Charlie Crist says he would seek alternatives to Glades sugarcane burning as governor

Which candidate can best stand up to “Big Sugar” has become a major issue in Florida’s Democratic primary for governor.

Congressman Charlie Crist is running against Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. During a campaign stop in Fort Lauderdale this week, he delivered his final salvo.

As governor of Florida, Crist cut a deal for the state to buy the US Sugar Corporation and use part of its 187,000 acres to restore endangered wildlife habitats. The project fell through during negotiations, partly due to the Great Recession of 2008.

WLRN is committed to providing South Florida with reliable news and information. As the pandemic continues, our mission is more vital than ever. Your support makes it possible. Please make a donation today. Thanks.

But the Democratic gubernatorial candidate said the plan would be back on the table if he is elected governor again. “I think it’s very important to do that,” he said.

Crist said he will also look for alternatives to the controversial burning technique used in harvesting sugar cane in Palm Beach County.

The practice, which is being phased out in countries like Brazil, creates a combination of smoke and ash that some have linked to respiratory problems. Activists in the Glades, a predominantly black community where these issues persist, say current restrictions on burning are not enough.

“There are ways to deal with it without having to burn and put people’s lungs at risk. You don’t have to. And we can do it in a much better way,” Crist told his supporters.

These alternatives include “green” harvesting, removing the hard outer layer of sugar cane with machines instead of fires. Countries, including Brazil, have turned to these alternatives.

Crist’s comments come days after the palm beach post published an investigation of his main opponent Nikki Fried. The article details changes to burning regulations that she announced as Commissioner of Agriculture that residents of Glades communities say have not changed much.

Franco Ripple, spokesman for Agriculture Commissioner Fried, told WLRN in 2020 that the office had redrew the maps of the areas to be burned “to reduce the potential impact of smoke in all communities.”

Fried’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment on this article, but did respond to the Post’s investigation by posting a fact sheet on its website.

The web post specified changes to burning policies, many of which were described in the newspaper’s investigation, including “a minimum buffer zone of 80 acres (two fields) is now required between wild lands and burns in fields of sugarcane on dry, windy days to reduce the threat of wildfires. ”

She also made, without evidence, accusations that Post reporters were paid by the Sierra Club, a group of environmental activists. She later clarified the claim saying it was “something I heard – hope it’s not true”.

According to other articles published this week, Associated Industries of Florida donated $265,000 to Florida Consumers First, Fried’s fundraising committee. This money comes mainly from Florida Power and Light and Florida Crystals and US Sugar, according to the article published by Search for rents and the Orlando Sentinel.

“Of course I get donations from everywhere, but that doesn’t mean that’s what empowers me,” Fried said when asked about the donations during a campaign stop. Tuesday evening.

“The only people I’m beholden to are the people, and I’ve said it time and time again, look at my record. He’s standing up for the people, and that’s never going to change.

Before harvesting sugarcane, farmers set fire to it to burn the leaves.

Rachel J. Bradford