By Susan Salisbury
February 28, 2017
Palm Beach Post
As the controversy over a proposal to purchase land for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee continues, Tuesday the Everglades Foundation released a 20-page study on the economic benefits of two other proposed Everglades restoration projects.
Senate President Joe Negron has proposed SB 10, which calls for the purchase of 60,000 acres south of the lake and if that fails, it seeks the purchase of up to 153,000 acres of farmland.
Both of the proposed reservoirs in the Everglades Foundation’s study are already included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration plan, but are not yet funded.
The study led by Michael T. Maloney, a Clemson University Emeritus Professor of Economics, concludes that a proposed 360,000-acre foot South Reservoir would have an $18.5 billion impact on property values in Martin and Lee counties. Its construction would provide more than 39,000 jobs. In addition, water that would be collected in the reservoir would be worth an estimated $1.5 billion.
Eric Eikenberg, CEO of The Everglades Foundation, said Tuesday afternoon that a reservoir south of the lake would provide storage and send water through the Everglades.
“It would provide water to hydrate the Everglades and deliver fresh water down south for 8 million Floridians and get water to the Florida Keys,” Eikenberg said.
Florida Sugarcane Farmers reacted quickly to Everglades Foundation’s study calling it “fake economics.”
The study does not consider the economic impact on the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee. Mostly in Palm Beach County, the EAA includes some of the nation’s most productive sugar cane and vegetable fields.
Sugarcane farmer Ardis Hammock, owner and operator of Frierson Farms Inc., in Moore Haven, said in a statement:
“It’s only fitting that a group funded almost entirely by out-of-state billionaire special interests has hired an out-of-state economist to come to the same discredited conclusion being pushed by the Everglades Foundation and its dishonest affiliates. This study relies on ‘fake science’ and ‘fake economics’ to make a case that neither real scientists nor economists actually believe.
“Despite the best attempts by environmental activists to use scare tactics that could harm Florida’s economy, 2016 was a record year for tourism in Florida, where the state saw a 5.9 percent increase over 2015. Florida’s real estate market improved as well. According to the Florida Realtors, “the state’s housing markets clearly got healthier in 2016 due to a major decline in the number of distressed properties for sale,” Hammock said.
“This is no way minimizes the very real harm experienced by the coastal estuaries, but for anyone to claim a small reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee would have any real impact on those issues is blatantly dishonest.
“It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that the Everglades Foundation would go to these lengths to push misinformation to sell this economically disastrous plan. The facts speak for themselves: Senate Bill 10 is a job killer that spends too much, relies on fraudulent science, and gets very little in return.”
The Everglades Foundation’s study follows last Thursday’s release a James Madison Institute report titled “$ticker $Shock: Examining the Economic Impacts of Land Acquisition in the EAA,” that found the removal of 60,000 acres of productive farmland south of Lake Okeechobee would result in a negative economic impact of $695 million and the loss of 4,148 jobs statewide.
The proposed 200,000 acre-foot reservoir north of Lake Okeechobee would result in economic benefits of $1.7 billion, the report finds.
The South Reservoir would outperform a North Reservoir, improving water quality by more than 45 percent in the Caloosahatchee and 64 percent in the St. Lucie River, the report states.
“The EAA Reservoir will be an economic engine for our state, a job creator and a driving force behind the restoration of real estate values along both our coasts,” Eikenberg said.
The Martin County Property Appraiser’s Office lists the current taxable value of all properties at $19.5 billion. Lee County Property Appraiser’s Office states the taxable value of all properties is $66.7 billion.