U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno announced he will appoint a special master to assist him in deciding whether Florida is violating a legal settlement to clean up the Everglades. The South Florida Water Management District and the state are bound by a 1991 settlement agreement to reduce fertilizer running off sugar farms into the Everglades. The appointment of the special master was an idea first raised when U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler presided over the case. After overseeing the issue since 1988, Judge Hoeveler was removed from the case earlier this year after lawyers for the sugar industry sought his removal. Appointment of the special master brings a technical expert to aid the federal judge in determining compliance with requirements to reduce the amount of fertilizers that are dumped into the Everglades by the sugar farms.
“The everglades are a national treasure and a world heritage site. We can’t let the sugar companies ruin it,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “The cleanup program has major failings and a special master will find out why and explain it to the court. “
The judge announced he’d issue another order within ten days identifying the person chosen as a special master. The judge indicated the special master will be a scientific expert who is well versed in environmental law.
Florida’s pledge to reduce the phosphorous was pushed back from an original date of 2002 to the current date of 2006. In June Governor Jeb Bush signed a law reneging on the state’s commitment to the 2006 cleanup date and substituting the year 2016. The special master is expected to help the judge determine the technical feasibility of achieving the 2006 date. The special master is also expected to help the judge resolve factual disputes about how the clean-up program is working.
“This case will start moving fast because the special master will turn a bright light on why the cleanup is getting stalled” said Earthjustice attorney Monica Reimer.