A criminal defense and family lawyer from Stuart has made a massive public records request of the University of Florida for all records related to a report recommending a hotly contested purchase of thousands of acres of private land for Everglades restoration projects.
The size and timing of the request has led to speculation about the motive behind it and who attorney Lance P. Richard represents, but Richard himself is not talking. He has not returned repeated calls to his law office over the last week requesting an interview.
Calls to environmental groups supporting the purchase confirmed that they didn’t make the request. The Everglades Foundation, one of the chief supporters of Amendment 1 and plans to purchase land south of the Everglades, did not make the request, spokeswoman Dawn Shirreffs said.
Richard made the request March 11, 10 days after the UF Water Institute released its study — which was subsequently reported by Florida media outlets. Richard has asked for the names of everyone interviewed for the technical report, along with “each and every record generated as a result of interviews conducted” for the report.
University officials estimate the records request encompasses nearly 140,000 documents and have advised Richard that it could cost as much as $30,000.
Among other things catalogued in the seven-page request, Richard asked who finances the water institute, which was created in 2006 with a $1.2 million endowment from Progress Energy, now Duke Energy. It also receives support from the Carl S. Swisher Foundation and the Sherwood L. Stokes Environmental and Water Quality Fund.
Richard also asked for records of every person interviewed for the technical review, what records were analyzed in compiling the review, phone logs, emails and all records of the Senate select committee.
The Senate committee paid the Water Institute $250,000 to review Plan 6, a 1993-94 report describing a plan to move water south into the Everglades to protect the estuaries. The technical review upheld Plan 6 and recommended buying more land to store water runoff from Lake Okeechobee to prevent further pollution of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.
“Existing and currently authorized storage and treatment projects are insufficient to achieve these goals,” the report said.
The study specifically recommends buying 26,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land directly south of Lake Okeechobee to create a reservoir. The same parcel was identified in Amendment 1 in the Everglades Agricultural Area for purchase.
“The report … confirms much of what the Everglades Foundation has been saying for years – more storage is needed south of Lake Okeechobee, storage south of the lake is more effective, and the state has before it the significant opportunity to purchase 46,800 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said.
Within days of the release of the report, a pop-up Internet group materialized called Florida Citizens Against Waste, promoting a “Stop the Land Grab” petition campaign — a movement also backed by Miami Tea Party.
The group said the state doesn’t need to buy any more lands, and that Everglades restoration is 90 percent complete. The group also said the water in the Everglades is quite pure, a claim disputed by scientists and environmentalists.