Congressman Brian Mast appeared before the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District meeting on Thursday at the University of Miami.
Mast said he spoke for himself, and on behalf of Governor-elect Ron DeSantis, expressing disappointment in a last-minute vote on a land lease with a sugar grower.
The land in question is at the site of the so-called EAA Reservoir planned for Western Palm Beach County. The reservoir is designed to take water from Lake Okeechobee, reducing the need for harmful releases to the Stuart area.
The lease is for eight years, with an out possible in two years.
Mast said he fears the land lease with sugar growers approved Thursday, could delay the reservoir project.
“So to get tied into a lease where you may not be able to terminate that, for at least the first two years... that doesn’t seem like a good idea,” he said.
But water board members said to the contrary, the deal will keep the project on track.
“The Governing Board was following the law,” said Randy Smith, spokesman for the Water Management District. “Because the law clearly says you’re going to keep it in production until you absolutely are ready."
But Mast pointed out the current lease ends in March.
However, what’s the rush?
“Don’t change this as a voting item within hours before the vote, (and) not give the public the chance to digest this,” Mast said.
But the Water District board approved the deal anyway.
“The reason the board voted today was because they wanted to get started right away,” Smith said.
The dust-up over the land lease could be a sign of things to come. DeSantis worked closely with Mast on setting his water policy positions. Mast said there will be changes at the Water District once DeSantis is sworn in.
“I think that’s one of the most important jobs the governor-elect has is appointing the next Governing Board of directors, and executive director of the South Florida Water Management District,” Mast said. “Obviously that has a great deal (to do) when you talk about other conversations that we have, such as lowering levels of the Lake."
The terms of three Water District board members are set to expire this coming March.