Miami Herald

February 28, 2017

 

Environmentalists vs. farmers: Dueling reports complicate Florida reservoir debate

By Jenny Staletovich

 

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article135585088.html

 

Building a sprawling South Florida reservoir to stop pollution from sliming up the coasts and to deliver more water to ailing marshes in the Everglades could generate 39,000 jobs and a $20 billion bump in real estate values, according to an Everglades Foundation reportreleased Tuesday.

 

While it has been in the works for months, the report comes just days after the conservative Madison Institute claimed the opposite: that building a reservoir will instead cost the state more than 4,000 jobs and about $695 million.

 

The dueling reports are sure to fuel the bitter fight over building the 60,000-acre reservoir on farm land that is currently used largely for growing sugar south of Lake Okeechobee. A proposal backed by Senate President Joe Negron, whose home district has been repeatedly fouled by polluted water flushed from Lake Okeechobee, calls for building the reservoir in Palm Beach and Hendry counties. Negron wants to use land owned by the state, as well as land purchased from willing sellers. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala has vowed that any deal must include an economic development package to address lost jobs.

 

But sugar growers fiercely oppose the plan, claiming that the reservoir would kill jobs and family farms. The South Florida Water Management District also wants to stick to a schedule that begins planning for the reservoir in 2021, a year after a purchase option expires on sugar land worked out by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

 

But delaying the reservoir, environmentalists say, will mean continued damage to the Treasure Coast and Fort Myers. Not building more storage also means that a suite of projects approved by Congress this year to revive the south end of the Everglades could be completed without having the water needed to make them work.

 

Decades of flood control have withered Florida Bay, dried up massive patches of periphyton where the marsh’s smallest inhabitants live and eat, caused peat soil to collapse and allowed the inland march of coastal mangroves. Scientists now warn the marshes are nearing a tipping point, where damage could become irreparable.

 

For its report, the Everglades Foundation commissioned Clemson University economist Michael Maloney and a team of researchers to focus on damage around the estuaries. They then weighed the options of building more storage space to the north of Lake Okeechobee, the option preferred by farmers and water managers, and storage to the south.

 

Using calculations from an earlier model that found storage to the south performed about 50 percent better than storage to the north, the team concluded improved water quality would cause waterfront property values to jump 18 percent to $12 billion. Nearby properties would increase another $6.5 billion. In addition, the cost of the water saved from flushing would bring the total benefits to $20 billion, the report said. With less storage space, a northern reservoir would generate just $1.7 billion in benefits, the report said.

THE SOUTH RESERVOIR IS CLEARLY A SUPERIOR PROJECT AND OUR ECONOMIC ANALYSIS PUTS A DOLLAR VALUE ON IT THAT IS CONSPICUOUSLY LARGE.

 

“The South Reservoir is clearly a superior project and our economic analysis puts a dollar value on it that is conspicuously large,” the team wrote.

 

Building a reservoir would also generate16,000 construction jobs and another 23,000 related jobs. The team based the number on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate that projects nearly 20 jobs for every $1 million spent on construction. That’s compared to 90 farming jobs created by 60,000 acres in sugar cultivation, Maloney said.

 

“That apples to apples comparison is 16,000 to 90,” he said. “So the comparison dwarfs it and is almost shocking.”

Madison Institute CEO Bob McClure said that he had sent the report along to economist Antonio Villamil, who authored the institute’s report, and questioned parts of the findings. He expects comments Wednesday.

 

The Florida Sugarcane Farmers also disputed the findings, accusing the Foundation and Clemson of spreading disinformation.

IT’S DISAPPOINTING, BUT NOT SURPRISING, THAT THE EVERGLADES FOUNDATION WOULD GO TO THESE LENGTHS TO PUSH MISINFORMATION.

 

“It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that the Everglades Foundation would go to these lengths to push misinformation to sell this economically disastrous plan,” Ardis Hammock, whose family owns a 700-acre farm in Moore Haven, said in a statement. “The facts speak for themselves: Senate Bill 10 is a job killer that spends too much, relies on fraudulent science, and gets very little in return.”