TC Palm publishes an article by Isadora Rangel in which Sen. Nelson outlines an astounding plan, the first to do so. Read below for the answer.
Sen. Nelson supports use of eminent domain for sugar land to reduce Lake O releases
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (left) talks with James Nelson, of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, as they prepare to tour the algae-filled areas of the St. Lucie River by boat on Thursday in Stuart. An approaching storm canceled the boat tour, resulting in Nelson viewing an algae-filled marina at Central Marine Stuart, where he spoke with the media and other local officials about the issue. (ERIC HASERT/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS)
June 30, 2016
By Isadora Rangel of TCPalm
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Thursday he supports forcing sugar farmers to sell their land to the state to send Lake Okeechobee water south.
The Democrat visited Stuart to see the blue-green algae that has spread dramatically in area waters in the past week. He called on the state to buy land south of the lake to make way for reservoirs and canals to clean water and send it into the Everglades instead of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. He said the money should come from Amendment 1, which voters approved in 2014 to buy and restore land and water resources.
If sugar growers, who own much of the land south of the lake, aren’t willing sellers, Nelson offered a solution.
“There’s something called eminent domain,” he said. When asked whether he supports eminent domain, in which the government seizes private land in exchange for a payment, he said, “Of course.”
Nelson said he has discussed “for years” with the Fanjul family, owners of sugar giant Florida Crystals, the possibility of sugar farmers willingly selling their land.
The industry invests heavily in lobbying and donating to state and federal lawmakers, and gave at least $33,450 to Nelson’s 2012 campaign. U.S. Sugar is one of Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s top donors.
U.S. Sugar Corp. signed a 2010 agreement with the state to sell its land in parcels, but lobbied against the sale when environmentalists pushed the Legislature to allocate money to buy one of the parcels in 2015. The South Florida Water Management District eventually voted to void the contract in 2015.
Incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has said he’s working on a proposal to send water south that he plans to present to the Legislature next year. The proposal would use money from a law he sponsored with fellow Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell that creates a dedicated fund for Everglades restoration. He said he doesn’t think “eminent domain is the best way to accomplish our objective.”
Nelson is using the issue as a “distraction” from the fact the federal government hasn’t paid for its share of Everglades restoration projects, Negron said. Florida and the federal government are supposed to go 50-50 on those projects.
“My preference is for the state and federal governments together to purchase land for water to be stored south of the lake,” Negron said. “I believe we will be able to find willing sellers.”
Nelson on Thursday couldn’t go on a boat tour to look at the algae because of rain but talked to more than a dozen reporters about the Indian River Lagoon’s plight. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio will go on a boat and ground tour to see the algae Friday at 11:45 a.m. and he will leave from Central Marine Stuart, at 200 N.W. Alice Ave.
Here’s are other highlights of Nelson’s interview:
State of emergency: The federal government only can declare a state of emergency if Scott asks for it. That could trigger loans and cash grants for businesses that suffered losses because of the algae, Nelson said. He will ask Scott to talk to the White House “if he will take my call,” Nelson said. Scott’s office didn’t answer whether he would make such request and “it would be nice if (Nelson) would have spent time to get funding to fix the federally operated Herbert Hoover Dike” to allow more water be held in the lake. Scott is expected to challenge Nelson for his seat in the 2018 election.
Solution: “The short-term fix is to temporarily stop the water going into the lake from the north and … get as much into the canals to the south so you don’t have to release into the Caloosahatchee River on the west and the St. Lucie River on the east.”
Army Corps: Nelson supports the review of a formula the Corps uses to decide when to release water to reflect improvements to the Herbert Hoover Dike that some say allows it to hold more water. At the same time, however, he said “the Army Corps cannot hold the water (in the lake) so that it breaks the dike and drowns a bunch of people.” The corps has contended the improvements don’t warrant holding more water because there are still spots that could breach.
In the pipeline: The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote in September on a bill that authorizes a project that will reduce 14 percent of discharges by moving water south when finished in the late 2020s, Nelson said.