South Florida Water Management District Approves Secret Sugar Deal & Moves to Shirk Judicial Oversight, Threatening Critical Everglades Project

A Letter to Audubon Supporters from Audubon Everglades Policy Director Celeste De Palma

November 12, 2018

Dear Audubon members and supporters,

I’m disappointed to share that, despite Audubon’s vocal objections, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board recklessly approved a secretly-negotiated deal on Thursday afternoon that allows private sugar interests to occupy land required for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir project. This move threatens one of the most important restoration projects in America’s Everglades- an urgently needed reservoir to provide relief to communities suffering from harmful algal blooms. 

Audubon members have been instrumental in advancing this critical restoration project, including securing President Trump’s approval just a few weeks ago. When the SFWMD should be focusing on how to accelerate the EAA Reservoir project, they have instead dealt the project a minimum two-year delay with this secret sugar deal. 

This lease allows private sugar interests to use public land intended for Everglades restoration for up to 13 years. The soonest the deal could be terminated would be 24 months.
Why is this such a bad deal for Floridians? It was shrouded with secrecy from the beginning and kept hidden from Floridians until its quiet approval without proper public notice on Thursday. I only learned of the deal at 9 p.m. the night before as a result of a public information request by one of our partners. Audubon, along with Congressman Brian Mast and conservation allies, objected to this lack of transparency and requested the Board defer the vote until the secret deal could be properly vetted. Unfortunately, the Board ignored common sense and our recommendations. To make matters worse, recently discovered records show that the District has been secretly negotiating this deal since early summer.  

But it’s not just a sweet deal for sugar interests and a bad deal for Floridians; it’s also a bad deal for our water and wildlife. By entering into a brand new agreement, the District is limiting its ability use state-owned land to relieve pressure on our estuaries if Florida experiences significant rain before the EAA Reservoir is built. Using state-owned land in this temporary way would give water managers greater flexibility to move water across the ecosystem, benefiting people and wildlife. 

As if that were not enough, the SFWMD Governing Board also voted to have the District’s attorney file a motion in federal court to do away with the decades-long consent decree that protects Everglades water quality. Audubon Florida was the only environmental organization present at that late point of the meeting and is a party to the long-standing lawsuit. 

Needless to say, we are utterly disappointed by this Governing Board failing the Everglades and the people of Florida, and Audubon is carefully considering our next steps. One thing I can tell you is that our fight to protect and restore America’s Everglades is far from over. Solutions to our water quality problems have never been more critical, and we will fight to make sure nothing can stand in the way of Everglades restoration. I’m glad to know you and thousands of Audubon members have our backs.
For our wildlife and wild places,

Celeste De Palma
Director of Everglades Policy
Audubon Florida

P.S. - To get a recap of Thursday’s meeting, read this article in the Miami Herald

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