Southwest Florida Online – Sunday Morning News

September 10, 2014


Karson Turner Defends U.S. Sugar Giant Land Plans

Posted by Don Browne


Will U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers Bring Good Times To Hendry County?


CLEWISTON, FL. - Hendry County Commissioners Karson Turner replied to a stand taken by the Sierra Club about the U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers plan to change zoning (click link for previous stories) in a large portion of eastern Hendry county over the next six decades.


Turner, not a wealthy man by any means, works for a family owned electrical contracting company and during his election campaign two years ago reported a negative net worth of minus $70,000. 


Understandably, he and other businessmen in one of Florida's poorest counties, with a traditionally highest unemployment among the Sunshine State's 67 counties, is hoping for better days ahead even if it means waiting 66 years as outlined in the "sector plan" advocated by U.S. Sugar.

Turner's letter to the Palm Beach Post opinion page: 


As a Hendry County commissioner and a local business owner, I am disturbed by a Sierra Club representative’s remarks in a recent Palm Beach Post article. I am disturbed but not surprised at the complete disregard of the employment reality, and as usual the apparent assault on the U.S. Sugar/Sugar Hill Sector Plan — “to get the sugar company gone.”

Let me make it perfectly clear to the Sierra Club and anyone else that is able to read and comprehend the reality of life around the Hendry/Glades communities. Getting rid of or destroying the sugar industry and/or agriculture in pretty much any way, shape, or fashion is synonymous with getting rid of or destroying Clewiston and most of, if not all of, Hendry County and the Glades. We exist because of agriculture. If agriculture does not directly employ you or your family, it employs a subsidiary industry that supports agriculture.

As it relates to U.S. Sugar, specifically, and Hendry County — U.S. Sugar pays approximately 25 percent of the county ad valorem taxes. Without U.S. Sugar, we would either have to double taxes or not fund numerous essential services. Hendry County and the two cities (Labelle and Clewiston) that lie within the county, are already experiencing net population decreases, and if taxation continues to increase, we will see that trend continue. Hendry County routinely has one of the state’s highest unemployment rates (12.5 percent), and without U.S. Sugar that would double — a devastating result.

U.S. Sugar — our largest taxpayer and employer, our largest economic engine and our most generous community benefactor — has led the region as the largest investor in our future. Over the last decade, U.S. Sugar has re-invested in the local community by modernizing its sugar factory, integrating the latest technology and best management practices in its farming operations, expanding its railroad operations to the western areas of Clewiston, and funding research and assisting the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to identify and fight crippling citrus diseases, as well as, assisting with other statewide initiatives. In most, if not all of these local movements, they utilize local people and resources. All of these efforts benefit our local economy in Clewiston and Hendry County.

Hendry County desperately needs economic development. I am personally involved in over 10 meetings each month which are geared towards nothing more than making sure there is an economy to speak of for the future of the Glades. I, and a number of my colleagues throughout the area, understand we have to diversify our economic portfolio. We are starting that movement by taking a fundamental look at our educational system and what we can do to help create a better future for our region.

U.S. Sugar is going through the sector planning process that the State of Florida has determined is best. Even if development occurs in the long term, the company will continue farming the rest of its acreage, providing employment and a viable tax base. The Sugar Hill Sector Plan along with the other sector plans which have been approved for our region are smart growth and the way growth must occur for the future of Florida.

From where I sit, The Sierra Club’s remarks were a typical misinformed and biased shot at agriculture (namely the sugar industry).

I will end like I end with most of the people I meet in this world. I invite anyone to come on out to Hendry County and take a tour of our backyard. You will be amazed at the natural beauty and sheer volume of wildlife — all perpetuated by generations of agriculture producers.