It is the type of debate that has been going since the nation’s inception – private ownership vs. eminent domain. This time, environmental activist groups such as the Sierra Club, Everglades Trust, and Everglades Foundation are the ones trying to push the government into purchasing greater amounts of land for state use, touting that the land would be used for Everglades Restoration.
Using catch-phrases heavy on “urgency”, and “critical”, and backed by wealthy environmentalists, these groups have stepped up their efforts in recent months to influence and pressure the legislature to exercise the purchase option for nearly 47,000 acres just south of Lake Okeechobee from U.S. Sugar Corporation. The purchase would require a massive spending of taxpayer dollars, with no definitive plan on how the land would be used.
In opposition to the strong-arm efforts by environmental activist groups for the land purchase, Florida residents and home-grown groups have come together to support legislators in order to ensure wise spending of taxpayer dollars. One such group, Florida Citizens Against Waste, is encouraging Floridians to sign their online petition, requesting that legislators reject the land purchase, and instead focus on the currently active programs for Everglades restoration and protection.
While the environmental groups are staging protest events heavy on media attention and light on attendees, or scheduling events featuring popular celebrities, groups in opposition to the land purchase are using hard facts to make their case. Many of the facts they’re using are causing legislators to take notice. They are facts that are difficult to ignore.
Perhaps the most startling fact, and likely the one that gives environmental activists the greatest problem, is that due to the restoration efforts currently in place, the quality of water entering the Everglades is already meeting and exceeding state and federal standards. The citizen’s group also points out that current Everglades restoration and protection projects have spent $10 billion to date with another $1 billion committed to current projects. Testing shows that the restoration is in it’s final stage. Additionally, they point out that there is no cohesive plan for the land if the purchase should happen.
The battle between the environmental activists and citizens groups seems to cross party lines, with both Democrat and Republican legislators opposing the land purchase. Some, like Rep. Katie Edwards (D-FL98) oppose it in favor of making full use of the programs already in place. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli opposes the purchase for that same reason. Other legislators oppose the land purchase citing the need for good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
As the deadline for a decision on the land purchase draws closer, it is a foregone conclusion that pressure on legislators will continue to rise. One likely additional consideration for those legislators is the upcoming election season, where Florida citizens will be deciding who stays in office based in part on how wisely taxpayer dollars were spent, or how easily influenced that elected official would be by environmental special interests .