News-Press

February 10, 2017

 

Gil Smart: Buy the land or stay the course?

By Gil Smart

 

http://www.news-press.com/story/opinion/columnists/gil-smart/2017/02/10/gil-smart-buy-land-stay-course/97652164/

 

Has the hashtag met its match?

Well, probably not. But #BuyTheLand, the preferred Twitter hashtag/motto of those who back Sen. Joe Negron's reservoir plan, now is running up against #FinishTheJob, a hashtag that since late January has graced the social media posts of a fairly significant opponent: the Economic Council of Martin County.

"The job," in this case, being projects already in the pipeline to restore the Everglades and help alleviate the discharges and subsequent algae blooms that turned Martin County waters green last summer.

In other words: The economic council has come out against Negron's plan.

The council's interim CEO, Ted Astolfi, was in Tallahassee on Tuesday to testify before the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. The committee approved Senate Bill 10 and Astolfi didn't actually get a chance to speak. But in a video subsequently posted to the council's Facebook page, Astolfi articulated the group's opposition:

"I don't want us to get distracted by the new or latest idea," Astolfi said, citing the council's support of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the Central Everglades Planning Project. "When it comes down to it, I have to be against (Negron's plan) because it distracts us from CERP ... it distracts us and delays us in implementing a 53-year project that we're just 17 years into."

Activists who trekked to Tallahassee to support Negron's plan were aghast. It's not that they thought the economic council was going to line up on their side the council has come out against land buys in the past, and has long echoed the sugar industry's line that we need to finish existing projects before buying land that just happens to belong to the sugar industry.

But after what happened last summer (the closed beaches, the green waves and the effect it all had on the local economy) clean-water activists thought the stewards of that economy, the economic council, might rethink its position.

Beyond that, activists pointed out that CERP specifically called for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area. In other words, if we're going to #FinishTheJob, we ought to #BuyTheLand, right?

No dice.

I emailed and called Astolfi, hoping to draw him out a little further on the subject, but didn't hear back by press time.

It's worth noting that #FinishTheJob is featured prominently on the economic council's website, with graphics detailing the need to convert septic systems to sewer and a map of water flowing into Lake Okeechobee dominating the right rail of the site.

"You have to wonder," said Mike Conner, a Stuart fishing charter guide and member of the enviro-activist group Bullsugar, "why in the world is this economic council so adamant in its refusal to support a project that promises to do the most to stop toxic discharges to the very community it is supposed to represent?"

But he also fears the economic council's opposition could set the tenor for additional opposition from the business community.

So far, that hasn't happened.

"We have not addressed it as yet," said Joe Catrambone, president and CEO of the Martin County Chamber of Commerce.

Though he noted he couldn't speak for other regional chambers, Catrambone also pointed out the chamber's legislative platform includes this statement: "An additional outlet south of the lake could provide capacity in extreme events to protect against dike failure and enough regular capacity to treat and supply clean water to the Everglades and Florida Bay. The Chamber supports utilizing all opportunities to store and clean storm water especially partnerships with private land."

On that basis, Catrambone said, "I'm assuming we would support Sen. Negron's proposal."

So SB 10 and its backers aren't exactly facing an onslaught of local business opposition. Not yet, at least.

But this is an interesting juncture. On one hand, you might expect business interests to object to what some opponents characterize as a "land grab." You might expect them to be wary of the effect on agriculture and the communities that depend on it.

On the other hand, these folks live here. And if you live here, if you saw (and smelled) the algae last summer, and if you saw the effect it had on local businesses and the local economy, I'm not sure how even a businessperson can conclude the answer is to do what we've been doing #StayTheCourse, as another hashtag briefly employed by the economic council put it.

I hear "stay the course" and George W. Bush's pronouncements on Iraq come to mind.

"Stay the course" sounds so resolute.

Too bad it doesn't always get the job done.