At a community meeting attended by hundreds of residents in Pahokee on March 17, Representative Rick Roth (R-Wellington) asked Senate President Joe Negron a question about Senate Bill 10.
Roth wanted to know what would happen if the bill becomes law and there are no willing sellers.
When Roth didn’t receive an answer responsive to his question, he asked again. Then once more. After the third time, Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon II told Roth they’d talk and get him an answer in Tallahassee.
Almost two weeks later, Roth is still waiting.
Senate Bill 10, filed by Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), authorizes the purchase of 60,000-153,000 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) for water storage.
Roth, who is a farmer as well as a state legislator, said that he did not believe there would be willing sellers of agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee. At the meeting, Negron said, “With all due respect, I do not agree with you that we will not be able to find sellers. And, there are many owners of land south of the lake that are in discussion with us to try to solve this problem once and for all.”
On Monday, the Everglades Agricultural Area Farmers (EAA Farmers) coalition weighed in with letter to Senator Negron: “Due to recent claims you have made at public forums, the undersigned landowners in the Everglades Agricultural Area, which represent landowners that own more than 2,500 acres of land in that region, are banding together and reaffirming that we are not willing sellers of our property to the government.”
According to John Scott Hundley of the EAA Farmers, the letter is signed by all landowners who own or control 2,500 acres or more of land. Among the 14 agricultural enterprises represented is Roth Farms, Inc.
“My concern is that SB 10 doesn’t solve any problems and has two provisions. One is to buy 60,000 acres and the other is to buy 153,000 acres – that’s not a solution, that’s a land purchase,” said Roth. “As a farmer, I believe that we can solve our water quality problems with time and planning while we continue to farm. We can find a solution that does both.”
Roth believes he knows who Negron plans on obtaining the land from but said, “No one is talking about it.” He believes that the plan is to acquire United States Sugar’s land based on a seven-year-old option agreement between the company and the state. “That’s a big problem. In no way is it a water quality solution, it’s just land buying,” said Roth.
United States Sugar is the first signatory on the EAA Farmers letter which also stated, “Over the last two decades, farmers south of Lake Okeechobee have lost more than 120,000 acres of productive farmland to the government and the undersigned landowners are not willing sellers of any more. Instead, EAA farmers will continue to advocate for plans that will show real results for Florida’s environment.”