When politics ruin the environment



From: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/aug/04/all-lagoon-committee-members-have-taken-big/
All lagoon committee members have taken Big Sugar money


File photo
Lake Okeechobee


File photo Lake Okeechobee

Each Florida senator tasked with addressing the policies that pollute the Indian River Lagoon has benefitted from Big Sugar donations.

All eight members of a new state Senate panel on the harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges into the lagoon have accepted campaign cash from sugar’s biggest players within their last two elections. Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who convened and will chair the panel, is the committee’s biggest beneficiary of sugar donations.

Three of the committee members didn’t take sugar money in the 2012 election cycle, but received checks from Big Sugar in their second-most recent elections — either 2008 or 2010, since senators serve four-year terms on a staggered schedule.

Even with three senators abstaining last election, committee members took in at least $69,250 combined from sugar. That doesn’t include what they accepted through seven no-limit political committees, which totals $828,500 since 2008.


The Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin is tasked with writing a report on potential policy and budget changes to aid the ailing lagoon. Those suggestions could end up in a bill or the budget next legislative session, which starts in March.

Environmental advocates argue Lake Okeechobee discharges should flow naturally south toward the Everglades, right through sugar lands. Instead, the water is released east into the St. Lucie Estuary and west to the Caloosahatchee River via canals. The nutrient-laden freshwater can be harmful for marine wildlife and vegetation, and can produce algae blooms toxic to humans.

Sugar critics also contend the companies don’t pay their fair share to clean up the River of Grass, and taxpayers foot the bill.

“It really should shock the conscience of the community to have such a big lobbying industry going on all the time,” said Karl Wickstrom, coordinator of Stuart-based Rivers Coalition Defense Fund.


Nathaniel Reed, a Jupiter Island resident and Everglades Foundation vice president, said the sugar love shouldn’t come as a surprise. The industry hasn’t sprinkled cash solely to those on the new. Its influence spans the entire statehouse and beyond.

“They own the Legislature to the extent that they donate to every single leading member,” Reed said.

U.S. Sugar Corp. and Florida Crystals Corp., the two biggest sugar players, gave candidates, committees and parties millions of dollars in 2012 through various related companies, subsidiaries and executives. Republicans received more, but they also hold majorities in both legislative chambers and occupy the Governor’s Mansion.

Each campaign account check is limited to $500 for a primary election, $500 for the general. Some lawmakers received 30 or more $500 donations from a bevy of differently named companies and individuals, each ultimately under the sugar umbrella. The checks featured names of railroad companies, citrus producers, international exporters and homemakers, but the money stems back to powerful sugar conglomerates and executives.


The biggest sugar cash poured into lawmaker-operated political committees that don’t face contribution limits. Negron and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, share two fundraising groups that brought in $405,000 combined from sugar since 2010. A Negron committee accepted the biggest single check, $150,000 from U.S. Sugar.

Benacquisto, who represents a Gulf Coast region similarly bombarded by lake releases, received at least $23,750 in sugar money last election. The Senate majority leader’s campaign account total is the highest on the lagoon committee.

Negron said campaign checks don’t determine how he votes.

For instance, Negron was the lone senator to vote against HB 999, which blocked lawsuits on 30-year, no-bid leases for sugar farmers in the northern Everglades. Gov. Rick Scott has signed the bill into law.

“I think my voting record shows that whether it’s the insurance industry, agricultural community, whatever group it is, I will weigh each issue on its pros and cons and make the best judgment that I believe is possible,” Negron said during a June forum on the lagoon at the Stuart News.


Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers sifted through state campaign finance records and found dozens of sugar-related donors, almost all of which trace back to U.S. Sugar Corp. or Florida Crystals Corp. Here is a look at how some donations are in the industry’s interest, but don’t indicate ties to sugar at first glance.

South Central Florida Express

Subsidiary of U.S. Sugar; short line railroad with 156 miles of track, 14 locomotives, 950 railcars and 54 employees; hauls sugar cane, fertilizer, lumber, paper and citrus products

Donated to Negron, Benacquisto, Montford, Grimsley, Dean (2008), Hays (2010)

Donated about $55,250 in 2012 state elections

St. Lucie River Co. Ltd.

Limited partnership listed in state incorporation and campaign finance records at two West Palm Beach addresses used by Florida Crystals; listed as partner of Closter Farms Inc., which includes a Fanjul sugar family member as chairman/director; described as “sugar” in certain contribution records

Donated to Negron, Benacquisto, Hays (2010), Dean (2008)

Donated about $10,500 in 2012 state elections

Florida Pioneer Investments

Listed in campaign finance records at the same West Palm Beach address as Florida Crystals; includes a Fanjul sugar family member as director

Donated to Benacquisto; Dean (2008); Alliance for a Strong Economy, a Negron committee; Floridians for Better Leadership, a Montford committee

Donated about $91,500 in 2012 state elections


Here is a look at how much sugar money state senators on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee committee have received:

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart (chairman)

Raised for 2012 election: $692,731

At least $15,500 from sugar interests

$690,000 to unlimited contribution committees from sugar interests:

Alliance for a Strong Economy (shared with Benacquisto)

$345,000 from sugar interests since 2008

Freedom First Committee

$235,000 from sugar interests since 2009

Protect Our Liberty (shared with Benacquisto)

$60,000 from sugar interests since 2011

Florida Conservative Majority

$30,000 from sugar interests since 2010

Florida Conservative Action Committee

$20,000 from sugar interests since 2012

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee (vice chair)

Raised for 2012 election: $344,967

$7,500 from sugar interests

$100,000 to unlimited contribution committee, Floridians for Effective Leadership, since 2010

Sen. Charles Dean, R-Inverness (vice chair)

Raised for 2012 election: $113,225

$0 directly from sugar interests (two donations from committees with large sugar contributions)

Raised for 2008 election: $460,644

$10,500 from sugar interests

$10,000 to unlimited contribution committee Nature Coast Conservative Coalition from Alliance for a Strong Economy (large recipient of sugar money; see Negron)

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring

Raised for 2012 election: $914,449

At least $19,500 from sugar interests

$38,500 to unlimited contribution committee, Saving Florida’s Heartland, from sugar interests since 2008

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers

Raised for 2012 election: $729,846

At least $23,750 from sugar interests

$405,000 to unlimited contribution committees from sugar interests:

Protect Our Liberty (shared with Negron)

$60,000 from sugar interests since 2011

Alliance for a Strong Economy

$345,000 from sugar interests since 2008

Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach

Raised for 2012 election: $343,566

$3,000 from sugar interests

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa

Raised for 2012 election: $66,913

$0 directly from sugar interests

Raised for 2010 election: $56,838

$1,000 from sugar interests

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla

Raised for 2012 election: $220,335

$0 directly from sugar interests

Raised for 2010 election: $396,142

$15,500 from sugar interests

Source: Florida Division of Elections

Everglades project not good enough

From TCPalm: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/jul/31/central-everglades-project-related-reservoir-okd/

Central Everglades project-related reservoir OK’d; good but not enough, environmentalist says


Central Everglades-related reservoir OK’d; good but not enough, environmentalist says

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued a permit for a shallow reservoir that will help reduce, but by no means eliminate, discharges of Lake Okeechobee water into the St. Lucie Estuary.

The permit authorizes the South Florida Water Management District to build, operate and maintain the A-1 Flow Equalization Basin south of Lake O. The impoundment will cover more than 15,000 acres and hold nearly 2 billion gallons of water.

Construction of the basin is a prerequisite for the Central Everglades Planning Project, a $2 billion initiative to use publicly owned land to divert more water from Lake O to the Everglades.

The basin will contain vegetation to help reduce phosphorus concentrations before moving water to the stormwater treatment areas, man-made wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water before it is discharged into the Everglades.

Ernie Barnett, the water district’s interim director, said the basin is scheduled to be complete July 30, 2016.

Barnett said a second reservoir, aptly named A-2, will be built and “bolted onto the A-1 to make it twice as big,” as part of the Central Everglades Planning Project. Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society, said the basin construction will benefit the St. Lucie Estuary, as long as it’s a first step.

According to the society, the estuary receives an average of about 144 billion gallons a year from Lake Okeechobee; the Caloosahatchee River estuary on the west coast receives about 316 billion gallons a year.

“I’m glad (the state) is heading in the right direction,” Perry said, “but there’s a lot more that needs to be done to save our estuaries.”

Perry has proposed a plan that would complement the project and eliminate the Lake O discharges by requiring the purchase of 21,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land and 32,000 acres of Florida Crystals land to build a reservoir that would store 159 billion gallons of water.

Water-based businesses struggle, no end in sight

From TCPalm: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/jul/31/water-dependent-businesses-along-st-lucie-river-la/

Water-dependent businesses along St. Lucie River, lagoon struggle

  • By Jon Shainman, WPTV NewsChannel 5
  • Posted July 31, 2013 at 7:02 p.m.
  • ERIC HASERT/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS  Dan Neumann (center), owner of Coastal Paddle Boarding in Port Salerno, launches several paddle boards and a kayak into Manatee Pocket from his dock located at 4290 S.E. Salerno Road  in Port Salerno on Friday.  'It's a shame because we got beautiful waterways  here in Martin County, ..but it's obviously a problem when we can't get out on the water because the health department is issuing statements like they do, because the Army Corps of Engineers is dumping water into the river,' Neumann said about conditions in the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.  Dan Neumann, cq 
PHOTOGRAPHED: Friday JULY 19, 2013


PORT SALERNO — At Coastal Paddleboards, Don Neumann takes out the flag that would have signified he was open. A sign nearby declares you can’t rent boards from his dock in the Manatee Pocket.

“We have slowly seen a decline in our business and now it has reached a crescendo,” said Neumann.

He and his wife Rochelle are in their fourth summer of operation, and this one is clearly trouble.

“The simple fact that 100 percent of our business takes place on these waters, it has completely pulled the rug out from under us,” said Dan Neumann.

Click here to read the TCPalm story from July 21 on the water quality’s effect on recreational businesses.

Rochelle Neumann says before the Lake Okeechobee freshwater releases, she could see to the bottom from her dock. But not anymore. Wednesday’s warning to stay out of the water because of toxic blue-green algae in the area couldn’t have come at a worse time. Their business does best in the summer because of the warm water.

“People are not afraid to fall in the water … until now. Nobody wants to fall in the water period,” said Rochelle Neumann.

So the Neumanns have to become explorers, and find new places to put in. Wednesday, they brought a few customers to Jimmy Graham Park in Hobe Sound. While these out of town customers didn’t cancel, many others have shied away.

“We have had cancelations due to the water issues without a doubt,” said Dan Neumann.

The Neumanns are hoping they can make it through the rest of the summer.

They’ll be joining a protest planned for 10 a.m. Saturday at Phipps Park in Stuart right by the St. Lucie Locks where all the freshwater is coming in from Lake Okeechobee.

Algae in River threatens wildlife

From TCPalm: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2013/aug/01/blue-green-algae-bloom-threatens-wildlife-economy/

Blue-green algae bloom threatens wildlife, economy

  • By Jeff Skrzypek, WPTV NewsChannel 5
  • Posted August 1, 2013 at 8:59 p.m.

Photojournalist Christopher Arnold found this blue-green algae Monday afternoon at Shepard Park in Stuart.

STUART — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection continued on Thursday to analyze water samples linked to toxic algae in the St. Lucie Estuary.

Signs were posted by the Martin County Health Department at locations like Sandsprit Park warning of bacteria and blue-green algae in the water.

Sport fishermen like J.J. Klarmann of Jensen Beach said he is seeing the algae blooms all over the St. Lucie Inlet.

“Chocolate milk mixed with slime. I mean it’s getting pretty bad,” said Klarmann.

The bright, green clumps could be seen all over on Thursday bunching up along the shore.

“This place is such a beautiful place and to have slime all over the beach, no one wants to see that,” said Klarmann.

Researchers like Dr. Brian LaPointe at the Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute said the algae could be floating around for awhile.

“Once the problem is here it’s very difficult to deal with it in this environment,” said La Pointe.

Researchers said other chemicals can be dumped in the water to deal with the algae, but it could be just as harmful to the environment.

“These blooms are harmful and that’s why we call them harmful algae blooms,” said LaPointe.

The longer the “green goo” remains in the water, LaPointe estimates the public could start seeing more and more dead fish or plant life and more cases of people reporting injuries from being too close to the algae.

Sport fishermen like Klarmann worry the situation could impact the local economy.

“A lot of people around here depend on fishing because they’re captains and run charters. They don’t want to take clients out in green sludge. I wouldn’t want to take a client out in green sludge,” said Klarmann.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said while it is aware of the toxic algae bloom, it has no plans to stop the discharge. Engineers said water levels at Lake Okeechobee remain critically high.

State investigators expect to have the result of three rounds of testing next week. The results are expected to shed more light on the intensity of the problem.