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Environment

State Officials Turn Down Development Plan In Hendry County To Safeguard Everglades Restoration

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity did not approve the development plan because it could interfere with restoration efforts aimed at moving water south from Lake Okeechobee (pictured).
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity did not approve the development plan because it could interfere with restoration efforts aimed at moving water south from Lake Okeechobee (pictured).
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity did not approve the development plan because it could interfere with restoration efforts aimed at moving water south from Lake Okeechobee (pictured).
Credit U.S. Department of Agriculture
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity did not approve the development plan because it could interfere with restoration efforts aimed at moving water south from Lake Okeechobee (pictured).

In an unusual move, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity objected to a proposed development plan inHendryCounty.

The Sugar Hill development plan, which was backed by U.S. Sugar, raised a lot of eyebrows.

Environmentalists, as well as a slew of state agencies, were worried the plan could jeopardize Everglades’ restoration efforts. That’s because the proposed site would sit in the middle of land set aside for water flow south from Lake Okeechobee.

These concerns, and others, are why a state agency tasked with signing-off on economic development projects objected. Proponents of the plan said it would bring much needed housing and construction projects to a part of the state with the highest unemployment rates.

Craig Pittman with The Tampa Bay Times reported, this was a rare move for the agency, because it has “approved almost every development project submitted to it.”

Pittman said the plan became controversial when officials and environmentalists noticed it could be bad for the Everglades.

“I think it was hard to make that argument with a straight face that it wouldn’t harm Everglades’ restoration,” he said. “So, when I talked to the folks from U.S. Sugar, their argument was ‘well, we are not doing it right now.’ So if that’s the strongest argument you got for letting this proceed, well that’s not a very strong argument.”

Other state agencies also raised concerns about water supply and transportation. Pittman said this isn’t the end of the road, though. U.S. Sugar has about six months to address the roughly 34 objections raised throughout the approval process. He said it will be really hard to get that all done in time.

“But it’s U.S. Sugar,” Pittman explained. “They are one of the most powerful corporations in the state-- not to mention the country. So, if anyone can do it, they could.”

Activists in Fort Myers and Fort Pierce held rallies last month asking state officials to turn down the Sugar Hill Plan. 

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