threatened by polluted water gushing from Lake Okeechobee, will be relieved by the one measure no government agency has had the courage to propose the taking by eminent domain of large tracts in the Everglades Agricultural Area, replacing sugar cane with vast storage and cleansing marshes.

"It is an amazement that coastal real estate, tourism and fisheries, representing hundreds of billions of dollars in real value, are at grave risk by a crop that could not be profitable if not for immense subsidies through Big Sugar's manipulation of U.S. farm policy and international trade agreements.

"That Big Sugar dominates the political landscape is no excuse for silence while the state of Florida professes nothing more can be done and nothing can be done more quickly than to wait years, if not decades, for results.

"Nothing, that is, except eminent domain."

I would second the notion, expressed by Sierra Club advocate Alan Farago in an Orlando Sentinel column.

Although the wish may be more wishful thinking than likelihood, it is increasingly agreed that Big Sugar simply must give up more of its land that was drained at great public expense and replaced the natural River of Grass. The reclaimed land formerly stored many billions of gallons during the wet season.

Without that storage area, and coupled with mismanagement that keeps Lake Okeechobee levels far too high, bureaucratic puppets of Big Sugar discharge more than 500 billion gallons of fresh water to the sea. The discharges cause immense damages to both coasts, damages that dwarf the propped-up value of sugarland.

It should be obvious to all that Florida's "public interest" would justify an eminent domain taking of a sufficient amount of sugar country to serve as a "simulacrum" (an approximation of natural flow) to both stop the estuary ruination and restore the big lake itself.

Unfortunately, our elected leaders (better identified as sugar followers) disdain eminent domain and play into an array of supposed complications that make the process extra difficult.

Thus, the wish for condemnation probably will remain just a wish. That's painful because there is a solid concept indicating that the public acquisition of just 58,000 more acres for a flowway (combined with really low lake level management) would eliminate the vast majority of discharge horrors on the coasts.

All of which leaves us with another wish: That a planned lawsuit (see Riverscoalition.org) to stop the big discharges will succeed and bring a clean-up of the estuaries.

May the rivers once again teem with life, for wildlife, plants and humans.

Wickstrom is founder of Stuart-based Florida Sportsman Magazine. This is his February column. E-mail him at kywickstrom@yahoo.com.