Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation echoed Lee’s concerns that, by signing away the rights to the land, the state loses the flexibility it may need in the future if that land is needed for the cleanup. “We think these parcels ultimately can play an important role in our Everglades restoration objective and we don’t want to see a decision that would forego these opportunities,” he told the Cabinet aides.
But Ernie Barnett, director of Everglades policy for the South Florida Water Management district, said he is confident the state won’t need more land for cleanup. “We have all the real estate we need with the property in our portfolio,’’ he told the Cabinet aides. “We have a lot of work to keep us busy for decades going forward.”
Lee, however, said the state has been wrong before and could be wrong again. He said that while there are components of the agreement with Florida Crystals “that stink to high heaven,” the environmental community is “holding our noses a bit” because of the importance of the land swap to allow for expansion of a crucial piece of the water quality plan known as the STA 1 West.
He said he also supports the proposed agreement with Florida Crystals because the company has agreed to forgo farming on 2,200 acres situated near cleanup areas if the state decides it needs that land in the future.
The Duda proposal does not include those conditions and, Lee said, “has been rushed in front of you very suddenly” and “lacks urgency.” He said he will urge the governor and Cabinet to structure a lease agreement that requires the company to “substantially reduce the phosphorous concentrations and loadings coming off of this property.”
Two companies have filed protest letters with the state saying they would like an opportunity to bid on leasing the state agricultural land that Duda would get under the deal.
State officials disagree. Peters, project analyst with the Division of State Lands, told Duda’s attorney in an email that despite the objections, “we still believe it’s in the public interest to waive the competitive bid process.”
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald and @MaryEllenKlas