Category Archives: Environment

U.S. Sugar, King Ranch, and Some Elected Officials Walk Into a Bar (Guest Opinion)

The following was not drafted by TameTheGorilla.  It is a guest opinion from Phil Buchanan of Pine Island, FL – pseudo-retired attorney and civic leader.  For context, first is an email excerpt describing his inability to get certain press coverage.  This is followed by his proposed Letter to the Editor. He can be contacted at coolcherokee@comcast.net for more information.  (Apologies for formatting issues.)

 

Email Re: Pine Island is the Next Victim of US Sugar/King Ranch Corruption
The Pine Island Eagle chose not to publish this item. The only way we have to get out the    word is email, Facebook, etc., so please forward this message to everybody you know.
The News-Press has also avoided publishing information on this corruption or even the King Ranch purchases on Pine Island. Even the extensive King Ranch involvement in the election/appointment/re-election of two county commissioners was largely ignored.
US Sugar/King Ranch refer to our local state legislator Matt Calwell as “our boy.”  I’m told they now intend to place him on the Lee County Commission. If Hamman is also re-elected, they would then own at least three of the five Lee County Commissioners, and the Pine Island Plan, environmental protection, and sustainable growth polices will be history in Lee County. That situation, if it occurs, will have been made possible by the cowardice of the media and apathy of the voters.
Please get involved. Stand up to the corruption.
Proposed Letter to Editor
Pine Island is the next victim of US Sugar/King Ranch corruption
US Sugar and King Ranch have paid tens of thousands of dollars in bribes to Governor Scott and other state and local officials, and in return have been rewarded with legislation and appointments worth untold millions of dollars. They claim it’s all legal because the money was routed through the Republican Party instead of going directly to the officials (like that actually makes a difference!). One newspaper said this “looks fishy.” Gee, you think! Bribery is bribery (even if it’s legal under Florida statutes!).
The victims of this corruption thus far have been the taxpayers, Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah (who was driven from office by a sleazy million dollar television blitz led by US Sugar), as well as the Everglades, the quality of our water, and the quality of life of numerous Florida communities. In the past few years, King Ranch has bought large tracts of land in Hendry, Martin, and Palm Beach Counties, and is using their enormous power and influence (including legalized bribery) to do away with local zoning and other land use controls. Now, they are also after Pine Island.
King Ranch has within the past two years purchased some 18 properties on Pine Island, a total of about 340 acres for some $4 million—all palm farms except one mangrove area near the Calusa Land Trust Dobbs Preserve (they will probably use those mangroves as “mitigation” for wetlands development). The palm farms are all in Bokeelia, include the former Soaring Eagle properties, and are located on Stringfellow Rd, Harbor Drive, Howard Rd, Quail Trail, and Pembroke Rd. King Ranch has overnight become the second largest commercial enterprise on Pine Island (second only to PalmCo). They also, true to form, immediately hired a local “developer-oriented” attorney to get rid of the Pine Island Land Use Plan. That attorney’s effort last year (aided by the County Attorney’s Office) to quietly eliminate the 910 rule failed, but no one thinks they have given up.
The corruption clearly extends into Lee County. Governor Scott, just after returning from an all-expenses paid ($20,000 or so to kill a deer) hunting trip to the King Ranch Hunting Lodge in Texas, appointed King Ranch Vice-President Mitch Hutchcraft to the South Florida Water Management District. He also appointed Brian Hamman to the Lee County Commission, and Hamman in turn also appointed Hutchcraft to the Lee County Local Planning Agency. Our legislative representative Matt Caldwell also took one of those hunting trips to King Ranch, and then sponsored legislation that saved US Sugar and King Ranch millions of dollars in Everglade’s pollution cleanup costs (which has to be made up by taxpayers). Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker got his position when US Sugar/King Ranch eliminated Ray Judah, and US Sugar and King Ranch are of course strongly supporting with money and influence the re-election of Commissioner Brian Hamman. Huge sums of PAC money are flying in every direction and extremely difficult to trace. Numerous and powerful foxes are in the Lee County hen house, which bodes ill for us chickens on Pine Island.
Pine Island is a beautiful coastal rural subtropical paradise, but unfortunately it’s located in the most corrupt state in the United States, and we are set up for some very bad times. You should expect to see well-financed misinformation campaigns, legal actions in the courts, and political shenanigans accompanied by grandiose development proposals—perhaps even including another bridge to the mainland and annexation by Cape Coral.
Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.    
Share Button

There’s a Bridge for Sale in Tallahassee

I’ve got a brilliant idea to make some money.  There’s this Jewish neighborhood down the street from me, and I think it’s the perfect place to put a pork BBQ joint.  Or better yet, I’m thinking of opening up a University of Florida paraphernalia shop on Stadium Drive.  I’m gonna’ be rich.  Any takers?

Last Sunday, members of the Tallahassee community met at the corner of Crump and Miccosukee Roads to discuss their collective outrage over a proposed gas station located just across the street from the Crump trailhead parking lot of the Miccosukee Greenway.  Residents in attendance expressed concern about changes the gas station could make to the area.  They worried over the possibility of increased traffic, groundwater contamination, light pollution, etc.

Several of the more heavily engaged citizens sat as a panel and facilitated the bulk of this discussion by taking questions from the audience and by offering their own opinions on the situation.  These “community organizers” – if you’ll forgive my tongue in cheek, dry sense of humor – focused on one point, perhaps more than others.  The lack of economic sustainability.

A large 20-pump gas station, equipped with a car wash, doesn’t seem like an economically viable business venture on the rural corner of Crump and Miccosukee, they argued.  What happens to the site if this thing goes belly up?  The panel asserted that the amount of vehicular traffic passing the location amounts to approximately 15% of what the Florida Department of Transportation standards suggest as necessary to support this business.

Which brings me back to my original question…  Any venture capitalists out there want to fund my University of Florida sweatshirt and bumper sticker store?

More often than not, things are what they appear to be.  Mr. William G. Brown, the gentleman who purchased the site of the proposed gas station, is most likely a very savvy businessman.  A savvy businessman who would not spend the $70,000 he spent purchasing the property – and however much it would cost to construct a gas station – without believing that he would get a good return on his investment.

In the case of the proposed gas station, this means that Mr. Brown needs additional passersby from somewhere, in order to keep the business afloat.  If the community organizers are correct in their assertions, those numbers aren’t there today.

However, a quick look at the Leon County Property Appraiser website shows that there are thousands of nearby, undeveloped acres owned by entities with vague and nondescript names such as Powerhouse, Inc., CNL Tallahassee, and TOE2, Inc.  Mr. Brown himself owns about a hundred acres just south of the proposed site.*

Maybe this was just a bad business decision.  But if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

 

*(Note: property records reflect a Mr. Brown and a Mr. Brown, Sr., but both are listed as having the same address.)

Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.

Share Button

Something’s got to give. (Development in Florida)

For better or for worse, the Sunshine state is known for its rapid and unfettered development. This style of growth has brought Florida a lot of economic prosperity, but also many later-realized external costs that have come in the form of environmental restoration. New houses on virgin soil may come cheap, but rehabbing an antiquated stormwater management system or wastewater treatment plant does not.

There is a lot of value in learning from the past, from not repeating the same mistakes. However, when it comes to development in Florida, I’m not convinced that is going to happen. Too many refer back to the development “boom” as a goal. But it can’t be a goal. That level and style of development was nothing other than an artificial bubble, perched precariously on the tip of a wand, ready to burst at the first strong breeze. We can’t go back to what wasn’t a reality in the first place. So much of the recession we’re recovering from came from the dependence on a false economy, of which that unchecked development was a part.

There are real and serious environmental concerns at stake in this next phase of Florida’s history, but a great deal of economic ones, as well. Let’s talk about that – the dollars and cents of it.

Florida is still swimming in a sea of foreclosed properties. Many unfortunate homeowners still find themselves underwater on their houses. If we kick start building in a vein similar to how we left off, what happens to all of those people? What happens to Florida’s economy when the consumer opts for the cheaper, newer home and the existing relics of the last decade of building sit empty or “unsellable”? I worry greatly about the economic consequence of flooding the market in this way.

And please don’t take this to be an opposition piece to the construction industry. I know folks in that line of work – talented and very smart individuals upon whom our society relies for way more than it knows. The question may be, “If we don’t start building structures again, what would come of this mainstay of our economy?”

Infrastructure. We need it so desperately. We are in great demand for an overhaul to aging infrastructure in this state and in our country. Why not redirect that skill set to something that would serve so well the citizens of this state? Proper infrastructure benefits everyone, individuals and businesses alike.

If we fail to take this approach, and instead start development off where we left it, we will be falling behind before we even begin. There are desires to literally pick up where we left off, to start building homes directly adjacent to the ones we had to stop building in 2009. In many cases, there wasn’t sufficient infrastructure there in the first place, and it isn’t there now. Why would we continue to overtax our stormwater systems, wastewater treatment plants, roadways, etc. when it is only going to cost us more in the long run?

Just look at numeric nutrient criteria. Parties both for and against have fought heated battles over this issue for years now. The predicted financial implications of the criteria set by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have ranged from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. In reality, no one really knows how much it will cost to bring all necessary facilities and sources into compliance over years of implementation. It is a moving target. BUT, had we considered the environmental impacts of development – agriculture and industry, as well – before we broke ground and issued building permits, most can at least agree that it would have cost us all a whole lot less. Prevention is always cheaper.

Unfortunately, the foresight and long-term planning that can get us to a more sustainable place, where costs are predetermined and not externalized for some unknown future generation to pay, is not taking place.

This isn’t a dig on government – let’s make that clear right now. I know personally and have a lot of respect for individuals who are making the best of the tools and realities they have to protect and restore our environment, all the while making sure they do not impede economic growth.

Instead, it’s a dig at all of us. We do too much finger pointing and not enough solution making. This is a responsibility that lies with all of us – what do we want?

I consider myself an avid environmentalist – yes, I use cloth diapers on my baby. But you know what? I bought those cloth diapers at Target and on Amazon, not exactly your mom and pop establishments. Let me not cast the first stone…

We have to have an honest conversation with ourselves about the Florida we would like to see, and then have that same conversation with each other. I have my own opinion on things, but there are plenty of other people out there who would disagree. And that’s ok. They have the right to. That’s the point. We are sharing these resources and our future, but to do so effectively requires that we actually talk to and not past one another.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy. There are real difficulties such a property right issues, regulatory concerns, agreeable standards of living, all of which amount to verifiable obstacles. But they are only obstacles. They are not absolutes.

To make change, we’ll have to make compromises. Something’s got to give. But change is most painful at the start. It gets easier after that. We just need to come together to figure out where we want to head because as of yet, there is no clear destination.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post ran an interview with former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates. In that interview, Gates spoke of “Congressional paralysis” that leads to “mindless” actions being taken. That sort of behavior isn’t limited to Congress – we’re all susceptible.

The best time for change is always “now.” Before central Florida runs out of its remaining six percent of groundwater and Florida’s suffering citrus groves get turned into more houses and strip malls, we need a NEW normal in Florida.

Follow me on Twitter at Patience Burke@TameTheGorilla.

Share Button