On November 4, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that sets aside funds to protect environmentally sensitive areas like the Everglades.
But six months later, as President Obama visits the South Florida natural landmark to mark Earth Day, Florida looks poised to completely ignore the vote. The state body that has oversight over a proposed land deal designed to restore the Everglades decided earlier this month that the purchase wouldn’t be worth it.
You may remember the deal from a pure astroturf Tea Party protest that saw paid actors trucked in to fake criticism of the proposal, which was floated in 2010 but wasn’t executed in part due to lack of funds. The Tea Party of Miami, which organized the event, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The opposition to the deal now appears to have paid off, even though, thanks to the November vote, the funds are now in place.
"It's a complicated transaction," South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Board Chairman Daniel O'Keefe said about the proposed land deal, according to the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel. "I don't think it's a simple solution."
Instead, the board said it would prefer to run with an Everglades restoration plan proposed by Florida Governor Rick Scott that would spend $5 billion over the course of 20 years. (Scott happens to appoint the SFWMD board members.)
Whatever else it has going for it, the Scott plan would not include buying the proposed 46,500 acres south of Lake Okeechobee, according to the Miami Herald’s Jenny Staletovich.
But environmentalists say the land is needed to store lake runoff that gets polluted as it courses through Florida’s sugar cane farms. The plots would help purify the runoff and allow it to be used to irrigate the Everglades, which now receives half the water it once did. It would also have been used as drinking water. Right now, the runoff is getting shot out into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers on either side of the lake, polluting both.
The original deal, appraised in 2010 at $350 million, called for the land to be sold at current market rates. The district said the cost could now be as high as $700 million, although they have yet to carry out a full updated appraisal.
That may seem like a lot, but a state fund was specifically set up to make those kinds of purchases. It sets aside 33% of net revenue from excise tax on documents into the fund. It was projected to net $648 million in Fiscal Year 2015-16, and $1.3 billion in 20 years.
And it’s less costly than the last option included in the original agreement, which would include even more land and would assuredly be more expensive, according to Jennifer Hecker of the Southwest Florida Conservancy.
“We’re not asking for the state to buy anymore than is absolutely necessary,” she said.
The conservancy group would even be okay with buying half the proposed amount to address the most critical runoff situation.
The option to purchase the land expires in October. While there is an outside chance the Florida legislature, or even Scott himself, could intervene, Hecker says the state will defer to the SFWMD, and therefore blow its chance as the current legislative session expires.
“We’re literally watching this historic opportunity slip through our fingers,” she said.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.