U.S. Sugar’s support of Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir and stormwater treatment area (STA) project was questioned at the Oct. 10 meeting of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) governing board, but reinforced by an Oct. 11 letter to that board.
The controversy began with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ request for public comment about the EAA reservoir and STA. As a stakeholder, U.S. Sugar sent a public comment letter to the corps.
At the Oct. 10 SFWMD meeting, some on the board and some members of the public used the letter to accuse U.S. Sugar of attempting to slow construction of the STA. At that meeting, U.S. Sugar attorney Elizabeth Ross explained U.S. Sugar supports the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). She said the public comment letter supports the EAA reservoir and STA projects but asks reasonable questions about water supply.
In an Oct. 11 letter to the governing board, Michael Ellis, U.S. Sugar vice president for strategic environmental affairs, reiterated U.S. Sugar’s support of the EAA reservoir:
“U.S. Sugar’s comment letter, dated Oct. 7, 2019 was addressed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to its request for public comment on the matter. The letter was sent the last day of the corps’ comment period. Submitting public comment is a necessary step for stakeholders and as an engaged stakeholder in these matters, U.S. Sugar has always provided public comment. Because of the importance of this project, it was our intent to go above and beyond the required disclosure while being transparent and open in discourse, so copies were sent to the South Florida Water Management District’s Executive Director Drew Bartlett, and governing board members as well as Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein.
“To be clear, U.S. Sugar supports the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), including its EAA reservoir project which was authorized by Congress in 2018. The letter’s first heading, bolded and underlined states: ‘USSC supports the CEPP project in which the A-2 STA is a component.’ From 1994 to 2000, Malcolm “Bubba” Wade Jr., senior vice president at U.S. Sugar, served on the Governor’s Commission for Sustainable South Florida and was part of the team that helped develop the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. U.S. Sugar supported — and has always supported — the projects that resulted from that planning process.
“Despite the statements by some stakeholders, the letter is not an ‘obstruction’ and was never intended to be so. The comment period provides all stakeholders an opportunity to give public comment on the project. As we have stated consistently, we support the timely completion of this project.
“U.S. Sugar is confident the questions raised in our letter, while vital, can be resolved, and the letter suggests possible options. Unfortunately, our letter was apparently misunderstood and used as a vehicle for open criticism by representatives of groups that have also made similar technical suggestions in the same public process. Unfortunately, such criticism is not unfamiliar to us and instructs us to re-double our efforts to remain more engaged and to work collaboratively with you in the future.
“Everglades restoration has been a long journey, and U.S. Sugar is proud of its ongoing and supportive track record as a partner with the district, state and federal governments in restoring Florida’s Everglades.”