Thursday, July 30, 2015


During a recent feud for funding, Florida lawmakers debated where to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars for Florida’s most needed environmental projects, but the furious fight to acquire most of that money to buy land in south Florida by the Everglades Foundation has revealed a close financial connection between many of the state's largest activist-based environmental organizations and their high-priced messaging campaigns that all seem to be connected to the same group of wealthy real estate developers, billionaire hedge fund managers, and professional agitators.

This financial subterfuge has funded a Greek chorus of "environmentalists" whose campaigns have little to do with science or the environment and lots to do with a very specific political agenda.
The Everglades Foundation has donated millions of tax-exempt dollars to groups in Florida who help them promote their message of preserving the Florida ecosystem--but only through projects that further their political agenda. The Florida Wildlife Federation, Audubon Society and many other of the state’s largest activist environmental organizations have been almost entirely funded by the Everglades Foundation and have all aggressively promoted the Everglades Foundation talking points and political agenda. The Audubon Society of Florida receives almost 75% of their annual funding from the Everglade Foundation Board of Directors. In 2009, an important legislative year, the Audubon society earned 98% of their total revenues from the Everglades Foundation.
Eerily similar to a Greek chorus, the Everglades Foundation is the main player in an arrangement of paid actors, each playing the same role and squawking the same self-serving statements, but with no science to validate their claims on how to restore the Everglades. Whenever the so-called environmental community lines up behind a certain cause or idea these days, their support will be tainted by the fact that they are all relying on the Everglades Foundation for a good portion of their funding.

Who is behind the Everglades Foundation/Trust:
The Everglades Foundation and the Everglades Trust are two supposedly separate organizations but a closer look at their corporate structure shows the close, nearly identical, relationships between the board members and the two groups.
The Everglades Foundation is, by far, the largest donor to the state's largest environmental groups.
Many other activist organizations also receive a bulk of their revenues from the Everglades Foundation, and each of them have dutifully promoted the same talking points and agenda issues that the Everglades Foundation and Everglades Trust have been parroting.
In 2014, Florida voters approved The Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, otherwise known as Amendment 1, which set aside approximately a half a billion dollars of the state budget each year to invest in projects that protect the Florida environment and restore the ecosystem of the sunshine state. Amendment 1 established a law to dedicate 33 percent of state excise taxes to provide funding to acquire and improve wildlife management areas, wetlands, forests, fish and wildlife habitats, beaches, shores, recreational trails, parks, working farms and ranches throughout the state.
Although Amendment 1 money was supposed to be used to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands throughout Florida, the Everglades Foundation lobbied state legislators to spend their entire budget on purchasing property south of Lake Okeechobee from owners who do not wish to sell their land - and thereby forcing them off their properties through eminent domain, rather than spending the money on the other 360+ environmental projects that have already been approved, but are on hold until funding is available.
The Everglades Foundation proclaims that the land south of Lake Okeechobee should be purchased by the state (at a cost of $700 million) and then be used to build a $2 billion taxpayer funded reservoir to hold and clean water runoff from Lake Okeechobee, but the Florida Water Management District directors believe the answer to cleaning and storing water in Florida is north of Lake Okeechobee, where land is less expensive, and available without forcing people off their properties - and where the water storage would be more useful. Bob Dixon, a vocal opponent of the south Lake Okeechobee land purchase stated, “The land south of Lake Okeechobee is too expensive, too small for its purpose and the owners do not want to sell it. The answer to storing and cleaning water for the Florida Everglades is north of Lake Okeechobee. Everyone in water management knows this. Buying the land south of Lake Okeechobee is a farce. There must be another reason these hedge fund managers and real estate developers who operate these supposed activist organizations want this valuable property. It’s these same type of developers, politicians and money-men who caused the Everglades to be dried out for development in the first place. I don’t trust them.”
Non-profit status:
A search of the organization’s 2013 990 tax form reveals that most of the officers of the Everglades Foundation are making well over $100,000 per year in salary, with the vice president of development making over $160,000. The Everglades Foundation has registered itself as a 501(c)3 organization which allows it to accept tax-free donations and also offer IRS income-tax deductions to anyone who gives them a donation. Most organizations that register with the IRS for tax exempt status place their IRS 990 tax filing form prominently on their website so their donors, and the government, know they are operating legally--but the Everglades Foundation does not. The group has a low rating on Charity Navigator and they make it very difficult to ascertain where the money comes from and where it goes. In the 2014 tax filing year, the Everglades Foundation could not complete their tax returns on time and requested a 6-month extension to get their files and tax documents in order.
Soon after Florida lawmakers voted against buying the land south of Lake Okeechobee during the 2015 legislative session, the Everglades Foundation tried a different approach to take control of the south Everglades land. They enlisted Senator Thad Altman to submit a plan in the 2015 special legislative session to approve almost $50 million in the state budget to initiate a $450 bond fund that would be used to force property owners south of Lake Okeechobee to sell their land to the government so it can be used to build unneeded water reservoirs. That plan also failed, but it uncovered the close connections between the Everglades Foundation and the other seemingly separate groups who were also promoting the points of the Everglades Foundation - to acquire the south Everglades land.
The land south of Lake Okeechobee was both too small and in the wrong location to have any real impact. Many other plans are being prioritized by the Florida legislature to move, clean and store water in ways that are better for the environment and better for the people who live in the affected areas. The successful launch of a pilot “water farming” project on the east coast of Florida has also led many state politicians to look for alternatives to storing water that are cheaper and more beneficial to the environment, and residents.
George Caulkins, who owns a Florida orange grove that his father planted in the early 1960’s, was one of the first inductees to the South Florida Water Management District project to pay farmers to hold water on their own properties instead of releasing the runoff into the estuaries. The program exceeded expectations by storing and treating over 12 acres of water - twice the amount that was estimated. The results astounded scientists at the Water Management District who realized that the water farm also cleaned billions of gallons of water while capturing about 75 percent of the phosphorous and 50 percent of the nitrogen that otherwise would flow into the Martin County estuaries—proving that water farming could be a viable and cost-effective alternative to purchasing property and constructing a $2 billion reservoir.
Now the Everglades Trust "echo chamber" is assailing the Sugar Industry for pre-harvest burning of sugar cane even though air quality tests on the burning, an agricultural staple since the time of Moses, does not violate federal clean air standards. The Everglades Trust has funded the Sierra Club to launch this campaign of disinformation.
The State and Federal plan to spend over $10 billion on restoration efforts in the Florida Everglades is working and producing good results. With phosphorous levels now cut by 55%, Everglades water is testing cleaner than rain water and meets federal water quality standards. We are in the final stages of Everglades restoration. We need to finish the job the Army Corps of Engineers began and see it through to fruition - and keep self-serving activist organizations from spoiling the Florida Everglades and busting the state budget with foolish plans to develop expensive reservoirs located on the wrong land south of Lake O.
By TJ Markle
Florida Courant

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