Legal Newsline

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

South Florida farmland owner claims Army Corps of Engineers is releasing too much water from Lake Okeechobee

Federal Court

By Marian Johns | Aug 13, 2019

MIAMI (Legal Newsline) – An owner of more than 200,000 acres of farmland in several Florida counties has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its district commanders in an effort to stop the Corps' continued release of water from Lake Okeechobee. 

According to the Aug. 1 filing in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, United States Sugar Corp. filed the complaint against the defendants U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, commanding general and chief of engineers; and Col. Andrew Kelly, commanding district engineer of the Jacksonville District, alleging the Army Corps of Engineers has "aggressively lowered" Lake Okeechobee and caused negative effects on the area's ecosystem and the water supply for the 6 million residents living in the area. 

According to the suit, the Army Corps of Engineers oversees the managing of water levels in Lake Okeechobee, which provides water to South Florida farmlands, residents, businesses and canals. 

For the past 75 years, the Army Corps has set a regulation schedule to decide on when water will be released from the lake. The plaintiff - who grows sugarcane, oranges, corn and winter vegetables on its Florida land - claims the Army Corps is lowering the lake levels beyond "normal range" in the regulation schedule and that the lake is currently at water shortage levels. 

The plaintiff also argues that the continued release of water has caused a "man-made drought" and has impacted navigation and hurricane routes and threatens the area's habitats.

Among the plaintiff's requests for relief is enjoining the defendants from further "flexibility" in lowering Lake Okeechobee's water levels as set in the regulation schedule. It is represented by Rick J. Burgess and Gregory M. Munson of Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart in Fort Lauderdale and Tallahassee, Florida

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida case number 9:19-cv-81086

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Army Corps of Engineers U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

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