The James Madison Institute is the onlyentity I know that hasexpended resources to look at the spiraling, emotion-driven trend of government land grabs in Florida — particularly in South Florida — and pleaded for a little common sense.
Certainly, the anatomy of land grabs wasn't the main focus of a JMI press conference Wednesday. The Tallahassee-based conservative think tank andDan Peterson, its director of the Center for Property Rights, was releasingthelatest JMI backgrounder, “Solving the Everglades Riddle: Addressing Water Quality and Quantity to Restore a Florida Legacy.”
But for my money, land grabsstole the show — a slick, fact-filled, 2.22-minute video, part of the report that subtly challenges the Everglades Foundation's hard-driving campaign to buy land for water storage south of Lake Okeechobee.
You can click on the video at the bottom of this story. It's worth your time.
What it says boils down to this:
Today, the government owns nearly 50 percent of South Florida — that’s 5.5 million acres.
On top of that, government has imposed easements and restrictions on another 741,000 acres.
Every land grab in the last 30 years, the video explains, has the same cast of characters: — 1) well heeled environmentalists who hatch it, 2) bureaucrats who sell it, and 3) politicians who take credit for it.
Why does this matter to Floridians? Every time government goes land shopping, they take private property off the tax rolls, leaving the rest of us with higher taxes.
Sure, some land should be publicly owned, JMI concedes, but before government spends more money on more land, it should use the money and land it already owns to finish Everglades restoration and other projects to address the releases damaging our estuaries.
Basically, JMI is urging the Everglades Foundation and others looking to buy land for reservoirs, and to flow Lake Okeechobee water south, to first use the land already under public ownership.
Incidentally, a year ago, at fair market value, the U.S. Sugar land the Foundation still claims it wants the state to buy cost $500 million for 46,800 acres. That's more than two-thirds of the first year's 33 percent doc stamp take. And the value has risen since then.
Don't forget, the University of Florida Water Institute report, commissioned in 2014 by the Florida Legislature, cast serious doubts on the Foundation's dreams of a flowway south:
Page 9 in the executive summary states categorically that a flowway would not be feasible.
The top two recommendations in the UF report are 1) build the projects already planned and 2) store and treat more water NORTH of the lake. There is already planned storage and treatment SOUTH of the lake in the Restoration Strategies Gov. Scott signed in 2014. I'm talking about another $880 million in projects that will enable more water to be sent south.
Both Lt. Col. Tom Greco of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bob Johnson of Everglades National Park have said publicly that even when all this is built, you plain can't — that's cannot — send SOUTH more than an additional 235,000 acre-feet of water total due to all the constraints listed in the Kivett report (a South Florida Water Management District report prepared as “an educational tool to outline all considerations in flowing water from the lake south).
But I digress.
JMI's project released Wednesday, it seemed to me, proffered all the right advice. It outlined the history, projects, methodology and progress around the repair of the Everglades ecosystem, true. But the bottom line was simple:
Stay the course. Complete the projects already under way. Store as much water NORTH of the lake as you can. Make sure all water quality projects are science-driven. This is how you get the most bang for your buck and keep restoration on schedule, Peterson told reporters.
He called the report a follow-up on the Institute’s recommendations for Amendment 1 funding allocations. He said it is meant to help educate Floridians on the many facets of the strategy and accompanying layers of challenges facing the restoration process.
But here it is, JMI's full list of the recommendations for the future:
Priority 1: Amendment 1 funding should continue to be used for Everglades restoration efforts.
Priority 2: The public should be kept informed of taxpayer-funded projects for environmental efforts, such as restoring the Everglades, through an easily accessible, monthly report posted on the Florida Department of Environmental Protections website.
Priority 3: Finish projects and plan new projects north of Lake Okeechobee under the Basin Management Acton Plans (BMAPs) approved by the Florida Legislature.
Priority 4: Water quality improvement projects must be based on scientific data and should use a common standard of comparison to accurately measure current levels of pollution and the degree of improvement projected for each proposed project.
Priority 5: A study should be conducted to determine the impact of the regulatory releases of fresh water from Lake Okeechobee on the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River estuaries, as well as the impact from local runoff.
Be sure you look at page 5 of the report. You'll find an outstanding graphic showing the intricacies of all ofcomponents of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
But, if you do nothing else, as I said, take a look at the short, hugely informative video below.
Reach Nancy Smith email@example.com at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith