Here are a couple of photos from better days in Clewiston. The one on the left is Bowden's first birthday party, with his friend "Zeus" from next door. They're enjoying Bowden's birthday cake. The second photo is the stage during the FLW Fishing Tournament. Fox Sports and ESPN were here covering the event. Good times like that are cloaked by a feeling of desperation these days. We all had a shock to our systems this week here in Clewiston. US Sugar (the major employer in the city) has announced they will be selling out lock, stock, and barrel. They employ over 1700 people and thousands of others indirectly depend on them. I suppose the average wage earned is between $40-$50,000.00 per year per employee. At $45,000.00 per person that comes to an annual payroll of over 76 million dollars. In a community of less than 10,000 people that is an enormous economic disaster. It will affect every single one of us in some way....from critically to moderate. That is not the worst of it. The sale effectively removes more than 175,000 acres of land from the tax roll. You see the state doesn't pay property taxes. Hendry County will starve....it's as simple as that.
The mood around town is a general feeling of doom. There are those of course who are "looking on the bright side", but in all honesty there really is no up side to this. It seems Charlie Crist and South Florida Water Management District brokered this deal with US Sugar in the dark without informing the taxpayers, let alone the citizens of Clewiston what their intentions were. How can it be legal to spend 1.75 billion dollars without public approval? I guess we now know why the Army Corps of Engineers has been so slow to repair Herbert Hoover Dike. I don't know if anyone can blame US Sugar...after all, they're a private company and a healthy bottom line is the goal. It seems to me that the Water Management District has used their laws to their advantage. Already facing unfair labor laws and lower wages from foreign competition and a three year drought, the district implemented severe limitations on irrigation, making it virtually impossible to raise a crop. They were probably after the property all along and used their clout to their advantage.
The Sierra Club and friends are ecstatic about the future for alligators and snakes....but no one gave much thought to the working men and women of Clewiston. Property values probably suffered a 50% drop overnight on the heels of a bad housing market. What do we do? Where will we go? How will we survive? We are fortunate to have the most capable, hard working, and honorable city government leaders in the world....but they're not magicians. Things are looking bleak for Clewiston.
Charlie, this was not open, it was not honorable. Job training is your "answer" ;you have got to be kidding. Where will the 3000 people who will ultimately lose their jobs go to work? What exactly will you train them to do? Who are you going to make hire them? Maybe the catchphrase "save the Everglades" sounds good to the restyof the county during a "vice-presidential" run. But they don't know what you have done to a lot of good people. You have failed a lot of good people. How are you going to fix this? What Now Charlie? What Now?