South Miami

South Miami mayor: ‘Sugar barons have bought’ Florida government

Water full of algae laps along the Sewell's Point shore on the St. Lucie River under an Ocean Boulevard bridge, Monday, June 27, 2016. The Martin County Commission decided at an emergency meeting Tuesday to ask state and federal authorities to declare a disaster where blue-green algae has closed beaches. County officials on Florida's Atlantic coast want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the locks between Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River.
Water full of algae laps along the Sewell's Point shore on the St. Lucie River under an Ocean Boulevard bridge, Monday, June 27, 2016. The Martin County Commission decided at an emergency meeting Tuesday to ask state and federal authorities to declare a disaster where blue-green algae has closed beaches. County officials on Florida's Atlantic coast want the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the locks between Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River. AP via The Palm Beach Post

Gross green slime filled a jar on the dais Tuesday at South Miami City Hall.

The slime was actually the same toxic, blue-green algae that has closed beaches along Florida’s Treasure Coast, caused by polluting nutrient runoff from Lake Okeechobee discharged into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

South Miami’s City Commission unanimously passed a resolution in support of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s calling for the use of eminent domain to obtain the necessary land for Everglades restoration.

“It’s basic corruption, folks,” Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “This is as basic as it gets, where the sugar barons have bought themselves a government.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency last month in response to the issue, while Nelson said he supported eminent domain to buy sugar farmers’ land in order to send excess Lake Okeechobee waters south for treatment before sending it south into the Everglades.

South Miami’s resolution, sponsored by Vice Mayor Bob Welsh, originally singled out Florida Crystals Corp., which “repeatedly spurned offers by the state and federal government to purchase their land to create the marshes necessary for removal of polluting nutrients so that the water could be sent south into the Everglades.”

Welsh’s resolution originally stated that “Florida Crystals Corporation’s refusal to sell has forced the Army Corps of Engineers to send nutrient-laden water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers.”

At Stoddard’s suggestion, the commission amended the resolution to not single out Florida Crystals, but to support Nelson’s proposal to “use eminent domain procedures in a takings of agricultural lands and sugar cane production in the Everglades agricultural area.”

“The governor says he’s not a scientist, but at least he declared a state of emergency,” Welsh said.

Stoddard, a Florida International University biology professor, retorted: “Then, unfortunately, his staff tried to divert attention from the real problem, which is phosphorus pollution of the agricultural lands, and they were blaming it on septic tanks in areas where that doesn’t drain into those estuaries.”

He continued:

“Sen. [Marco] Rubio came in by boat and pronounced it to be a problem in septic tanks. That very day, NASA released photos showing that the problem is originating in Lake Okeechobee, not in areas where the governor’s staff and Sen. Rubio said it was happening. So they were proven wrong by NASA and by satellite photographs.”

Since 1994, the sugar industry has paid at least $57.8 million to “influence Florida campaigns,” the Miami Herald reported Monday. Last year, the South Florida Water Management District rejected a deal to buy nearly 47,000 acres of farmland south of Okeechobee. The rejection ended a five-year deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. In 2010, under then-Gov. Charlie Crist, the district paid $197 million to buy 26,800 acres from U.S. Sugar. That deal included an option to buy 154,200 remaining acres owned by U.S. Sugar. Scott became governor later that same year.

U.S. Sugar and Florida Crystals contributed $45.7 million to Florida campaigns between 1994 and 2016, according to the Herald report.

A copy of the resolution was sent to Scott and all members of his cabinet, members of Florida Legislature, all congressmen and senators representing Florida and every elected official represented whose governing body is a member of the Florida League of Cities.

“This is your toxic green slime that’s all over the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuary,” Welsh said. “Google all of the images, the internet is full of them. When is our Florida government going to wake up and realize that, Houston we got a problem.”

“As soon as they realize there is climate change,” Commissioner Walter Harris said.

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