Sugar spin ALERT: That mailer you got about septic was mean, green – and totally bogus

Listen to the Science,” screamed the headline of the flyer that showed up in Martin County mailboxes (and perhaps elsewhere) last week. “SEWAGE is Killing Our Local Waterways.”

The ALARMING WORDS were framed in multiple pictures of blue-green algae. Flipping the mailer over, recipients were told to “CUT THE CRAP” — and accept that “OUR OWN SEWAGE is the root cause of water quality problems in our local waterways.”

Omigosh, is this true??? No, it isn’t.

And the source is as suspect as the message.

While there are indeed areas along the Indian River Lagoon and other Florida water bodies where leaky septic and sewer systems are the chief cause of water-quality problems, this is not the case in the southern Indian River Lagoon, and it is ABSOLUTELY not the case in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee watersheds or the Lake Okeechobee basin.

As VoteWater detailed in a “Deep Dive” earlier this year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s “Basin Management Action Plans” (BMAPs) developed for each of these watersheds clearly identifies agriculture as the biggest polluter, by a mile.

In some subwatersheds around Lake Okeechobee, the BMAP reports that Big Ag accounts for more than 90 percent of total phosphorus and total nitrogen.

In the St. Lucie basin, agriculture is listed in the BMAP as the source of more than half the total “starting loads” of nitrogen and phosphorus. And in the Caloosahatchee basin, agriculture is responsible for 77% of the total nitrogen reduction called for in the BMAP, and 91% of the total phosphorus reduction.

Get it? It’s not that malfunctioning sewer systems or leaky septics aren’t a problem. But in and around Lake Okeechobee, they are not THE problem.

The flyer was designed specifically to obscure this reality. It’s plastered with images of toxic algae that are recognizable from the 2016 Lake Okeechobee-fueled crisis — including this iconic Palm Beach Post/Associated Press photo — but the text falsely implies septic tanks caused the problem. It’s not just propaganda, it’s sloppy propaganda.   

The mailer was paid for by a St. Petersburg group calling itself “Citizens for Ethical Septic Systems.” State records show the articles of incorporation were just filed with the state of Florida on July 26, less than two months before the flyer hit mailboxes — suggesting CESS was founded for the purpose of sending them out.

The President of CESS is Brandon Shuler, who also heads up another outfit called the American Water Security Project, which according to its LinkedIn pagestrives to be the leader in promoting the need for wastewater infrastructure upgrades and repairs.” Shuler’s also a writer who’s penned several op-eds on the evil of septic/leaky sewer systems and a “courtesy assistant professor” at the University of South Florida.

Listed as vice presidents of CESS are Parker Shuler apparently Brandon Shuler’s teenage son and Terry Gibson, a Jensen Beach writer and former fishing guide who according to his LinkedIn page runs North Swell Media LLC.

Brandon Shuler was mentioned in a 2022 Tampa Bay Times story about a “dark money nonprofit that played a key role in Florida’s ‘ghost’ candidate scandal,” whereby a group called “Let’s Preserve the American Dream” helped promote independent candidates in three battleground Senate races in Central and South Florida who did no campaigning “but were promoted by $550 in mailers designed by Republican consultants,” according to the Times.

Former State Sen. Frank Artiles faces a February trial on campaign finance charges related to the case.

According to the Times report, on its 2020 tax return “Let’s Preserve the American Dream” listed a $150,000 donation to “Friends of American Water” yet another St. Petersburg group helmed by Brandon Shuler.

“Let’s Preserve the American Dream” is closely linked to the political action committee Associated Industries of Florida, which gets tons of money from some of Florida’s biggest companies  including $700,000 from U.S. Sugar in the past two years alone, and another $300,000 from Florida Crystals during that same span.

Just another day in slimy Florida, where Big Sugar and other special interests are hard at work funding dark-money attempts to bamboozle the public and protect the toxic status quo.

So bottom line: That mailer you got, with all the blue-green algae pics and CAPITALIZED WORDS warning that SEPTIC AND SEWER ARE THE REAL PROBLEM?

It’s a bunch of BULLSUGAR, paid for by a group that sprung up out of nowhere to parrot the talking points of Big Sugar fat cats who want to divert our attention from the real problem in our backyard, the threat of toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee and the need to rein in pollution at the agricultural source.

Don’t be fooled and toss the mailer in the garbage, where it belongs.