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Nancy Smith

Environmental Experts Find Everglades Foundation Report 'Grossly Inaccurate'

February 21, 2013 - 6:00pm

For the last year the Everglades Foundation, a nonprofit organization claiming to be the authority on Everglades restoration, has been circulating a flawed and "grossly inaccurate" assessment of pollution in South Florida waters, according to a technical evaluation of the study released Thursday.

The evaluation, paid for jointly by the Florida Sugar Cane League and Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, shoots some very large holes in the data used in the claims the Everglades Foundation is making as it attempts to influence Florida's policymakers.

The 34-page technical evaluation, prepared by environmental consultant Cardno ENTRIX, finds and describes major areas within the Foundation study "riddled with flaws from invalid assumptions, incorrect analyses and unsupported conclusions."

Doug Durbin, Cardno ENTRIX's lead author on the evaluation, said in a written statement that even the conclusion in the Foundation report -- that the annual cost of nutrient removal (from various sectors) is $866 million -- is wrong.

"Their total attributes costs that have little -- and sometimes nothing at all -- to do with nutrient removal. For example, the (Foundation) study assigns 100 percent of the cost ($515 million) of operating wastewater treatment facilities to nutrient removal, when public safety, not nutrient removal, is the purpose of that sector."

The Cardno ENTRIX report says that since 1996 and the passage of the Everglades Forever Act, a total of 3,643 tons of phosphorus have been prevented from entering the Everglades, of which 70 percent has been removed through the efforts of Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) farmers. On top of that, farmers have paid a tax on every acre of their land for the last 18 years, plus another $200 million to maintain their on-farm phosphorus reduction program.

Philip Parsons, attorney for the Florida Sugar Cane League, who was involved in the creation of the Everglades Forever Act, addressed reporters at the Press Center in Tallahassee."The overall criterion for phosphorus removal in the Everglades is 10 parts per billion. That criterion has always been met at Everglades National Park. And it's been that in 80-to-90 percent of the Everglades system. We achieve that number within 2 miles or less from the points of discharge from our farm areas into the water conservation area."

The Everglades Foundation's $185,000 assessment was performed by RTI International of Raleigh, N.C., and paid for by the Foundation.

In a summary of the RTI review, engineer Galen Miller of Burns & McDonnell, said of the study, "It identifies 22 'caveats and uncertainties,' every one of which directly and substantively impacts their assumptions, analysis and conclusions." Miller was a lead architect of the Everglades Construction Project. He was the designer of the nutrient removal system.

The RTI report, Enterprise Assessment for the Reduction of Nutrient Pollution in South Florida Waters, has been widely used in the Foundations recent lobbying and public relations efforts.

"While sugar farmers are working in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation with their state restoration partners, it is counterproductive to have false or misleading statements made that threaten to derail what experts agree have been successful Everglades restoration efforts," said Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Florida's sugar farmers.

For the last year the Foundation has used the RTI study to pressure legislators into demanding more Everglades cleanup money from sugar interests.

When the study was released in 2012, Kirk Fordham, Foundation CEO at the time, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel he hoped the study would start a conversation with policy makers" and "shift the cost" of Everglades restoration to the polluters -- sugar growers

Perhaps a telling sign of the dynamics of this ever-increasing heated battle between the Foundation and the sugar farmers comes in the form of lobby teams. The latest lobbyist registration list shows the Everglades Foundations political machinery is loading up on Tallahassee insiders, with 16 registered lobbyists, a count that surpasses even Big Sugars Florida Crystals, but still a couple of bodies shy of U.S. Sugar Corp.

Several attempts to reach CEO Eric Eikenberg, or any Everglades Foundation spokesperson, were unsuccessful on Thursday.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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