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Nancy Smith

Quick! Cross Yourself! Eric Eikenberg's in the Cat Bird's Seat

February 23, 2019 - 8:00am
Eric Eikenberg
Eric Eikenberg

In September 2018, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg predicted his influence was about to increase mightily. 

"Forty days from now," he said, "we'll have a new Administration in Tallahassee, a new governing board at the Water Management District, new leadership at the Corps."

And, sure enough. less than two months after Gov. Ron DeSantis' victory, Eikenberg is on top of the world. He  owns South Florida, or so it seems. If I were an artist, I would draw him as the king of the White Walkers, soaring menacingly above his kingdom on a fire-breathing dragon. In some respects, he has that kind of power.

There's nobody left for Eikenberg to fight with. No one left for him to blame.  

He and the Foundation suddenly have these people in their quiver: 

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis, who referred to the Everglades Foundation while debating Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum as "the gold standard;"

  • U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, who plays for power -- Eikenberg's water carrier and bad-mouthing right-hand man in all matters Lake Okeechobee; 

  • Noah Valenstein, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who was director of legislative affairs for the Everglades Foundation from August 2011 until December 2012;

  • a completely new South Florida Water Management District Governing Board, many of whose members had pledged allegiance to the billionaire-backed nonprofit EF long ago; and

  • Drew Bartlett, Valenstein's deputy secretary, recommended by Eikenberg but not yet confirmed to replace SFWMD Executive Director Ernie Marks.

Florida Statute 373.073 says "Membership on governing boards shall be selected from candidates who have significant experience in one or more of the following areas, including, but not limited to: agriculture, the development industry, local government, government-owned or privately owned water utilities, law, civil engineering, environmental science, hydrology, accounting, or financial businesses."

But no Governing Board member with experience in agriculture has yet to be appointed.  That's deliberate and stupid. True, there is no requirement to choose a farmer or a rancher over anybody else, but agriculture is a specifically identified stakeholder with rights in Florida law to receive water. The law says the District can't plan or develop any project that "adversely affects flood protection or existing legal uses of water (including agricultural, municipal, industrial, tribal)."

It's why discarded Governing Board member Brandon Tucker went a little nuts when Mast told told him Aug. 23, "When Ron (DeSantis) gets elected, there won't be anyone connected to agriculture in any way on the board of the Water Management District."

The Everglades Foundation wants to make the Governing Board its private club. Agriculture is excluded. The principal goal of the Foundation -- and it has been since the day it incorporated -- is to take agricultural land out of production. How much easier that will be without anyone around who understands the significance of agriculture to Florida.

SFWMD is rich and replete with farmland. I know why the Everglades Foundation would want to ignore agriculture on the Governing Board. But why would the governor?

Eikenberg and the Foundation don't want to hear about the real problem, the pollution that enters the system from the North. In fact, 90 percent of the water that flows into the lake comes from the big Mouse to the North, where residential growth is mushrooming. Ten percent enters from the South. Why doesn't it make more sense to stop dirty water before it gets to the lake?

Certainly I don't trust the reliance on "science and scientists" when I hear it out of the Foundation's mouth. They tell us that's going to be the difference between then (bad) and now (good). Scientists are coming to water bodies near you! Well, the Everglades Foundation has scientists, but I've never seen a one of them do any practical sciencing. If they've ever actually sampled, say, a river, I've never heard of it. What I do remember is Mike Balon ... uh  ... Maloney.

In 2017 the James Madison Institute did an economic impact study on the EAA Reservoir. The result wasn't entirely supportive of the Everglades Foundation's point of view. So the Foundation, saying it had an economic study of its own in the pipeline, found Maloney, a Clemson University professor and lead economist on the Foundation study. Turns out Maloney was a results-for-hire Ph.D. who had been preparing reports for paying customers for a long time. You give him the conclusion you want, he'll make the numbers work. The website ScienceCorruption.com debunked him as "a very minor cash-for-comments academic."

Point is, who can trust the Foundation not to come up with a Maloney baloney science equivalent? Sorry, but I truly believe they would stoop that low.

Most of all, though, the reason I'm so bothered by Eikenberg & Co.'s coup is that the EAA reservoir is going into the hands of the same faction that destroyed the first version.

The first EAA reservoir was on track to go on line in 2010. But the Everglades Foundation and Gov. Charlie Crist -- for whom Eric Eikenberg was chief of staff -- decided to halt construction, dismantle it and write off the taxpayers' nearly $300 million already spent on it. Why? Because Crist, Everglades Foundation co-founder Paul Tudor Jones and Eikenberg thought the reservoir wouldn't be needed. They were going to pay nearly $2 billion to buy U.S. Sugar out. But the recession came along and the deal fell through. There's more to it than this -- read a more complete story about the doomed EAA reservoir here

I wish the new board members well, I really do. Florida needs their enthusiasm, intelligence and ability to juggle a complex set of tasks. We need them to succeed. But I have to tell you, I have zero faith the Foundation will do anything but let them and us down again, given half a chance to buy or take land -- their No. 1 goal.

And we were making real headway on Everglades restoration. One of the biggest challenges of all for the new board: Making sure we don't lose that momentum again.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith 

Comments

THE FACTUAL CHALLENGES TO OUR WATER PROBLEMS REMAIN THE SAME REGARDLESS OF WHO IS IN POWER. EICKENBERG WI;LL FAIL IF HE PROCEEDS WITH BILLIONAIRE BOSS PAUL TUDOR JONES' HATRED OF FLORIDA AGRICULTURE STRATEGIES. ALL S FLORIDA WILL SUFFER AMID THE WRONG POLITICAL DECISIONS AND FIXING THE EVERGLADES AND EVERYTHING ELSE WILL BE DELAYED FOR DECADES IF THESE PEOPLE CONTINUE.. MARK MY WORDS - THE EVERGLADES FOUNDATION, DESANTIS, MAST AND THE NEW SFWMD BOARD WILL FAIL. THEN WHAT?

To "Fact Man" - Your facts are blatantly incorrect. The phosphorus in runoff from EAA farms (Everglades Agricultural Area south of the Lake that includes sugarcane farmers) is highly regulated and highly tested! EAA farmers are REQUIRED by LAW to control the phosphorus coming off their farms in runoff. Yes, all farmers use fertilizer but EAA farmers use highly sophisticated, precision fertilizing techniques that in combination with BMP's REDUCE phosphorus flowing from their farms. Today, sugarcane removes 20lbs of phosphorus per acre, per year PERMANENTLY from the system. I will post a graphic produced by the scientists at the SFWMD that shows that the water flowing south from EAA farms has LESS PHOSPHORUS than the water they receive from the Lake. Sugarcane farmers are NOT POLLUTERS today! It's a scientific fact and one that IS highly monitored by the SFWMD to assure compliance. Furthermore, to state that "Big Sugar" is responsible for the lion share of the lake's current phosphorus stockpile is also factually incorrect. Again, I will post data that proves this. The lions share of water and phosphorus entering the Lake comes from the Kissimmee River Basin to the north making up 95% of the Lake's inflows. This is the water that needs to be stored and cleaned prior to entering the Lake. (I'll post a chart detailing this fact as well) Last year, ZERO gallons of water from EAA farms including sugarcane farms flowed north into the Lake! (FACT!) The small quantity of water entering the Lake from the south originated from urban areas south of the Lake, not farmland. It is illegal for sugarcane farmers to pump water north into the Lake and they in fact don't have control over any pump that can do so. Eric Eikenberg, (who makes $300,000/yr from the Everglades Foundation - keep those donations coming) has done a great job at brainwashing the public that "Big Sugar" is the source of all of our water problems. You see, Paul Tudor Jones who funds this and other "environmental" organizations is trying to settle a score with a single sugarcane farmer whom he dislikes and has publicly vowed to ruin. Jones assures his highly paid "environmental" team only demonizes farmers and not discuss the issues that could truly help our environment like storing and cleaning water north, east and west of the Lake, addressing sewage, addressing the blockage of water flowing south due to federal laws protecting the Cape Sable Sparrow to name just a few. Unfortunately, it is easier for the public and media to have a scapegoat, Big Sugar, - which is ironically the ONLY entity in the district that has spent millions to clean up its act and be part of the solution to Everglades restoration. Today, 100% of the Everglades where "Big Sugar's" water flows meets super-strict water quality standards - another FACT that Eikenberg doesn't want the public to know because it doesn't support his mission to ruin that sugarcane farmer Tudor Jones has a personal grudge.

Unfortunately, this comment format is not allowing me to post the charts and scientific data I'd like to post. If anyone is interested in seeing this info, please post contact info and I will be happy to forward. I am able to post this link. Please take the time to watch as it proves that agricultural land south of the Lake IS REGULATED and IS WORKING! Thank you farmers! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1sd57FQFsM

Quit lying and just be honest. They are all to blame. Big Sugar is responsible for the lion share of the lake's current phosphorus stockpile. As little as 5 years ago, they were responsible for 28% of the lake pollution. It has dropped to less than 10% recently, but not enough. The two biggest users of fertilizer (Phosphorus) in the state are Big Sugar and the citrus industry by a long, long ways. The next closest source of pollution is like pennies in a bucket comparatively speaking. State of Florida politicians deregulated the state's waterways and slashed the SWFWMD and DEP budgets to near nothing. There are a ton of citrus farms and cattle ranches to the North as well as Big Sugar on the East and South shore areas. Septic tanks and development account for less than 5% of the pollution. The biggest contributors by far is agriculture runoff. The target fertilizer phosphorus levels in lake O are no more than 105 metric tons per year. Last year, the lake received 450 metric tons of phosphorus from fertilizer runoff. There is no other way to spin those facts. Last year, the state legislature and Rick Scott took actions that harmed lake O further. Lobbied by U.S Sugar, a major campaign contributor, the governor and his appointees at the water management district rejected a deal to buy more U.S. Sugar land south of the lake for storage, that would eventually eliminate the need for discharges into the ocean, hyper fueling the red tide. And last year Scott and the legislature passed an agriculture written revision to water quality law that allowed big agriculture polluters to continue discharging phosphorus as long as they complied with unmonitored "best practices", such as not fertilizing when the weather calls for heavy rain. This ridiculous honor system resulted in 3 times the acceptable levels of phosphorus in lake O and upon lake O discharges, the red tide perfect storm. We don't need ridiculous, phony best practices, we need hard limits on phosphorus levels. Until we get real regulation, we can expect more of the same, and the same ridiculous claims of naturally occurring red tide, even though they are 10 times worse due to 3 times the acceptable levels of fertilizer phosphorus in lake O. Those are the real, hard facts, and now you have the rest of the story...

You dump out figures with no sources, you don't even give your name, like saying TRUST ME. Who are you that we should trust this information? is this like the bogus info Brian Mast is spteading around that pollution in the lake is FIFTY times what it should be? Scientists all over the state have called that BS. So tell me where each and every one of your numbers comes from. Be soecific. Show us the research.

Do your own homework. Don't trust anyone else's numbers, find it yourself. Google who uses the most fertilizer in FL, and show 2018 Lake O. Phosphorus parts per million. Even a mindless idiot like you can find this stuff... That is, if you even want to...

Nikki Fried should put out her marijuana cigarette and take time to fight for an ag rep on the SFWMD board of governors. She is the secretary of agriculture, how come she lets the governor and his henchmen disrespect our ag people with no representation?

Niki is a Democrat - that is why she is letting the Republicans destroy the SFWMD. She is watching it happen and she doesn't have to lift a finger. DESANTIS IS A FOOL.

The Sanibel lighthouse was a marker to let the fishing fleet out of Tampa know that red tide was present. With this said it known that red tide has been around long before any major settlements. Development is part of the problem as well as the Mississippi river and many more factors throughout South Florida. I believe we just have more intense years of red tide just as we do with all forms of nature. Stacking the board in one's favor and the flialure will only hurt South Florida more then it is.

Very well stated, Ms. Smith! If Eric Eikenberg’s lips are moving, he’s lying! Very disappointed in Governor DeSantis and his decision to follow/believe Eikenberg. I thought he was smarter than that! While I thank Brian Mast for his service and sacrifices for our country, being a wounded warrior does not make him an authority on Lake O. In fact, most of which he says is wrong!! But then, he doesn’t want to upset his constituents NORTH of Lake O, the primary culprits in polluting the Lake!!

Well said. Very disappointed in De Santis and Mast, I hope agriculture can hold until the next election. Would love to see them both voted OUT.

Comments are now closed.

nancy smith
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