Politicians turn to communist tactics to seize land

Ecological extremists have really done a number on the residents of Martin County, Fla. It’s the kind of thing that happens in communist Cuba. Or in Bolivia. But not in these United States.

The city of Stuart is trying to find a way to block pollution of the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary caused by the discharge of tainted water from north Lake Okeechobee, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dumping to reduce the threat to the structural integrity of its lake dike.

Egged on by a witch hunt by the liberal Stuart News, city commissioners are preparing to ask government agencies to seize huge tracts of private land owned by sugar and agricultural farmers so it can be flooded to relieve estuary pollution.

You read that right. An executive director of an environmental group told the Stuart City Commission that “the best way to control the level of Lake Okeechobee [is] to release water southward … rather than east through the St. Lucie River and west through the Caloosahatchee River.” But releasing the water southward through a flow-way requires flooding hundreds of thousands of private acres south of Lake Okeechobee.

That land is owned by sugar, citrus and agricultural farmers large and small. They make their living by farming. By itself, the sugar industry employs over 12,500 people who depend on the work to feed their families. But now, the eco lunatic fringe and the Stuart News have convinced a governmental body to ask the state of Florida and the South Florida Water Management District to land-grab this private property through the eminent domain process.

Florida EvergladesIt’s time for some facts to be trotted out: For starters, this willful taking of private land by elected officials so that farms can be flooded to protect “public” interests goes against the values cherished by Americans. The harm to Martin County estuaries was not caused by farming south of Lake O. It was caused by heavy rainfall into the water system flowing south from Orlando into the lake, which is now overloaded. That excess water from the northern basin, which includes local drainage, lawn fertilization and hundreds of thousands of septic tanks in Martin County and places north, accounts for over 95 percent of the water volume and 95 percent of the phosphorous in the lake.

Yes, both the East and West Coast estuaries have very real problems — toxic green algae and sediment-laden water — but environmental groups are churning up residents by telling them the quick, easy solution is to send the water south to flood the sugar and farm fields. How arrogant to say the needs of coastal people outweigh the needs of innocent farm people.

Every state and federal agency involved in restoration has reviewed the science and technical aspects of a southern “flow-way” from Lake Okeechobee, reaching these conclusions:

  1. The system has been changed too dramatically for the water to flow south naturally.
  2. There are many other projects that provide more benefits to more parts of the system.
  3. During average to dry years, a flow-way would drain the water system, harming the conservation areas and Everglades Park.
  4. During wet years, like 2013, the entire system south of Lake O would be full of water, destroying farming communities and providing very little relief to the estuaries.
  5. There needs to be much more storage and water treatment north of Lake O, which is where the problem arises.

What is outrageous is that Martin County politicians and eco extremists want to fix their dirty water problem by flooding out farming in other counties. Well, the polluted water problem will not be solved by dumping toxic water into someone else’s backyard. What is particularly disgraceful is the dirty water did not come from farms south of Lake O.

This problem should be fixed at the source, which is north of Lake O. And politicians who want to use the heavy hand of government to confiscate private property for selfish purposes should have their own hands slapped. Hard.

John R. Smith

John R. Smith is chairman of BIZPAC, the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County, and owner of a financial services company.


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