March 3, 2017
Eve Samples: Why a land buy south of Lake O is our board's No. 1 priority
By Eve Samples
I posed a question on my Facebook page recently:
"What do you want the Legislature to do during its 2017 session?"
I figured a handful of political wonks would respond. Instead, I was overwhelmed by feedback.
More than 80 people commented — many reiterating the same theme: They want Florida lawmakers to stop dragging their feet and fix our waterways by purchasing land south of Lake Okeechobee.
"Stop the flow from Lake Okeechobee and clean up our rivers," posted Jay Sizemore of Fort Pierce.
"CLEAN WATER," wrote Vero Beach resident Curtis Carpenter.
"Honor the voters' mandate. Spend the money for acquiring land for water cleanup, not using it for other purposes," wrote Vincent J. Cerniglia of Jensen Beach.
"Pass Joe Negron's bill!" wrote Tony Polito of Stuart, referring to Senate President Negron's plan to buy 60,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee.
The Editorial Board of Treasure Coast Newspapers agrees with that guidance. Our eight-member board made buying land south of Lake Okeechobee our No. 1 priority for the legislative session that begins Tuesday.
It's the best chance we have at preventing another "Mean Green 2016," as we've come to call last year's toxic algae blooms on the St. Lucie River.
I'm both optimistic and skeptical about the land buy's prospects.
Optimistic because, finally, after decades of pollution, we have a state Senate president who is supporting the acquisition of land south of Lake Okeechobee for storing, treating and moving water south to the Everglades (so it's not dumped, untreated, into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries).
Optimistic because so many residents have raised their voices, repeatedly, to demand change. When our river was green last summer, more than 10,000 residents signed a letter we published to Gov. Rick Scott, calling on him to use the power of his office to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee.
Still, I'm skeptical because there are no signs of support for a land buy from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and the formidable sugar lobby is working hard to kill Negron's proposal.
Our editorial board's two other priorities for the 2017 legislative session call for closing the write-in loophole in state elections law and a reform of a bad law that allows phosphorous- and nitrogen-rich human waste to be applied in watersheds across Florida, as detailed in an eye-opening February story by investigative reporter Lucas Daprile.
Our editorial board doesn't arrive at these priorities lightly. We meet weekly to discuss local issues we believe our news organization should take an editorial stance on. We prioritize local issues over national ideological debates. We believe we can have more meaningful impacts on decisions, and decision-makers, closer to home.
The three issues highlighted in our 2017 priorities stood out among the topics we've considered over the past year. Lawmakers have the power to make our state a better place if they embrace them.
Fighting for clean water is a big part of our news organization's legacy. Ernie Lyons, the late Stuart News editor, put it this way in 1970:
"What men do they can undo, and the hope for our river is in the hundreds of men and women in our communities who are resolved to save the St. Lucie. It may be too soon for the river to have a mood of confidence, but it is not too soon to hope."
We're still grappling with the same problem Lyons wrote about 47 years ago. Instead of hundreds of men and women, now tens of thousands are resolved to save our river.
This is the moment for lawmakers to embrace the solution.