While water knows no jurisdictional boundaries, neither should economic development and quality of life. The Hendry County Economic Development Council strongly opposes Florida Senate Bill 10 as proposed by Senator Rob Bradley, calling for the purchase of 60,000 to 153,000 acres of productive Glades farmland. Such action would be devastating to the economies and residents of Hendry County and the region south of Lake Okeechobee while doing little to solve serious water issues in the coastal communities.
“We can protect our water resources without continuing to take prime, productive farm land and the associated businesses off the tax rolls in rural counties,” said Brent Kettler, President of the Hendry County Economic Development Council. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s own Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) implentation analysis could not show any significant environmental benefit for the extremely high cost of purchasing additional farm land in the Glades region as required by SB10. The highest cost would be borne by farming communities whose economies are built on agricultural production and processing.”
According to a recent study released by the Tallahassee-based free market think tank James Madison Institute, Senate Bill 10 will result in the loss of 4,148 jobs statewide, including many in the Glades communities. The study also estimates that the bill will result in approximately $695 million in lost revenue to the state of Florida.
A large percentage of local taxes as well as personal income result directly from farm land production and the associated jobs.
In addition to the James Madison Institute study, a staff analysis of the bill shows “converting the agricultural land to a reservoir will have an indeterminate negative fiscal impact to the sugar mills and local farmers due to the reduction in available farmland.” According to recent U.S. Census estimates, the Everglades Agricultural Area in Palm Beach and Hendry County employs more than 8,000 workers.
Hendry County’s business community seeks to enhance the quality of life in our local communities and throughout the region. Our strategy requires that we capitalize on Agriculture to grow jobs, build human capital through workforce development and strengthen our economy. In turn, this will draw people and businesses to our unique environment. Destroying productive farm land destroys the base of our local economy.
Like water issues, our agricultural economy is complex with many economic and environmental interdependencies. Lake Okeechobee also is an important part of our tourist economy in the communities around the lake, and these issues must be addressed from a more comprehensive, science-based, regional perspective to all our water resources. Hendry County’s Economic Development Council cannot support legislation like Senate Bill 10 that pits our rural economy against that of neighbors living along the coasts without actually solving Lake Okeechobee’s many water quality and quantity issues.