If Thurlow-Lippisch loses seat on SFWMD board, polluters win

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch speaks at the Bluefield Grove ribbon cutting in St. Lucie County in this August 2021 photo.

Here’s a case study of how politics pollutes Florida’s waters:

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch is a Sewall’s Point Realtor, long-time Treasure Coast clean water advocate and, since 2019, a member of the South Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board.

Few people in South Florida care more about our troubled waters than Thurlow-Lippisch, and her presence on the board — her constant questioning and requests for district officials to put complex topics into language the layman can understand — has been hugely beneficial.

She’s no rubber stamp. And this may be why her tenure on the board is at risk.

Thurlow-Lippisch, along with fellow SFWMD Governing Board member Ron Bergeron, were re-appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year. Bergeron was confirmed by the Senate. But despite meeting with several key senators and two Senate subcommittees, Thurlow-Lippisch was told there would be no vote.

Why? That’s a mystery, though it may have something to do with the fact Thurlow-Lippisch spoke out last year as the sugar industry was trying to sneak the notorious Senate Bill 2508 through the Legislature in the waning days of the 2022 session.

That bill would have further cemented Big Sugar’s iron grip on Lake Okeechobee water management, essentially turning the lake into an industry reservoir. Several members of the SFWMD Governing Board spoke out against the bill, ultimately vetoed by DeSantis.

This may have rankled some of Big Sugar’s legislative allies, including powerful Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, who surely had the authority to call a vote on Thurlow-Lippisch’s reappointment, yet chose not to do so.

Passidomo has been showered with tons of sugar industry campaign cash. According to state records, her campaign committee, “Working Together for Florida,” got more than $280,000 from U.S. Sugar between 2017-2022, plus another $25,000 from Florida Crystals. The committee also raked in more than $660,000 from the “Big 6” PACs — the main political action committees the sugar industry uses to cloak the true scope of its political giving.

That’s more than a million bucks from sugar and sugar-related sources. So it’s no wonder Passidomo doesn’t appear to be sweet on Thurlow-Lippisch.

But other political factors could be at play.

Thurlow-Lippisch was originally recommended for the SFWMD board in 2019 by Congressman Brian Mast. Gov. DeSantis took Mast’s advice. But more recently, Mast endorsed Donald Trump for President over DeSantis. So Mast is hardly in any position to call DeSantis and go to bat for Thurlow-Lippisch.

Whatever the reason, if Thurlow-Lippisch is not confirmed within the week, she’s done. The Treasure Coast could have no representation on the board at a time when toxic blue-green algae is coagulating on Lake Okeechobee, threatening another “lost summer” on Florida’s east and west coasts.

Taxation without representation? That’s POISONING without representation.

Thurlow-Lippisch believes DeSantis could resurrect her appointment, though he’s a little busy running for President. Yet DeSantis has sought to project an image of himself as a conservation-minded Republican; in January he issued a new executive order articulating his supposed commitment to cleaner water in Florida.

He could prove that commitment by intervening and ensuring Thurlow-Lippisch remains on the SFWMD Governing Board.

It is stunning and outrageous that even at this late stage, with so many problems threatening our iconic and economically vital waterways, a true friend of clean water literally can’t even get a hearing.

It tells you everything you need to know about why our water is in the shape it’s in — and why that has to change.