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Clewiston says sugar industry isn't the scapegoat

Clewiston reacts to algae protests
Posted at 10:12 PM, Aug 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-03 07:06:53-04

It’s called the sweetest town in Florida, but people in Clewiston are sour about a petition to seize their land.

In order for the government to send excess water to the Everglades, it would need to use land south of Lake Okeechobee.

“Sugar farming and agriculture is the economic driver of this entire area.”

Which is why Andrew Couse, whose comes from a family of sugar farmers, cringes when he hears people blame the sugar industry for algae blooms up and down the Southwest Florida coast.

“It makes for a nice meme, the big sugar meme, it makes for a nice bogey man when you want to be against something."

Couse says mom and pop sugar farmers make their living selling sugar crops to the larger companies, so they wouldn’t want to pollute the land they farm on.

“Our sugar farmers have been cleaning the water that comes off of their land,” said Clewiston Mayor Mali Gardner.

She says a lot of the pollution is coming into the lake from the Kissimmee River which flows into the northern end of lake Okeechobee.

Gardner says building a reservoir south of the lake to store excess water is not a magic bullet.  Other projects must be completed around the Everglades to allow excess water to safely drain.

Couse says the buildup of algae and nutrients in Lake Okeechobee wasn't caused by big sugar alone.

"There’s hundreds of thousands of septic tanks, lawns, run off that adds to that load that comes out of the lake.”

Mayor Garder says a Senate Bill 10, passed by the Florida legislature in 2017 would ban the government from seizing any lands south of the lake through eminent domain.