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Sharing Everglades Personal Experiences and a Little Florida History

April 10, 2017 - 8:30am

"The addem-ups gotta equal the takem-aways."

My Dad is credited with the above sage advice. He was a wise man who grew up on a working farm in Kentucky.  

When I asked Dad what he meant by his passing comment, he replied,  "Chappy, no matter if you are working on your checkbook, closing a surveying bench run, managing personal relationships or even wrestling with the effects of human interaction and nature, the fact is, there must be balance."

I grew up in Belle Glade and in 1964 I began working on a survey crew as a laborer while surveying 40,000 acres of sawgrass in the Everglades of Florida -- to turn it into a ranch for a famous ranch out of Texas. 

It was a tough job in tough terrain. This motivation for the acquisition of this land and project was to provide a place of employment for this company's Cuban employee refugees after Castro nationalized their ranches in Cuba. It occurred in a place and time when it was deemed appropriate and consistent with the private property rights of the day. Today, not so much.

Those were the days that our survey equipment resembled the same equipment that the early surveyors of the 1800s used. No lasers, no hand-held calculators, and absolutely no GPS.  Distances were measured behind machetes, while pulling a 200 foot chain through the swamps. I walked over 100 miles pulling a chain in knee-deep water while encountering cotton mouth snakes and gators of all sizes. 

Since then, I have surveyed much of those same lands to help turn them back into the natural Everglades. To say that my career has come full circle is an understatement.  These experiences and the research that was necessary for me to learn, gave me a unique understanding of the WHY and REASONS for the problems we now face in the Florida Everglades.

Now, the history behind the development of the Everglades.

As a background to the development of the Everglades in early Florida, I'll share some historic facts.  Florida became a state on March 3, 1845 and was a vast vacant wilderness carved out of the territory acquired from Spain. Territories throughout the North American continent were acquired by our fledgling nation at a huge expense. To offset that expense and to pay down the debt, the territory lands, including Florida, were offered for sale to private individuals.  

THE PROBLEM: How much land did the U.S. have to sell and how would they legally and easily describe and convey those lands? Hence, the rectangular system of surveying we now know as Sections, Townships and Ranges was invented. The federal government, in the early 1800s, began surveying only the more valuable lands then capable of being sold, i.e. "the uplands."  The vast swamp areas were deemed "unfit for cultivation (the test)" and not worth the cost of surveying ($4 per mile surveyed).  The swamps, like the Everglades and many others in Florida, were deeded to the state with the proviso that the state would drain them and then sell those lands to encourage settlement.

In the early 1900s, the state began digging canals (the Miami, the Hillsboro, the Palm Beach, the North New River, the L-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and L-8 canals and others) and sold the lands now known loosely as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA). In turn, the federal government dug the St. Lucie (C-44) and the Caloosahatchee Canals, because it was the feds' responsibility to provide for navigation through Lake Okeechobee.  

Private ownership of lands within the EAA now enjoy the same private property rights that you, the reader, has in the land your home is built on.  Taking of a portion of those private properties is no different than the government taking most of your lot, all of your house and leaving you with the shed your lawnmower is stored in, and the 100 square feet it sits on. If your ownership is a business, the pitiful remainder is not suited for the continued use of your business. 

The same is true for the farmers of the "Glades". Private property rights is at the core of today's issue. The "do gooders" of the coastal communities really don't have a clue of the amazing worth of our neighboring farming properties and cities that support them. And that is a shame! 

I encourage our coastal residents, my friends and neighbors, to take the time to independently research all the facts of this important issue, without joining and following the lemmings on either side of the issue. Visit the communities of the Glades, talk to the people, ask the difficult questions and do so with an open mind with the idea of learning, not accusing.

One last thought. When we are in a heated debate and the feelings are strong on two sides of an issue, the first 15 minutes of the conversation is not pleasant. But if you can relax, defuse the emotion of the moment, continue the discussion as a fact finder, not as an advocate, you will began to find that all the participants will follow your lead and address your questions with reason.  

Once you achieve this level of dialog, you will be able to get at the essence of the diverse issues.

Chappy Young is president if GCY, Inc., Professional Surveyors & Mappers, Palm City.


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