New questions are being raised about a potential conflict of interest over Senate President Joe Negron‘s sugar land buying proposal, and the Gunster Law Firm where Negron is employed. Gunster represents U.S. Sugar, which is only minimally impacted by the proposal, while other sugar farmers, including Florida Crystals and the Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative, make up the remaining 85% of the land targeted by Negron.
When unveiling his plan for expanding water storage in the Everglades using $2.4 billion in public funds, Negron unveiled a map featuring circles around two 60,000 acre tracts of farmland just south of Lake Okeechobee that would be flooded to relieve algae blooms plaguing the nearby coastal estuaries. Environmental groups cheered, and environmental activist media writers voiced their support, too, saying Negron’s plan was clearly political, and yet, “it just might work.”
But unlike the last time the State of Florida got into the sugar-farm-buying business, when then-Governor Charlie Crist negotiated an option to buy land from U.S. Sugar, Senator Negron’s proposal appeared to focus almost exclusively on Florida Crystals. According to the TC Palm’s coverage (linked above) of the press conference:
Negron identified two 60,000-acre parcels as options — and Florida Crystals owns a large chunk of both.
About 25 percent of the roughly 120,000 acres being targeted by Negron is owned by smaller sugar farming operations, many of whom are members of the Florida Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative. Here’s how they feel about it:
Taking another 60,000 acres of productive and sustainable farmland out of the (Everglades Agricultural Area) will without a doubt close down our sugar mill and put us out of business,” said Barbara Miedema, vice president of Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida – a collection of smaller sugar cane growers. “Sen. Negron’s plan means losing a thousand or more jobs in the Glades communities, not to mention the impact to businesses in the community that provide services to us.”
Less than 15 percent of the land identified by Negron is actually owned by U.S. Sugar, which has some locals, including J.P. Sasser, the former mayor of Pahokee, Florida, wondering why Negron let U.S. Sugar off the hook:
Now, along comes state Sen. Joe Negron — newly elected president of the Florida Senate and member of the Gunster law firm, which lists U.S. Sugar as one of its clients. Negron draws two circles on a map of Florida for purchasing land in the name of Everglades restoration. Both circles contain very little U.S. Sugar land. Conflict of interest maybe?
Read J.P. Sasser’s full take-down of Negron’s proposal here.