By Hillary Hyslope
Clewiston Chamber of Commerce
Eric Eikenberg, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, is right to be concerned about local water-quality issues. However, he has been less than honest in assessing the current state of Everglades restoration, Florida’s economy and local water-quality issues.
Eikenberg has claimed that “countless billions” have been lost in real estate and tourism, even though Florida’s real estate market continues to rally; and, according a recent report from VisitFlorida, the state set another tourism record in 2016, welcoming 112.8 million visitors — an increase of 5.9 percent over 2015.
According to the Orlando-based Florida Realtors organization, “The state’s housing markets clearly got healthier in 2016 due to a major decline in the number of distressed properties for sale.”
The argument Eikenberg has been making about the jobs that would be created by the 60,000-acre reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area is flawed. Anyone from the Glades communities will tell you that while temporary construction jobs from Everglades-restoration projects are certainly welcomed, these companies rarely hire residents of the Glades; instead, they bring in construction workers from other areas and other states.
Storage Reservoir would reduce jobs in Glades
More importantly, this argument obscures the real issue with the land-buying boondoggle: It will shut down at least one sugar mill and put more than 1,000 people out of work, as well as shut down vegetable-packing houses whose growers farm in rotation with sugar cane.
In recent years, Americans have become increasingly skeptical of wealthy special interests pushing their agenda on small-town America. We’ve seen what happened in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, where coal mines were the target of Obama-era government overreach. We’ve seen it in cities like Detroit, where auto-industry jobs have evaporated as trade deals have allowed jobs to be shipped overseas. Florida doesn’t need to see more farming jobs sent away.
Plan is “un-American”
Eikenberg’s plan to take 60,000 acres of farmland out of production is un-American. It would put American farmers out of business, inflict tremendous economic harm on rural communities, and unfairly target minority-rich communities. To date, more than 120,000 acres of farmland has already been taken out of production.
Farmers have been working hard to provide food for American families, despite the increased competition from globalism. At a time when foreign economic threats are putting America’s food supply at risk, the last thing we need is to take additional job-sustaining farmland out of production.
The Everglades Foundation is spearheading this effort to have government purchase more farmland — even though 42 percent of the land in South Florida is already under government ownership, and all of the land required for Everglades restoration has been purchased.
SB 10 is based on flawed data
Worst of all, the plan, which has been introduced in the form of Senate Bill 10 in the Florida Legislature, is based on data that have been manipulated to favor storage south of Lake Okeechobee instead of to the north, where more than 95 percent of the nutrients and water going into Lake Okeechobee are originating.
In January, South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) scientists called this plan “irresponsible science”* and said the plan’s assumptions “were obviously selected to reduce performance of northern storage and create an outcome in favor of southern storage.”*
Proposing a reservoir that would threaten American jobs is bad business. Pushing this fundamentally flawed plan through the Florida Legislature is bad public policy. Our state and our country deserve better.
Hillary Hyslope is executive director of the Clewiston Chamber of Commerce. She lives in Clewiston.
(*Editor’s note: These phrases were excerpted from a Jan. 19, 2017, letter from the SFWMD to the Everglades Foundation.)