Shenanigans with the South Florida Water Management District

Mast & DeSantis fight shenanigans with the South Florida Water Management District  

Excerpt: Brian Mast wants to clean house at the South Florida Water Management District. Mast, a Republican whose Northern Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast district is plagued by algae-clogged water releases from Lake Okeechobee, has been counting on the plan to divert future releases of dirty water to state-owned land south of the lake, far from his district. 

Converting that land to a 10,500-acre storage area and 6,500-acre stormwater treatment pond was touted by Mast and incoming Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as a workable solution to the toxic-algae problems that have fouled estuaries and rivers on both coasts, causing fish kills, medical complaints and tourism woes. 

But the night after last month’s midterm elections, the South Florida Water Management District added a surprise agenda item to its board meeting the next morning. 

At 9 p.m. -- about 12 hours before the start of the meeting -- the board’s agenda was changed to add a vote on whether to give the sugar company, Florida Crystals, an eight-year lease extension to continue farming on the state land that was supposed to be converted to the reservoir. 

The meeting where this vote was held was not in the district’s offices in West Palm Beach. It was in the alumni hall at the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables -- about 75 miles and a three-hour rush-hour drive away. 

Mast found out about the vote and made the long drive to Coral Gables in an effort to stop it. 

But the board members, all appointed by outgoing Gov. Rick Scott, plowed ahead and unanimously approved the eight-year extension of the sugar lease, which was set to expire in March. 

Bottom Line: Anyone have any doubt what really happened there? Kudos to Brian for being on it despite every obvious effort being made to get it done outside the light of day. If you’ve ever listened to me before right now – you're well aware that’d I’m a pro-business, low regulation, free-market person. I’m also a commonsense environmentalist. This is commonsense. We’ve created a man-made disaster out of our waterways for 90 years in Florida. The monster we’ve created kills wildlife, nature and even sickens people in regular and recurring intervals. There’s no business interest in this state or in the world that justifies the status quo in that situation. This isn’t some absurd carbon-tax or gas tax BS. What’s worse is that the business case for Florida tourism, and the negative impact of the toxic algae would doubtless be greater than the benefit generated by Florida Crystals using this for another eight years. I’ll put together economic analysis on this early next year if needed. 

What happened here is about as under-handed as it (potentially) legally gets. After years of fighting to get local, state and federal governments on the same page at the same time to finally create a sustainable solution to deal with our 90-year man-made crisis with Lake O’ discharges – it happened. In February of 2017, Florida passed a law allowing for this reservoir as part of a comprehensive plan to rework discharges and water flow. Then for nearly two years Brian Mast along with an assist from DeSantis in Congress fought like hell to make it federal law which was required for the changes to happen. They did. As part of a five-year plan which was to commence early next year as the land-lease expired with Florida Crystals – we'd gradually see a ramp up towards a sustainable solution to our near discharge and toxic algae issues. And then this happened.  

It’s up in the air as to what happens now. There are possible disclosure violations with how this went down and that could and should lead to legal challenges to prevent this lease from being validated. Here’s what absolutely should take place. DeSantis should kick the entire South Florida Water Management District board to the curb along with their executive director. Shame on all of them. 

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