By Tyler Treadway – TCPALM
You’d think Tallahassee would be in a flurry of activity over one paragraph in the 143-page report the University of Florida Water Initiative released Monday.
On page 102, UF scientists — tasked with finding ways to send excess Lake Okeechobee water south to the Everglades to stop discharges east to the St. Lucie River and west to the Caloosahatchee River — wrote this:
“Currently, the state of Florida has an option to purchase approximately 46,000 acres in the (Everglades Agricultural Area south of the lake). The option is set to expire in October 2015. Thus, the state has a limited window of opportunity to purchase this land at market prices. Given the limited opportunity and the uncertainty of any future similar opportunities to purchase large acreages of lands in the EAA, the state should consider this time-limited option. The particular 46,000 acres at issue may be useful for additional storage and treatment or may serve as lands that the state could trade with other agricultural interests in the area if land in different locations are needed.”
That’s about as direct and succinct as it gets for a scientific report to a government agency. The UF institute director and report’s lead author is even more direct in person.
“If the state really wants to meet its stated goal of stopping the discharges, we know there has to be more storage south of (the lake),” Wendy Graham said. “The (U.S. Sugar Corp.) land purchase has a limited time frame, so it can’t be ignored. … Buying land is an investment in the future.”
State Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who proposed the Senate-funded study and has said he’d base his decision-making on it, focused on one word in that one paragraph: “consider.”
Negron said he plans to confer with his legislative colleagues and “advocate for consideration of all options to send, store and clean water south of the lake.” He expects the Appropriations Committee to discuss using Amendment 1 money for any sugar land purchases.
That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough, said Eric Eikenberg, the Everglades Foundation’s CEO.
“This purchase has been considered for so long the cows have come home,” Eikenberg said. “It’s been considered, negotiated and agreed on. The only thing left to do is execute it.”