An intense debate playing out in Florida surrounds a proposal to take 60,000 acres out of agricultural production.The legislation, proposed by Florida Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), calls for about $2.4 billion in taxpayer money to be spent on transforming land in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) into a water storage reservoir.
In times of heavy rains, too much water accumulates in Lake Okeechobee.To ensure the integrity of the Herbert Hoover Dike around the lake, the Army Corps of Engineers must release enormous amounts of water.While such releases prevent a catastrophic flood were the dike to fail, they create challenges to the east and west of the lake, in the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee River estuaries.
The massive amounts of released waters create algae blooms that destroy parts of the ecosystems and turn the water a putrid brownish-green.The blooms deter sportsmen and tourists from the areas, affecting already struggling local economies.
The problem is real and action is needed.While the land-buy solution, as proposed, may be somewhat helpful, there is far more evidence that the proposed water storage reservoir would be woefully inadequate — storing only a third of the water typically released from the lake. Meanwhile, it would take at least 15 years to bring on line.
That timetable assumes everyone, including the federal government, acts at optimal efficiency — something we’ve not seen on a project this complicated. In fact, Congress is already signaling that it is far from certain when, or if, it would provide its half of the $2.4 billion required to buy the land and build the reservoir.
Furthermore, the cost to the farmers and families who would lose their land and livelihoods through governmental use of eminent domain must be considered.
After months of exhaustive research, The James Madison Institute released a study,Sticker Shock: Examining the Economic Impacts of Land Acquisition in the EAA, which paints a comprehensive and concerning picture of the costs of the proposed land buy.
On top of the $2.4 billion price tag, the economic impacts of the proposal would be far-reaching and enormous. Considering the impact on jobs, household income, gross domestic product, total economic impact and revenues at all levels, the study shows the proposal will lead to a loss of approximately $695 million in economic activity, job losses of more than 4,000, and household income loss of $166 million.
The study shows that the consequences of the proposal in its current form are both massive and harmful.Hopefully, lawmakers and others will take the time to look at this study.It would be terribly unfair for Florida’s agricultural communities to suffer at the expense of a plan that will not meet an immediate need.Fortunately, there are other credible proposals which are cheaper and faster while doing no harm to Florida’s economy.
The affected communities on the east and west coasts of Florida need real relief soon, not promises and posturing that take too long, cost too much and ultimately fall short.
Robert McClure, Ph.D., is president and chief executive officer of theJames Madison Institute, a public policy research organization based in Florida.