New Lawsuit Challenges Rick Scott's Last-Minute Help to Big Sugar

Dead sea life from a red tide.
Dead sea life from a red tide. Photo by Terry Ross / Flickr
Rick Scott has been a friend to the deadly red tide that has killed millions of fish, fouled beaches in Southwest Florida, and even endangered Miami's multibillion-dollar tourist industry. He has cut environmental regulation and limited crackdowns on sugar companies that dump fertilizer into the groundwater, which is the root cause of the toxic algae bloom.

But earlier this month, the governor from another planet managed to get himself promoted to the United States Senate. That was bad news for America, but it came with a seeming benefit to Florida. Ron DeSantis, who will follow Scott into the governor's chair, has opposed the sort of "sweetheart deals" with sugar companies that have allowed those firms to foment the red tide.

A day after DeSantis' election, the South Florida Water Management District approved a lease to sugar companies for land that could be used for reservoirs to clean up the fertilizer runoff. But on Wednesday, the Florida Wildlife Federation and Marty Baum, an activist, sued to stop the last-minute deal between major sugar companies and the Water Management District. “We need to deal with toxic algae and Red Tide outbreaks for what they are – a public health and environmental emergency," said Wildlife Federation general counsel Preston Robertson. "The last thing we need is a deal to help major sugar companies instead of moving fast to manage the emergency.”

The complaint claims that Florida law prohibits such 11th-hour lease deals by requiring public notices to be published three times at least a month before the leases are considered. In this case, notice was given only hours before the agreement was approved by the outgoing Water Management District board, which is appointed by  Scott. The lawsuit contends the lease could interfere with the plan to build the reservoir.

The 16-page complaint says the federation includes 14,000 members and 60,000 supporters. It states that the lease approved by the district board is "not consistent with the purpose for which the land was required, which is Everglades Restoration." It is posted below.
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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse