Tuesday should have been liberation day for Eve Samples‘ Treasure Coast readers. Note, I said SHOULD have been.
Is there anyone who follows Everglades politics who doesn’t know the opinion-team leader for USA Today-Florida Network — the face of editorial policy on Everglades restoration and Lake Okeechobee water quality — is in the tank for the Everglades Foundation and has been for at least the last seven years?
Whatever co-founder Paul Tudor Jones II‘s shadowy organization of advocacy groups wanted, Samples and TCPalm peddled.
On Tuesday Samples had a new work address and new title. I’ll be darned if I can see any change afoot in her mission or influence on the newsroom staff, but I can hope. As new executive director of Friends of the Everglades, she can and (I bet) will pass off Everglades Foundation goals as the wisdom and wishes of the her new employer’s iconic founder, Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Who’s going to argue with her?
My fervent hope is, with Samples gone from Treasure Coast Newspapers, the staff left behind might eventually take a more balanced, deeper dive into Everglades restoration, Lake Okeechobee pollution and the personal agendas that block solutions to water problems plaguing the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
For instance, might the Treasure Coast Newspapers staff look away from the EAA (southern) reservoir long enough to engage in honest coverage of how much reducing the rate of flow and volume of water entering Lake Okeechobee FROM THE NORTH will reduce discharges?
Might we hope to see a cease-fire on agriculture long enough for real coverage of the septic tanks remaining in the Lake Okeechobee watershed, and learn to what extent population growth is adversely affecting water quality?
Might readers learn what it takes to clean nitrogen, not just phosphorus, from water flowing south into the national park and Florida Bay? Does anybody remember that this was a major issue for Marjory Stoneman Douglas when she asked Gov. Lawton Chiles to take her name off the Everglades Restoration Act because the Act didn’t go far enough? The Act was about cleaning phosphorus but, she told Chiles, neglected to deal with nitrogen flushing into Florida Bay.
And — be still, my heart — dare I hope we might one day see an investigative piece on billionaire Tudor Jones II’s powerful Everglades Foundation, its history, its money, what exactly its real accomplishments are and how it wields such breathtaking influence on communities, congressmen, governors and Everglades restoration?
Sadly, I doubt I’ll live to see any such stories in my local newspaper.
Clever strategy to move the Friends of the Everglades headquarters from Miami to Stuart, which unsurprisingly is where Samples lives. There she can hit the ground running and play off her algae celebrity. The move and the new executive-director announcement were almost simultaneous. Plus, Friends’ fundraising efforts in South Florida have fallen flat in the last decade. In Martin County, where affluent waterfront residents reach for a rosary every time it rains, the donation potential is out of sight.
Florida Sportsman publisher Blair Wickstrom, a director of Friends of the Everglades, Bullsugar.com and The Rivers Coalition, gave TCPalm reporter Tyler Treadway a more elaborate reason for moving the nonprofit north. It was, he said, an “effort to unite all three estuaries: the east, west and south. It was important to expand Friends of the Everglades’ influence outside of the South Florida area. Having all three estuaries unified around the idea of operational change of how Lake Okeechobee is managed is thought to be key in the success of Everglades restoration.”
Nah. It’s about the money roundup. And Samples’ potential/proximity to continue urging Treasure Coast editorial content.
On Jan. 14, the same day Samples’ appointment was announced, the Everglades Trust fired off a congratulatory social media post:
Certainly it’s a clever set-up for Tudor Jones’ Everglades Foundation/Trust. Samples has developed considerable clout, particularly in Martin County. As she wrote over the weekend in her farewell newspaper column:
“The good news is the work of journalists has helped spur a grassroots movement that has made a difference in recent years. The South Florida Water Management District has been overhauled, and Gov. Ron DeSantis made water policy his first order of business after taking office.”
All true. Except, I would argue that the “grassroots movement” part was less grassroots than a “special interest” effort cleverly fathered by the Foundation to work on its behalf, manipulating citizens and governments to accomplish its own agenda — all under the banner of environmental good.
And what is the Everglades Foundation’s agenda? To break “Big Sugar’s” back, annihilate farming, particularly sugar farming in the Everglades. I’m not guessing here. It’s a land grab, part of a “we’ll destroy you” vow that Foundation co-founders made to sugarcane growers decades ago.
The Everglades Foundation would have Floridians believe the algae-choked waterways on each coast are all the fault of Big Sugar.
Reporter Chris Leggatt explained in Red Broward and BizPac Review how the Foundation and Everglades Trust work: “Like a pair of octopi, (they) use their ‘arms’ (organizations that receive funds) to advocate” for issues that primarily demonize sugar.”
Billionaire hedge fund manager Tudor Jones’ “octopi” prop up more than half a dozen environmental groups. While Friends of the Everglades isn’t one of them officially, Jones’ mothership has always been linked to helping brash, dark-money Bullsugar.org set sail. Last June the Bullsugar Alliance, nonprofit arm of Bullsugar.org, merged with Friends of the Everglades.
Did anybody else wonder if Marjory Stoneman Douglas was turning in her grave?
In 2016, Bullsugar.org posted a video on Facebook page of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam being booed in Martin County and shouted down to chants of “bull sugar” as he tried to explain his position on Everglades restoration to a group of protestors. Since 2013, when Bullsugar formed, more than one legislator has labeled it a “hate group” for its advocates’ vulgar Facebook postings and verbal assaults at public events. I wrote about its unscrupulous shenanigans myself.
Here’s the rub: For some three years Bullsugar was shunned like a leper by the larger Martin County community. But then, out of the blue, the group shuffled its officers/directors, dumped its bartender president Kenny Hinkle and Treasure Coast Newspapers launched a campaign to legitimize it. Gil Smart, among Samples’ stable of columnists, performed the makeover:
“Let me say up front that I’ve met several people involved with Bullsugar, the local enviro-activist group dedicated to stopping the discharges from Lake Okeechobee. And I love the idea of Bullsugar,” Smart wrote. “A social media-fueled insurrection of people fed up with government inaction and corporate obstructionism.”
Next thing you knew, Bullsugar and Friends of the Everglades were announcing their merger.
Imagine my surprise when the newspaper that employed me for some 27 years excused Bull’s organized thuggery, virtually condoning it with an endorsement column from a member of the editorial board.
Eve Samples, new executive director of Stuart-based Friends of the Everglades, may have left the building, but she’s been an outstanding Everglades Foundation-style advocate for the environment and a powerful influence in the TCN newsroom. I don’t see her giving that up until new leadership at the newspaper makes a conscious effort to change the culture and move toward balance.
Not holding my breath.
Stuart resident Nancy Smith worked in various writing and editing roles at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News, including managing editor, from 1977 until she retired in 2005. In 2010 she returned to work as executive editor of the Tallahassee-based Sunshine State News, from which she retired in November 2019.