This op-ed comment was published Sunday, September 13, 2015, by the Gainesville Sun, and here with permission of the author. Steve Robitaille, is Chairman of the Florida Defenders of the Environment Board of Directors.
Here’s the link to the Sun’s article: http://www.gainesville.com/article/2015150919950.
Sleepy Creek is the project formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch which you’ll recall first proposed to pump some 27 million gallons per day directly from the springshed of Silver Springs. It appears this not-so-community oriented Canadian auto parts billionaire is beginning to show his true stripes.
Sleepy Creek - just another bait and switch for Frank Stronach?
Page all of 3Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach is the master of the bait and switch. Let us learn from his swindle of a $15 million sports stadium from the children of Marion County, so he doesn't use his dishonest tricks to make off with our drinking water too.
When Stronach came to Marion County to raise cattle, and to request 14.6 million gallons of water a day to nourish his cattle, he offered to build a multi-million dollar stadium and athletic complex for North Marion High School. Due to a “misunderstanding,” explained the Stronach Group, the offer is now off the table. The many disappointed persons left in the wake of this development are likely unaware that Stronach’s biography reveals a history of such business shenanigans.
Indeed, this bait-and-switch tactic should be a wake-up call to the Marion County residents whose precious water supply has now been permitted 1.46 million gallons a day, for Stronach’s Sleepy Creek cattle operation. They may also be unaware that his “exclusive” golf club has been permitted 278,000 gallons a day, 3,300 times more than his neighbors.
Stronach’s Florida cattle operation is not his first “hobby” investment, nor is it the first one that promises to make him wealthier, while leaving those in his path holding the bag. A 2009 Washington Post story recounts how hobbyist entrepreneur Stronach managed to scuttle his investor’s money while living the life of Riley. Wanting to add horse-racing to his personal entertainment dossier, Stronach “bought Gulfstream Park in Florida for $90 million, demolished it and spent $240 million to build a new facility that most fans regard as inferior to the old one.”
Not to be out “Trumped” by other members of the billionaires club, the Post adds that in order to add more stabling, “Stronach decided to build the Taj Mahal of stable areas, Palm Meadows, at a cost in the vicinity of $100 million — an investment that returns no revenue.”
Shareholders were infuriated. One of those investors, Farallon Capital Management of San Francisco, protested that MI Development was “pursuing an investment [to please] Frank Stronach.” As reported in the Post story, using a metaphor that should sound a note of caution to Floridians whose water Stronach wants to suck up at historic rates, Magna Entertainment was a “giant sinkhole.”
And down into what sinkhole were Stronach’s personal profits disappearing? According to investigators looking into the matter who were quoted in a Swiss newspaper, they resurfaced, like a bubbling Florida spring, into the tax sheltered vaults of Zug, Switzerland, where other folks with deep pockets and clever accountants, say like tennis star Boris Becker, manage to avoid paying taxes back home. The story referred to Stronach as a “pseudo resident.”
Magna, the auto parts giant he founded, decided its CEO was costing them more than he was worth. As reported by the Canadian weekly news magazine Maclean's in May 2014, Magna outfitted its boss in a $52 million dollar parachute of consultant fees and bonuses, “772 times the median household income.”
Florida Defenders’ record of protecting the Ocklawaha from ecological disaster is well known. The infamous Cross Florida Barge Canal, a boondoggle of colossal proportions, was aided and abetted by a pantheon of pork-chop politicians and President Lyndon B. Johnson, who broke ground for the canal in Palatka with a blast of dynamite. Two ugly stubs remain of the canal, as well as the Rodman “pool” of water coveted by bass fishermen.
FDE finds it unacceptable that one of the nation’s most exotic and pristine rivers has not run free for over 40 years. If Richard Nixon, a Republican president, had the good sense to decommission the canal and conserve both the river and taxpayer dollars, there is some hope the Scott administration will remove the Rodman dam before it requires expensive repair and free the river in the process.
|Silver Springs, Florida|
Photo by Emilio Vergara, Skyshadow Photography
Even if we accept there was a time when barge canals and dams resulted from a lack of solid science and ecological awareness, there is little excuse for the recent decision by administrative law judge, Gary Early, to permit Stronach’s Sleepy Creek cattle operation 1.46 million gallons of water a day, when aquifer recharge of Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha watershed is 30 percent below normal. How can it be in the “public interest,” to use Judge Early’s convoluted interpretation of this term, to provide water to 9,500 cattle who will defecate 158 million pounds of manure, produce 11 million gallons of urine, thus adding 700,000 pounds of nitrogen to a watershed already reeling from nitrates that have increased 20-fold over healthy levels?
So we now know what the Stronach Group is not going to leave behind. There will be no athletic complex for North Marion High School, and a whole lot less water in the ground and fewer fish in the Ocklawaha. We also know what Stronach and his Sleepy Creek operation will leave behind.
Thanks to Gov. Rick Scott’s business-friendly administration and the mass firing of veteran water district personnel, we will have cow patties galore. Like the poor investors in Scott and Stronach’s business enterprises, we’ll all be forced, in a manner of speaking, to “step in it.”
We can only hope that Stronach’s pending water permit is denied and that Gov. Scott joins Richard Nixon by supporting a free Ocklawaha as a lasting legacy to the people of North Florida.
— Steve Robitaille is board president of Florida Defenders of the Environment. He lives in Gainesville.