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Nancy Smith

A 'Pants on Fire' for the Everglades Trust

February 22, 2015 - 6:00pm

Spreading a lie isn't going to win the Everglades Trust friends or influence any of the people I know.

The trust's six-figure "online campaign" launched Sunday to get "Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to enact the will of Florida's voters" is going to explode on their face like a Bazooka bubble.

They're claiming the will of voters was to buy 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar Corp. land left from the fizzled, 2010 Charlie Crist deal.

This isn't the middle of election season. You can't just make up something like a new Amendment 1 definition and expect no one to notice.

"Four years ago, the sugar industry signed a binding written contract to sell us land to clean up their pollution, and for a reservoir to protect our water," says the ad. "Last November, 75 percent of Floridians voted YES to Amendment 1, making vital land purchases for the Everglades a part of the Florida Constitution. Now it's up to the governor to back it and the Legislature to fund it."

Let's see ... This seems like a spectacular disconnect to me. Yes, I remember the contract. But no, Amendment 1 wasn't all about finishing the Crist deal. Nowhere does it imply that the first $350 million should go to pay for 46,800 acres of sugarland, only 26,000 acres which are south of Lake Okeechobee and usable for the kind of water storage the Everglades Foundation wants.

It's only been four months since Floridians voted. I'm guessing their memory isn't that short. I think they can recall enough about the ballot language to know when the Everglades Trust is spinning them a tall one.

Here's what the ballot summary on the November amendment said, word for word:

"Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years."

I don't see the words "only the Everglades." I don't even see "especially the Everglades." Oh, wait -- there it is -- "including the Everglades."

The language says to me, "What's your conservation pleasure, voters? We've got it all here." And that was driven home to me last week at the Capitol water rally in Tallahassee, when I interviewed nearly two-dozen participants. They had all sorts of reasons for being there -- for springs and rivers, for beaches and farms, and yes, there were people who wanted the state to buy the U.S. Sugar land. But the vast majority I talked with had a larger, more generic purpose. They had driven great distances to stand in the bitter cold for no other reason than because they care about clean water for Florida now and into the future.

Pushed by the Everglades Foundation, environmentalists now are trying to pull a Marty McFly, sending their DeLorean back to 2008 when they convinced Gov. Charlie Crist to throw a wrench in the plans and progress Gov. Jeb Bush and the Legislature had made with Everglades restoration -- instead blowing the whole bank on buying more land for a plan they hadn't even conceived.

Even back then, at the time of the Charlie Crist deal, then-gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott could see what it was -- a boondoggle that would put the Everglades in jeopardy. Have a look at this video report -- a bit of history. Or this one. Anyone who claims Scott won't take a position on the U.S. Sugar deal wasn't paying attention in 2010. We have the governor on camera several times being quite clear, as he is today, that the U.S. Sugar deal is not the right way to go.

Fast forward to 2015 and here we have environmentalists trying to pull the wool over Rick Scott's eyes as they did with Crist, trying to get him to ditch funding for a whole suite of environmental projects in order to blow the Amendment 1 bank on -- guess what? -- the same U.S. Sugar deal. Say what you like about Rick Scott -- he's a smart executive, not an empty political suit. He is no Charlie Crist.

Florida voters didn't pass Amendment 1 to complete a bad deal that fell apart in 2010, or to keep the Everglades Foundation relevant. It's not how the ballot language read and it's not why 75 percent of Floridians voted for it.

The Everglades Trust has acted dishonestly. Its ad campaign -- my apologies to PolitiFact for borrowing the phraseology -- deserves a "Pants on Fire."


Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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