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Delays are not helping Everglades

August 29, 2009

Not many people realize that the actual headwaters of the Everglades are just south of Orlando.

The vast sheet flow of water slowly works its way south into Lake O, then south again through the "river of grass" and marshes, being purified along the way before finally dumping into Florida Bay.

That is how it's supposed to work. The Everglades at one end has gators, deer, snakes, bears, birds and panthers, and at the other end bonefish, tarpon and hammerhead sharks.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

The Glades is a unique and once vital eco-system that has been under attack for decades by developers, water managers, farming and its biggest enemy the sugar industry, and also a system that has been trying to see restoration efforts take place for the last 50 years.

The mismanagement of this system, mostly for big sugar's benefit, and the issues at Lake Okeechobee not only affects the Everglades, but also the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers as well as Florida Bay and even into the Keys where reef destruction already is documented.

When Gov. Charlie Christ announced in 2008 that the State of Florida intended to purchase almost 300 square miles of farmland from U.S. Sugar for $1.75 billion it was hailed by environmental groups and friends of the Everglades as a giant step in helping restore this great ecosystem that so desperately needs help, and to help stop sugar production, which is a major source of pollution.

Even with this deal some 300,000 acres owned by other companies still will remain in production of sugar. Unfortunately, the latest news I have is that due to economic conditions the purchase has been scaled back. As of April 1, 2009, the plan is to now spend $530 million to purchase 72,500 acres with an option to buy the rest by 2019. Again, another delay in a very long line of continuing setbacks.

For decades the state has struggled to find a way to restore the natural flow through the Everglades and curb the pollution caused by sugar farms, cow pastures and urban sprawl. It is the largest wetlands restoration project in history. Attempts to fix the problem by constructing water treatment marshes and reservoirs among other things have been constantly hindered by politics, lack of money and mean spirited court battles over the best solutions.

One major sugar company, Florida Crystals, is trying to protect its business. The group in charge of restoration, the South Florida Water Management District, has been sued countless times by parties favoring one solution over another. Now the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, who calls the Everglades their ancestral home, has sued the water district repeatedly. In the current case the tribe along with Florida Crystals is trying to block the state land purchase from U.S. Sugar Corp.

One thing for sure is that we can buy sugar much cheaper than we can grow and produce it in Florida. In Florida, big sugar benefits from super-high taxpayer farm subsidies. Always follow the money. Big sugar directly impacts our river and Cape Coral. When Lake O gets too full, the water managers release the excess into the Caloosahatchee and The St. Lucie so it flows to the sea.

One of the problems is this water is laden with poisons from Big Sugar back pumping their polluted water north to the lake, which then is released into the rivers causing massive algae blooms, certain destruction of the rivers' ecology, and pollution at the mouth of the rivers extending many miles into the Gulf and the Atlantic.

One thing for certain is with every court battle and delay the Everglades, with all its beauty, and wildlife, as well as our rivers, Florida Bay and the Keys are all endangered so big sugar and other special interest groups can maintain their profits at our expense.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.



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