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There’s an invasion underway in Florida.  Deadly lionfish have invaded the Atlantic Ocean. Below is a photo from the USDA website, taken by Paula Whitfield, NOAA, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research.

Lionfish about 40 miles off the North Carolina coast

Lionfish about 40 miles off the North Carolina coast

They’re natives of the Pacific Ocean, where they have natural predators to keep their numbers at bay. In the Atlantic, with no enemies, the lionfish population is exploding. Not only do they eat Florida’s natural reef fish and harm the local ecosystem, they can injure or even kill people swimming or diving in the Atlantic Ocean. A lionfish’s sting is extremely painful and serious, and there’s no anti-venom.

So how did the lionfish get all the way to Florida?

They’re beautiful fish–and people want them in their aquariums. But when they get too big, they’re often dumped right in the ocean or local estruaries. 

Banning the sale of these lovely-but-deadly invasives is one way to help. 

After all, that’s how many invasive species get their start. People bring plants or animals from other locations without realizing the potential consequences.

Funny how even the the most noble of actions can have devastating consequences. 

The $1.75 billion sale of 187,000 acres of U.S. Sugar’s land to the State of Florida to restore the Everglades may seem wonderful to some environmentalists. But to the 6,500 residents of Clewiston, Florida, news of the sale did not bring cheers.

That’s because U.S. Sugar is a critical component of Clewiston’s economy.  The company employs 1700 people, and makes up about 25% of the tax base. 

Approximately 300 farmers, residents and business owners recently packed Clewiston’s John Boy Auditorium for an emergency meeting, during which officials voted to hire an attorney and begin an economic impact study. 

I have mixed feelings about this deal. We do need to preserve the Everglades. But must we put an end to towns like Clewiston to do so? Farmers are sometimes made out to be “the enemy” of the environment, but I don’t agree with that. If anything, they’re more connected to the environment than the rest of us.

I also have a problem with the “surprise announcement” Governor Crist made about the sale. In Florida, we’re supposed to have government in the sunshine. How was it possible for the State to conduct negotiations with U.S. Sugar–especially negotiations for an amount like $1.75 billion of taxpayer dollars–with so much secrecy?

Some of the folks in Clewiston feel like they’ve been thrown under the bus.  Understandably, I’d say.

Last week, Florida’s Governor, Charlie Christ, unveiled a strategy to provide the missing link to restoring Florida’s River of Grass. A plan for a $1.75 billion purchase of U.S. Sugar Corporation’s property – up to 187,000 acres of agricultural land that can be used to re-establish the connection between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades with a system of managed storage and treatment. 

Today, the South Florida Water Management District took the next step towards one of the largest environmental land purchases in Florida’s history by ratifying the “Statement of Principles” that was signed with U.S. Sugar Corporation.  This allows the detailed and confidential purchase negotiations to begin.

As proposed, U.S. Sugar will have the right to continue farming the land for the next 6 years.

The acquisition of the property will reduce harmful freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee to Florida’s coastal rivers and estuaries while reducing phosphorus and improving water quality entering the Everglades.

As always, there are trade-offs with the deal. Some important water storage projects along the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers will be delayed.  And the residents of Palm Beach County will lose $5.4 million in property taxes when U.S. Sugar’s property goes to the State–at a time when revenues are already taking a hit due to tax reform and a drop in tourism. 

 

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