Sugar High: The Dark History and Nasty Methods Used to Feed Our Sweet Tooth
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Flo-Sun is owned by the Fanjul family, called the " First Family of Corporate Welfare" by CNN in 1998. The four Fanjul brothers use a failproof strategy for getting their way from politicians: playing both sides. Alfonso is a major contributor to the Democratic Party, and his influence earned him a role as co-chairman of Bill Clinton's Florida campaign in 1992. Meanwhile, Pepe Fanjul does the same for the Republicans. It cannot hurt that they are strategically positioned in Florida, one of the most crucial swing states in presidential elections.
But even the Fanjul's influence cannot dull the nation's love for the Everglades entirely. In 2000, Everglades restoration became a national cause, with the signing of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) by President Clinton. According to its official Web site, "The goal of CERP is to capture fresh water that now flows unused to the ocean and the gulf and redirect it to areas that need it most. The majority of the water will be devoted to environmental restoration, reviving a dying ecosystem. The remaining water will benefit cities and farmers by enhancing water supplies for the south Florida economy."
Naturally, the Everglades experiences a very wet rainy season from about May to November, and a very dry season during the rest of the year. In the wet season, wildlife like deer take refuge on "tree islands" to stay above the water; in the dry season, fish and other aquatic animals are concentrated into holes dug by alligators that retain water, providing a veritable feast for any predator looking for a meal. The Everglades needs these natural cycles, but the people of Florida need water year-round. With its drained agricultural land, the Everglades system now holds less water overall than it used to, sending any excess water out to tide. And since Florida lacks deep aquifers, the plentiful rainfall received in the rainy season is mostly not stored for use during the dry season.
Adornato feels that CERP is spending extra money on risky projects in order to store water without harming the sugar industry. He is critical of the plans to use Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells, which entail injecting water deep into the ground during the rainy season for use during the dry season. He prefers the approach of former Republican Governor Charlie Crist who, he says, "pretty much expended all of his political capital," in an effort to acquire the land of U.S. Sugar Corporation to use it for water storage and cleanup, delivering clean water to the Everglades.
Crist's plan, first announced in 2008, initially proposed purchasing 187,000 acres for $1.75 billion. By 2010, the area was reduced to 26,800 acres, or 14 percent of the original area, and the cost was down to $197 million. However, a 2010 New York Times article revealed that the deal might have helped U.S. Sugar Corporation as much or more as it helped the Everglades: "United States Sugar dictated many of the terms of the deal as state officials repeatedly made decisions against the immediate needs of the Everglades and the interests of taxpayers."
The initial deal would have put U.S. Sugar, which was mired in debt, out of business by purchasing all of its land, but the downsized deal leaves it in business but sells off its citrus groves, which were not profitable for citrus anymore (and some say are useless for restoration) due to a plant disease epidemic. U.S. Sugar was represented in the deal's negotiations by Gunster, a law firm whose chairman, George LeMieux, was Governor Crist's chief of staff.