Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) has challenged the recent controversial sugar leases approved by the South Florida Water Management District Board. The leases were approved by board members who have either resigned since the challenge was filed or asked to resign by Governor Ron DeSantis.
FWF President Manley Fuller stated “We challenged the Board’s action because the new leases could significantly interfere with the Everglades reservoir project moving forward expeditiously. Moreover, the public was not properly noticed prior to the vote.” If the leases had been properly noticed the public would have had adequate time to review the lease language and its implications, a view shared by the Governor who has also expressed concern about the procedure used to approve the leases and their impact on the Everglades restoration.
An independent legal opinion on the impact of the leases has been produced by real estate attorney Barry Ansbacher, who notes several problematic issues for restoration. For example, the new lease grants the sugar company new rights of access to use District lands slated for construction of the reservoir for up to 13 years. These issues could have been raised if the public comment period was adequate.
The leased lands at issue, known as the Talisman properties, were purchased in 1999 for the official purpose of aiding the Everglades. For the last 20 years, FWF has requested termination of the leases so that the lands could be utilized for their proper purpose.
Fuller commented “It is FWF’s wish that the recently approved new lease be voided, that the prior lease be allowed to terminate on March 31, 2019, or at the most continue to allow farming on a month to month basis. There should be no further leasing of lands on the future reservoir site.”