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Politics

State Approves Paying Sugar Grower to End Lease

October 23, 2019 - 6:00am

Florida will pay $2.4 million to a sugar grower as part of an effort to clean and shift water south from Lake Okeechobee through the Everglades.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet -- Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Attorney General Ashley Moody -- agreed Tuesday to pay $1,940 an acre to New Hope Sugar Co., a subsidiary of Florida Crystals, to terminate a 1,234-acre lease of state-owned land.

The land is planned to be part of a project that involves building a reservoir.in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

“This is clearing the way now to be able to do this reservoir,” DeSantis said after the Cabinet meeting. “If we had not done that, then it would have been delayed and delayed. It’s going to be hard enough to get the (U.S.) Army Corps on this (project), that delays on our part would have been bad.”

The money, which will come from the state’s Everglades Trust Fund, is a required termination fee for New Hope and is expected to save the state about $16 million in construction costs by advancing the timeline for a stormwater management area linked to the reservoir, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein said.

“Every year that there is a delay in construction projects, what we’ve been seeing is a 3 percent increase in costs,” Valenstein said.

Valenstein said with the lease termination approved, the first of three phases of the stormwater management area could begin in late fall if the project is approved by the U.S. Army Corps.

The lease included a notice requirement that would have prevented the state from getting the land until at least three years after receiving a permit from the Army Corps. But Florida Crystals agreed to waive the requirement.

 “When we saw the governor’s expedited schedule, we knew our support would be integral to the success of the EAA reservoir project’s new timeline,” Gaston Cantens, vice president of corporate relations for  Florida Crystals, said in a statement. “We then contacted the state with a solution, offering to waive the state’s contractual obligations to a three--year termination notice in order to facilitate immediate access to the land needed to move the project forward early.  Agriculture has been an active partner in Everglades restoration for more than 25 years, and we are proud to continue our successful collaboration with today’s action.”

State lawmakers approved the roughly $1.6 billion reservoir project in 2017. The reservoir is aimed, at least in part, at helping reduce the amount of polluted water going from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, which have faced major problems with toxic algae.

Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell said the stormwater management area and reservoir “will help reconnect Florida Bay to its historic freshwater source in Lake Okeechobee.”

“After the recent seagrass die-offs that we saw in 2015 in Florida Bay and the multi-year toxic harmful blooms that we’ve seen in the northern estuaries, there is really no time to waste in increasing our capacity to send more clear freshwater south to where it is needed the most,” Wraithmell said.

Valenstein said the 2017 law set aside $30 million that can be used to fund the New Hope lease termination.

The district applied for permits from the Army Corps in June and August for the stormwater-treatment area component of the reservoir project.

The Army Corps is expected to build the reservoir, while the district constructs the water-cleansing treatment area.

The 2017 law, spearheaded by then-Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, allows Florida to issue up to $800 million in bonds for the reservoir, with the rest of the funding coming from the federal government.

The bill capped annual state funding at $64 million and placed the reservoir on state-owned land rather than private farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Comments

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Good luck with your new job Hillary. Glad to see you've found something more related to your skill-set.

Gee, Nancy Smith wouldn't agree with you --> "After the recent seagrass die-offs that we saw in 2015 in Florida Bay and the multi-year toxic harmful blooms that we’ve seen in the northern estuaries, there is really no time to waste in increasing our capacity to send more clear freshwater south to where it is needed the most," . . . . . she doesn't believe that Florida Bay needs more freshwater . . . . . . she mistakenly believes it's all about water quality, not water quantity in Florida Bay . . . . . . despite years and multiple science reports demonstrating the extra water is needed to prevent hypersalinity, despite her denials . . . . . . . ignoring and denying actual science is just so . . . . . . . . . . PATHETIC . . .

This move "is expected to save the state about $16 million in construction costs". Yet the fascist democRATs continue to rear their ugly hatred.

Didn't "the state" just enter into this absurd lease about a year ago??? Another example of Republicans "paying homage" to one of their favored special interests. Republicans in Tallahassee and Washington are disgusting.

This is a DIFFERENT lease. There were two leases involved on land planned for the reservoir and STA. The SFWMD hold most of the land. That was the lease that was extended in 2018, with a clause it could be terminated after 20 months with 4 months notice. This lease is on land controlled by FDEP. That lease was signed in 2014 and the earliest it would expire under the terms of the lease would be 2023. They are breaking that lease 3 years early. Sugar cane is a multiyear crop. They plant one year and then harvest annually two or three times before plowing it under and putting in a rotation crop like rice. They are being compensated for the lost crops they planted and won't get to harvest.

New Hope’s lease was extended last November by the South Florida Water Management District, which resulted in DeSantis — in one of his first actions after being inaugurated — to call for members of the district board to resign.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          https://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/local/florida/2019/10/22/state-approves-paying-sugar-owner-end-lease/4065692002/

That was a different lease.

https://lakeokeechobeenews.com/lake-okeechobee/could-other-lease-delay-eaa-reservoir-project-fdep-lease-on-1200-acres-does-not-expire-until-2046/

https://www.tcpalm.com/story/news/local/florida/2019/10/22/state-approves-paying-sugar-owner-end-lease/4065692002/

What a rip off!! ……………..For $2k/acre they should be able to buy it...……………..More Florida corruption.

Try to stay focused Jerry. Not only does "$2k/acre" not even come anywhere close to the value of the land, but from the article we (but evidently not you) learn that it is already "state-owned land". My suggestion, Jerry, is that you invest in some remedial reading classes - that is, if you can stay focused for more than ten seconds.

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