A state-funded effort to save the Everglades exhibits just about every peril and pitfall in the spongy ground of politics and Florida real estate.
The public deal to buy scattered parcels of overpriced land from United States Sugar is looking more likely to rescue the company. And it may be a sink hole under Gov. Charlie Crist's political future, too, if the purchase turns out to be as flawed as portrayed in the New York Times article.
[T]he governor said that critics of the deal would come up with “all kinds of reasons not to do something.”
“But what are they doing to try and preserve the Everglades, other than complain about it?” he said. “What are they doing in a productive way to move forward and preserve this national treasure that exists nowhere else on the face of the earth? Nothing but complain. I rest my case.”
However, the story spells out many problems that can happen once the forward motion starts.
- The real estate market changes but the appraisal doesn't.
- Cronies are involved in the deal and some interested parties are cut out.
- The big project doesn't take fully into account the other financial obligations of the water districts that have to contribute to the solution.
- Internal reviews and safeguards are ignored or worked around.
- Proponents who fear doing nothing is worse than a half-assed response keep their mouths shut.
Crist is right that big problems require big efforts, but this wasn't it. But the industry that helped create the problem in the Everglades was more interested in rent seeking than in being part of a market-based solution.
As one company official said, a government buyout was preferred because, “It wasn’t another company coming in and bottom-fishing you. They knew it would be for fair-market appraisals.”
Said another former executive: “I won’t lie to you — it’s a damn good price for that land. But it’s not as good a deal for the Everglades. If the district doesn’t have any money after this purchase, then they won’t be able to do any restoration projects. It could be a disaster in the making.”