No One Should be Above the Law. Or the Truth.

No one should be above the law. Or above the truth. That could have been the unifying theme of Governor Ron DeSantis’ demand for the resignation of every member of the South Florida Water Management District’s Board of Governors. For years the agency had been unapologetically harming the public to enrich Florida’s sugarcane industry, and most of the board reluctantly moved on when it became clear they’d be held accountable. Brandon Tucker took the opportunity to remain unapologetic, spewing disinformation onto the public record as his last act in office.

Toxic algae warning, Stuart, Florida

Tucker’s claims shouldn’t be allowed to stand unchecked. This response by former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla eloquently sets the record straight, exposing the awfulness of one man’s refusal to let sick people, dead animals, and foundering economies get in the way of an industry’s entitlement to risk-free profit at public expense.

SFWMD’s Last Rant by Maggy Hurchalla. (First appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.)

Brandon Tucker, one of the last members of the SFWMD board of governors to resign at Gov. DeSantis’ request, used his final board meeting for an angry rant.

His main themes:

  1. Nothing must interfere with agriculture’s entitlement to all the water they want
  2. Congressman Brian Mast is asinine for caring about the health of his constituents
  3. Lowering lake levels is a plot by coastal residents to destroy the lives of heartland residents
  4. Only he, Brandon Tucker, and the agricultural people of the heartland care about the health of Lake Okeechobee
  5. Implementing Senator Joe Negron’s plan for a reservoir south of the Lake was a land grab that would destroy agriculture
  6. When the big lake was 90% covered with cyanobacteria it was not a health hazard
  7. There were no toxic discharges to the coasts

Mr. Tucker needs to be called out on those assertions.

The Army Corps is now going through a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the rules for managing Lake Okeechobee. While flood control and water supply are listed purposes in the South Florida water management plan approved by Congress in 1948, NEPA is not about guaranteeing an entitlement to meet those goals for agriculture. NEPA is about looking at the impacts of how the system and Lake Okeechobee are managed. The process is supposed to evaluate the impacts of lake regulation on the human and natural environment throughout South Florida and the Greater Everglades Ecosystem.

Mr. Tucker speaks of sharing adversity throughout the system, but he bases that on the assumption that there will be no adversity for sugar farmers south of the lake while the rest of South Florida suffers all the adversity for guaranteeing what the sugarcane industry considers its entitlement.

Rep. Mast has suggested that human health and safety should be our most important concern for everyone affected by how the lake is managed. The Corps tells us they do not build systems to hurt people, and concern for human health is paramount. There is nothing asinine about that concept.

When the Corps insisted on lowering levels in the 2008 lake schedule because of the risk of dike failure, sugar farmers objected. They insisted that their entitlements were more important than the risk of a dike break. Now they are calling lowering lake levels a plot by the Everglades Foundation, Bullsugar, Captains for Clean Water and other environmental groups to destroy the liquid heart of the Everglades. Mr. Tucker claims that he and the farmers are the only ones who care about the health of the lake. Those interests have a consistent record of lobbying for regulation schedules that hurt the lake in order to achieve their “entitlements.”

When Lake Okeechobee gets too high or too low, it kills the natural marshes. That hurts the environment of the lake and increases nutrients and toxic algae blooms. The environmental community is suggesting that regulation should send more clean water south at the beginning of the dry season and limit drawdowns on the Lake in drought times. Mr. Tucker says that can’t be done until we build more reservoirs. What he means is that it can’t be done within the rules that are based on sugar’s entitlement to all the water they might ever want.

While saying we can make no improvements in management until more storage is built, Mr. Tucker attacks Sen. Negron’s science-based plan for 60,000 acres of storage south of the lake as a land grab that will destroy Glades communities. Others saw it as an attempt at peaceful co-existence, where sugar got what it wanted without hurting everyone else.

Folks on the coast became all too familiar with the impacts of what’s called cyanobacteria, blue-green algae, or green slime. Dogs sickened and died. 150 people ended up in the emergency room. Of the 70 people tested for the toxin microcystin, 70 came up positive. Many of them had no contact with the water. They just breathed the air. Respiratory, stomach, and eye problems are just the short-term effects. International research has documented far scarier impacts from long-time low-level exposure.

Mr. Tucker insists that the toxic algae blooms in the lake last summer were not toxic. That is the most damning inaccuracy in his whole angry rant. Surely he knows that many state tests came up negative because the state never tested the algae blooms–they tested the clean water outside the blooms. Independent tests of the blooms showed they were highly toxic. Ask any scientist who has studied cyanobacteria if he believes the blooms in the lake were harmless.

The children who live south of the lake were swimming in those blooms. They were eating fish from those toxic blooms. Telling them they were safe because the blooms weren’t a health risk is worse than asinine.

It is criminal negligence.