Belle Glade Sun

Negron says state will find willing sellers in the EAA

Is land in the Everglades Agricultural Area for sale?

In a letter delivered to the Florida Senate in February, all of the owners who each hold more than 2,500 acres of farmland in the EAA stated their land was not for sale.

INI Florida/Katrina Elsken
Approximately 1,000 Lake Okeechobee area residents gathered at Pahokee High School on March 17 for a Glades Community Meeting with Florida Senate President Joe Negron, champion of Senate Bill 10 which would require the state to purchase 60,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area for a reservoir. Only about 400 persons would fit in the school auditorium, so seat tickets were given out to those who arrived first. Those at the meeting included hundreds of Machinist Union workers who wore black shirts emblazoned with “SAVE OUR JOBS.” Others in the crowd held up toilet seats with a reminder that pollution from urban septic was responsible for much of the excess phosphorus and nitrogen that fed the Treasure Coast algae blooms. Urban pollution — not the lake releases — was also the source of the dangerous bacteria that caused some waterways to be closed to the public, according to the Watershed to Reef study conducted by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

At the March 17 Glades Community Meeting at Pahokee High School, Florida Senate President Joe Negron broadly hinted that some property there is available for state purchase.

At Friday’s meeting State Representative Rick Roth, who owns a farm in Belle Glade, referenced the February letter from the EAA landowners when he asked Sen. Negron, “If Senate Bill 10 passes, and there are no willing sellers, what happens?”

“I learned a long time ago not only in government service but also my work in the private sector, that you don’t know what is going to happen until you are further along down the road in accomplishing the goal,” replied Sen. Negron.

“I think it’s important to make sure that potential land owners who are willing to sell to us know that the state is committed to looking for opportunities to sell,” he said.

“There are companies in the past that have offered to sell, have given us options to buy their land, completely unrelated to this particular issue,” he continued.

“I am convinced, based on what I have seen happen, that the agricultural companies want to resolve this too,” he said.

“I believe by the time session is over that we can work toward a negotiated agreement where we will have a combination of government owned land and private owned land that will give us enough southern storage so that we can reduce and ultimately eliminate the discharges,” Sen. Negron continued.

“I didn’t hear my question answered,” Mr. Roth stated. “My question was, if you don’t find willing sellers —  which I believe is the case, you are not going to find willing sellers — what does the second part of the bill say  is going to happen if the bill becomes law?”

“I don’t agree with you that we are not going to find sellers,” said Sen. Negron. “There are many owners of land south of the lake that are in discussions with us in trying to solve this problem.

“We have an option, and I think all options should be on the table,” he said.

“One of the companies agreed years ago to provide an option to the state of Florida to sell some of their land or all of their land, and they voluntarily entered into this option and were compensated for that,” he said, referencing the agreement made between U.S. Sugar and the State of Florida when Charlie Crist was governor.

“I can tell you from personal knowledge and from discussions I have been involved with and do have an understand of that we do have the ability to address land swaps through other avenues, having some land owners who will work with us,” said Sen. Negron.

Amid murmurs from the crowd that Mr. Roth’s question still had not been answered, the moderators moved on to another question.