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Environmental Group Sues State Over Everglades Leases

PHOTO: Sugar Water Runoff, Courtesy of Sierra Club
PHOTO: Sugar Water Runoff, Courtesy of Sierra Club

February 11, 2013 | WMFE - The state of Florida is facing a lawsuit after extending no-bid, long-term leases for 14,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area to several sugar growing corporations. Environmentalists are raising concerns over the length of the lease.

The environmental law group Earthjustice has filed suit on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation. The group is contesting a lease that would allow two sugar growers to continue farming state land in western Palm Beach County for the next 30 years.

Earthjustice attorney David Guest says extending the leases for such an long period adds to the pollution in the region and counteracts efforts to clean up the Everglades.  Guest contends that the leases are illegal.

“If this was anybody but these guys, they would get at most a six year lease. That’s what everybody else gets.” Guest says. “That’s a good idea in a circumstance like this because six years from now, you may decide you want to use that land for Everglades restoration or pollution reduction.”

But Robert Coker with the United State Sugar Corporation says long term leases in the Everglades Agricultural Area are nothing new.

“Lawton Chiles recognized that the businesses that function in the EAA have to have a reliable supply of sugar cane to operate those giant harvesters and those giant mills down there and so Lawton Chiles extended the leases for 20 years. This is nothing new. And the environmental community agreed to it.”

When they approved the leases, state officials said they felt confident they could enforce strong environmental standards and get the land back if they needed it before the lease ended.

South Florida Water Management officials say the leases were needed in order to negotiate for tracts of land the state wanted  for restoration projects.



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