Fried Has Come Under Fire For Designating Sugar Lobbyists To Represent Her On LOSOM Project Delivery Team
WASHINGTON, D.C. – After Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried came under fire for designating sugar lobbyists to represent her before an influential Lake Okeechobee management team, new internal documents show exactly how the Commissioner is paying these lobbyists. Public now for the first time, the agency’s purchase order (attached) includes a $35,000 payment to MacVicar Consulting, Inc., paid out of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
In 2014, voters passed the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, better known as Amendment 1, which requires the legislature to put 33% of net revenue from real estate document stamps into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for 20 years. Fried has criticized previous administrations for using this funding for administrative purposes, rather than land purchases:
“It goes back the fundamentals of why we have constitutional amendments by citizens, and that’s because that’s the only way that their voices were heard. And so it is our job as executive officers and then the legislators to make sure that its fairly implemented. And the point of Amendment 1 was to make sure that we had an opportunity and finances to preserve our waters and our lands here, and I want to make sure that is done. That’s been a priority in my administration because if we don’t preserve our land and we start building on it then we can’t ever go back. And so having as much money as possible to conserve our property here in the State of Florida is going to be essential,” Commissioner Fried said in an interview on January 22, 2019. “I think there are definitely things that need to be improved upon…[like] some of the extra spending that’s being used for administration of the program, that’s not where the money is supposed to have gone. The money is supposed to be going for the purchasing of land….We are going to be looking at some of those budget items in our [budget] to make sure that we are utilizing our money to the will of the people.
Yet just over five months later, Commissioner Fried’s agency signed a purchase order paying $35,000 out of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to MacVicar Consulting, Inc. to “assist the department in monitoring, understanding and influencing the water related issues important to agriculture in South Florida” (emphasis added). The scope of work specifically included “participation in planning process for the development of a new Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule by the Corps.” Moreover, the contract calls for MacVicar Consulting, Inc. to “monitor the development of rules by the [South Florida Water Management District],” which is the government agency with which the trio of lobbyists are registered to conduct business on behalf of the Florida Sugar Cane League.
Last week, U.S. Congressman Brian Mast (FL-18) sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting the immediate removal of the lobbyists for the Florida Sugar Cane League from the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) Project Delivery Team (PDT). Participation on the PDT is limited to representatives of government agencies. The public is not allowed to participate except during limited public comment periods during the meetings. Nonetheless, three lobbyists for the Florida Sugar Cane League—which “represents” the U.S. Sugar Corporation—are participating as members of the PDT because they have been designated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, under the leadership of Commissioner Nikki Fried, as representatives of the agency.
Rep. Mast and environmental groups are calling on Commissioner Fried to reverse her decision:
Rep. Mast: This is a brazen attempt by U.S. Sugar and Commissioner Nikki Fried to skew the results of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, giving this industry special access and influence that countless citizens of Florida who are deeply concerns about the public health impacts of Lake Okeechobee’s operations do not have. I, therefore, request your immediate action to remove Mr. MacVicar and Mr. Baker from the Project Delivery Team.
Friends of the Everglades: “The inclusion of two registered sugar lobbyists on the LOSOM project delivery team is a clear conflict of interest. We support calls for their immediate removal. The people of Florida deserve better than this.”
Captains For Clean Water: “On behalf of our over 40,000 members and supporters we also ask [Commissioner Nikki Fried] to immediately remove sugar industry lobbyists from representing Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) project delivery team…While we share [Commissioner Fried’s] hope for stakeholder collaboration designating individuals with a clear conflict of interest to represent a vital state agency for Florida sends the message that agribusiness takes priority over clean water for Florida families....Allowing Florida’s interests to be appropriated by sugar industry lobbyists at a decision-making table that excludes other industries and the public is prejudicial and not in the best interest of collaboration, clean water, the economy or America’s Everglades.”
Everglades Trust: “We are very disappointed in Commissioner Fried’s decision to continue down the broken path of Matt Caldwell, Adam Putnam and his predecessors, where the undue influence of a few outweighed the good of 21 million Floridians. Her response to Congressman Mast’s disclosure of the flagrant and unethical use of two widely known sugar lobbyists serving on a committee as her proxies, when so much is at stake for the human, environmental and economic health of South Florida, is both tone-deaf and very troubling.”
Indian Riverkeeper: “I’m concerned that Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, whose staff will have a seat at the table, has chosen to hire Tom MacVicar, an engineer specializing in water resources, and long-time SFWMD staffer, as a consultant in this process. The sticking point is that MacVicar is also a registered lobbyist for the Florida Sugar Cane League. A second registered lobbyist, one William Baker, will also be advising Fried’s office in the process. So lobbyists for a stakeholder that sued the Army Corps for keeping the Lake lower to give coastal residents much-needed relief are now going to have their hands on the steering wheel of the planning process for how the Lake level will be managed, and when and where excess water will go?”
Bullsugar.org: “Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried's appointment of two registered sugar lobbyists to the LOSOM project delivery team is a deeply flawed decision and a clear conflict of interest. We join Congressman Brian Mast's call for their immediate removal.”
In 2018, Rep. Mast passed a law mandating that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers update the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS), which is the schedule that determines when discharges from Lake Okeechobee occur. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertook the process to create LOSOM. As part of that process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created the PDT consisting of representatives from government agencies at the federal, state and local level to advise the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the process. The public is not included on the PDT; however, because Commissioner Fried’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has elected to designate two sugar lobbyists as its representatives, the industry is getting unmatched access and influence over the re-writing of the system’s operations.
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