October 04, 2016
New mystery entity pushes local governments to oppose Negron's Everglades reservoir plan
Environmentalists say Stand up North Florida is a front group for the sugar industry
TALLAHASSEE — A shadowy entity created last month is asking local governments in North Florida to pass resolutions opposing Sen. Joe Negron's Everglades land-buying proposal.
Stand Up North Florida is trying to rally opposition to the proposed $2.4 billion reservoir project, saying it will dry up conservation spending elsewhere in Florida. A representative during a High Springs City Commission meeting on Sept. 22 refused to say who was funding the group.
Environmentalists say they believe Stand up North Florida is a front group for the sugar industry, which is fighting Negron's proposal.
"To me there's a clear signature that this is part of one campaign," said Frank Jackalone, the Sierra Club's Florida director. "And the most likely suspect as to who is sponsoring this campaign is the sugar industry."
Representatives of U. S. Sugar and Florida Crystals Corp. indicated that they hadn't heard of the group and said they were not involved with it.
When asked by the High Springs City Commission Sept. 19 who was funding his group, Nick Loffer said it is a private organization working to register as a nonprofit.
"We would be more happy to let our donors tell you who our supporters are when they wish to be named," Loffer told the commission.
He is listed as manager in a document filed with the state on Sept. 22 registering Stand Up North Florida as a limited liability corporation. The group has produced a 30-second ad on Youtube but doesn't list an address on its web site, and Loffer wouldn't tell POLITICO Florida who he is working for.
He is a former field director in Florida for Americans For Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers. An AFP spokesman said he hasn't worked for the group since early 2015.
Loffer told POLITICO Florida by email that those who suggest Stand Up North Florida is a front for the sugar industry "would like to try and discredit with straw-man attacks."
Stand up North Florida is circulating a draft resolution that calls on the Legislature and Cabinet to oppose any efforts to use state conservation funds to buy farmland south of Lake Okeechobee.
On Sept. 19, the High Springs City Commission delayed action at the suggestion of the city attorney so that he could research the issue. The Baker County Commission on Sept. 20 passed the resolution on its consent agenda without discussion, the county administrator said.
And the Alachua County Commission had the resolution on its agenda next week but a spokesman said Monday it was being taken off because of questions about the group's backing.
In August, Negron a Republican from Stuart and the incoming Senate president, proposed having the state and federal governments split the $2.4 billion estimated cost for a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area. The reservoir, which the Sierra Club supports, would capture and divert discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
The Corps of Engineers discharges lake water to protect the flood-control dike around the lake. But state officials say the harmful discharges foul coastal estuaries, and they have been blamed for algae that coated beaches in July.
Sugarcane growers support the South Florida Water Management District, which says money instead should be spent on water retention and cleanup projects north of Lake Okeechobee. Agricultural interests argue that the reservoir won't prevent discharges to coastal estuaries.
Loffer told the High Springs City Commission that the reservoir project, which he said would cost $4 billion, would "dry up" spending for conservation elsewhere, including for springs restoration in North Florida.
But that's not necessarily true, even if the cost is as high as $4 billion. The money would come from the 2014 ballot intiative called amendment 1, which is expected to provide $22 billion over 20 years for water and land conservation.
The Legislature earlier this year passed HB 989, which provides at least $200 million for Everglades restoration and $50 million per year for springs protection from Amendment 1 revenue.
But Loffer told the High Springs City Commission that "special interests" want all of the money from Amendment 1 to go towards the Everglades.
And in response to accusations that Stand Up North Florida is a sugar industry front group, Loffer said in an email, "I can only speculate that these comments would come from the special interests that want all of Amendment 1 funds to be spent in the Everglades, rather than being shared with the rest of the state."
Jackalone said Stand Up North Florida and the sugar industry are "using every trick in the book" to shoot down Negron's proposal including creating a rivalry for conservation funding between North Florida and South Florida.
"They (cities and counties) are passing the resolutions based out of ignorance about what the programs really do," He said. "There is somebody fueling a fire to pit the springs areas against the Everglades."
Judy Sanchez, a spokeswoman for U. S. Sugar, said Monday she couldn't speak to what Stand Up North Florida is saying because she hadn't heard of the group until she was told about it by a reporter.
But in response to statements from environmentalists that the group is a front for the sugar industry, Sanchez said, "It's more of the same, just the same tired old rhetoric from those folks. And the sad part of this is they have been sold a bill of goods."
Watch Loffer's presentation and the High Springs City Commission discussion here, starting at the 22:20 mark: http://bit.ly/2dFbwwM