Treasure Coast Star
By TJ Markle
Of the many credible Florida Everglades organizations that at least attempt to serve the best interests of the ecosystem and surrounding estuaries, one self-described ‘activist’ group is being singled out for promoting the issues of their special interest funders over the wishes of their own members, and contrary to the best interest of the Everglades.
The group goes by the rather vulgar name of Bullsugar and appears to be led by a team of paid agitators. They have only one stated goal, and that is to acquire land south of Lake Okeechobee, mainly from sugarcane, corn and citrus farmers, with some misguided notion of turning back the clock a hundred years to try to send more water into the Everglades “like it did historically.” But the Everglades already gets flooded during the same wet times that the coastal estuaries are getting hammered, and there is no room to send more water south.
South Florida student Kimberly Garner thought it was strange for the group to care so much about one certain proposed project and at the expense of all of the other more important projects that are already underway or underfunded. She said, “Why do they only care about that land west of Palm Beach? It seems suspicious to me. There are so many other more important environmental projects that have already been approved by the federal and state governments that need the funding. Why is this one so important to them.”
Bullsugar has been promoting the notion that Lake Okeechobee is being polluted by water flowing from farmland that is south of the lake, but scientists from the South Florida Water Management District disagree with their assessment. Water leaving the farms south of the lake is twice as clean as when it was released from the lake. The farmers have been great stewards of their lands and that of their neighbors. They have spent vast sums of money, and great effort, to make sure the water flowing through their property, that irrigates their fruits and vegetables, is clean and productive.
South Florida farmers have been fending off out-of-state buyers, and their surrogate activist groups for decades, to protect their land and save it for farming, and to also prevent residential and commercial development from taking hold in and around the Everglades, but recent record setting rainfall that flushed many thousands of gallons of fresh water through the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee canal allowed groups like Bullsugar to get some publicity for their plan to purchase the land under the lake and to promote a multibillion dollar taxpayer funded project that would force farmers to sell their land to the government and take funding away from other environmental projects around the state.
Bob Cedar says there is plenty of land that is already owned by the government south of the lake that would be enough to accommodate any water flow, without disturbing the farmers. He said, “The state and federal governments have already purchased hundreds of thousands of acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee and leading into the Everglades National Park. The majority of land between the Lake and the Everglades already is owned by the government.
There is more than enough room to flow water around a few farm fields, which could save about $1.5 billion in land acquisition costs from their proposed project, but they don’t want to work around the farms. This deal is all about taking their land.”
In fact, the water that flows into the lake is coming from the north and flowing downstream. The South Florida Water Management District believes that 95% of all water that flows into Lake Okeechobee comes from the north up to Orlando and from the northern Kissimmee River basin. Only 5% of the water flow comes from south of the lake, and that only occurs when the US Army Corps of engineers orders it - and only to prevent local communities from flooding.
Bullsugar describes themselves as “a non-profit organization dedicated to polluted discharges into the St Lucie River, Caloosahatchee River and Indian River Lagoon,” but a search of the IRS website shows no registration with the federal agency. To entice young and gullible people to follow them and to participate in their protests, Bullsugar has been mischaracterizing the benefits to the community if they participate in their scheme. The group repeatedly states, “For every dollar spent on Everglades restoration, we will see a $4 return to our local economy.”
Bullsugar operates out of a rented UPS postal box in a strip mall in Stuart, Florida. Their leader is Kenneth Hinkle. There is no record of his employment except for his involvement in Bullsugar, but law enforcement does have a record on Mr. Hinkle. In March of 2015 he was arrested for driving under the influence and also impeding traffic while being drunk. He was fined, placed on 12 months’ probation, ordered to attend alcohol education classes and compelled by the courts to complete community service. Another reckless driving event occurred in 2007 when he was cited for driving too close to another vehicle. Although the event seemed to be alcohol related, he was not arrested for drunk driving at that time. Kenneth Hinkle was also cited by law enforcement for “Violating Marine Rules and Regulations” in Monroe County.
On his organization’s Facebook site, Hinkle has posted many desperate pleads for his followers to donate to his cause. With so many callouts for cash, it’s prudent to inquire about his finances, but instead of confirming he is a responsible money manager, it appears Kenneth Hinkle has been sued by American Express in 2010 and filed bankruptcy in 2012. He seems like a man in desperate need of cash. Unfortunately, it is his trusting followers who are footing the bill. There is no known employment of Mr. Hinkle except for his involvement in Bullsugar which he formed in July of 2014, around the time he distributed mass amounts of voter guides to direct and promote political action in Martin and St. Lucie County, which could have violated Florida election law, which might ultimately jeopardize his Florida ‘non-profit’ status. Hinkle also operates another Florida non-profit corporation called the Treasure Coast Environmental Defense Fund. His career seems as misguided as his plan for the Everglades. Buying land south of Lake Okeechobee won’t affect the conditions of the lake or of the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee canal, at all.
A better approach would be to help find funding to complete already approved projects that would fix the Herbert Hoover Dike and store and clean water to the north of Lake Okeechobee - to prevent 95% of the problem water from entering Lake O and the connecting waterways in the first place. And that’s no bull.