Two dozen people from Florida environmental groups showed up at the South Florida Water Management District board meeting Thursday in West Palm Beach to protest plans by U.S. Sugar to develop property that the state has an option to buy for Everglades restoration.
The water agency has no regulatory authority over the move, although it would be allowed to comment on it to the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which has yet to approve the change.
On 67 square miles of sugar land southwest of Lake Okeechobee in Hendry County, U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers of Florida, a sugar company with adjoining property, have joined forces on a project that would build 18,000 homes and 25 million square feet of stores, offices, warehouses and other commercial buildings amid the rural landscape. The planning for the change has been going on over the past two years while U.S. Sugar was taking Florida's top elected officials on secret hunting trips to King Ranch in Texas.
The environmental groups are objecting to the change because they say it will make the land far more expensive for the state to buy for restoring the Everglades. Hendry County officials have given it a green light. In addition to protesting at the water agency meeting, they have also sent thousands of emails to Gov. Rick Scott and other state officials.