Tuesday’s Sun Sentinel story, “Lawmakers continue to resist Florida land-buying mandate”, unfortunately buys into a false narrative that has been promoted for months by special interests determined to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to buy farmland south of Lake Okeechobee and build an expensive reservoir that, based on size, will have little impact on our drinking water quality.
The “land-buying mandate” referenced in the Sun Sentinel headline is last year’s Amendment 1, which sets aside funds to “acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands”. The article suggests, and the headline states, that the legislature is somehow ignoring voter’s wishes by proposing that a significant portion of the Amendment 1 dollars should go toward management and restoration of lands we the taxpayers already own – a purpose clearly authorized by the amendment.
As noted by legislators quoted in the article, the State of Florida already owns 10 million acres of land specifically for conservation purposes.
Amendment 1 lays out a long list of the types of lands to be acquired and managed, ranging from urban open space to beaches to, yes, protection of water resources. But NOWHERE in the amendment is there a mandate to buy specific land, such as that south of Lake Okeechobee – land that would have little or none of the impact necessary for water quality or estuary restoration. Additionally, at a cost of $3 billion (according to the South Florida Water Management District) the purchase would put taxpayers on the hook for an expensive boondoggle in the form of an unneeded and undersized reservoir.
I was disappointed to see the supporters of the land grab attack our two State Representatives here in Broward, Katie Edwards and Kristin Jacobs, who like the SFWMD concluded out this was too little water for far too much money. The number of acre/gallons is a proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to the millions of acre/gallons involved in the estuaries and then the Everglades.
Wasting money to satisfy special interests who want to buy land just for the sake of buying it is NOT what Floridians voted for last November, and the legislature is simply fulfilling its stewardship obligations by approaching unnecessary land grabs with an appropriate degree of skepticism. The State can’t fund the management of the land they own now. 25 % of the Florida land mass is owned by government- the most of any state west of the Mississippi.
The courts have already ruled that the legislature shall decide how Amendment 1 monies are distributed. The solution lies most likely with substantially more water storage north of the Lake. This would feed the Lake, the estuaries, the Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades. Spending $45 million and borrowing $450 million through bonding to buy unspecified land south of the Lake because it is the “cause celeb” with the haut monde in salubrious Palm Beach is a bad idea. This is politics, not science – at least, that’s the way that I see it.