Sugarcane Growers Accuse Everglades Foundation of “Cooking the Books”

by | Jun 1, 2017

Florida’s sugarcane growers are lashing out at the Everglades Foundation claiming the foundation is waging a misinformation campaign aimed at creating further division between coastal residents and farming communities.

The growers accuse the foundation of “cooking the books” when it comes to property values in coastal areas of Fort Myers and Stuart in an effort to conceal what is really happening to property values in those areas.

In 2015 the Everglades Foundation commissioned a study by the Florida Realtors on the impact that agricultural water discharges had on property values. The sugarcane growers accused the foundation of using the report to link the water discharges to lower property values.

But numbers recently released by property appraisers in Lee and Martin Counties show  property values actually increased last year despite a record year for rainfall in those areas which lead to large coastal discharges.

“In 2016, we were equally as frustrated with the discharges to the coastal communities that were caused by excessive rainfall north of Lake Okeechobee and the ever-present threat of high lake levels wreaking havoc on the Herbert Hoover Dike,” said Ardis Hammock, an independent sugarcane grower from Moore Haven. “We all share these concerns and have been advocating for finding solutions for these problems, but it’s counter-productive and completely irresponsible for paid environmental activists to twist the facts and mislead the public about the true impact of Lake Okeechobee’s excess water.”

The property appraiser in Lee County reports a 6 percent increase in property values, while Martin County’s  property values increased by 5.3 percent.

The Florida Realtors says while property values might have gone up last year that doesn’t mean that values weren’t negatively impacted in Martin and Lee counties by water discharges and clarity. They point to a previous study they conducted that shows water clarity does have a negative impact on property values. They maintain that while the property values may have increased in both counties in 2016 the amount of the increases could have been greater had water quality not been affected by the larger number of coastal discharges.

The sugarcane growers claim this is the second time this year the Everglades Foundation was caught manipulating the facts to get a desired outcome.

In January, the foundation was accused of misrepresenting statistics produced by the South Florida Water Management District in an effort to convince the Legislature that storage of agricultural discharge would be better located south of Lake Okeechobee rather than to the north of the lake.

A scientist for the water management district accused the foundation of using “irresponsible science” in making its case. The Legislature rejected the foundation’s argument that the storage should be located south of the lake.

The Capitolist reached out to the Everglades Foundation to give the organization an opportunity to respond to the claims made by the Florida Sugarcane Farmers, but the foundation had not responded by time this article was posted.

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