November 23, 2019
Muck City Aflame: Stop the Burn Protest Highlights Failure of FDACS to Protect Community
BELLE GLADE, FL — Sugar growers around Belle Glade provided a toxic but illustrative backdrop to a protest today in front of the Florida Forestry Division Work Center at 2842 FL-15, Belle Glade, with smoke and ash plumes along the horizon in every direction. The scene underscored (1) the plague of air pollution, health threats and economic depression that pre-harvest sugarcane field burning imposes on the Glades and (2) the failure of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to protect the health and safety of the residents in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).
Shanique Scott and Steve Messam, both local residents born and raised in the Glades and leaders in the Stop the Burn – Go Green Campaign to end pre-harvest sugarcane field burning, spoke to a crowd of over 30 activists in front of a large figure of Smokey the Bear sign (http://bit.ly/35uUjjW) wearing a Stop the Burn t-shirt. (View the protest.)
Two large posters of screen shots from the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool from Nov. 1, 2019 (http://bit.ly/Nov-1-2019-ash-plume) and Nov. 14, 2018 (http://bit.ly/11-14-18_ash-plume) showed huge swaths of the EAA shrouded in ash. A screen shot taken the morning of the protest (http://bit.ly/Nov-23-FFS-Map-Burn) makes it clear that this is not a rare phenomenon.
Per the Florida Forest Service’s active burn tracking tool (http://tlhforucs02.doacs.state.fl.us/fmis.dataviewer), ash plumes often travel over 20 miles. Messam said, "We have found ash plumes as long as 26.21 miles long on the Forest Service website. You want to put our health and safety first? Then give us at least a 27-30 mile buffer around our homes, schools, streets and churches right now and make that the first phase of an eventual a complete ban in the near future."
Messam added, "In a press conference on Oct. 1, Commissioner Fried said, 'Keeping Florida's residents, communities and environment safe is my number one priority.' She also announced a new 80-acre buffer zone to protect wildlands from pre-harvest burns, but our homes and schools are left unprotected. In fact, the new announced measures do nothing to keep us safe and healthy. We are still choked by black snow while residents in Eastern Palm Beach County are protected by burn wind restrictions. I refuse to accept that my people are less worthy of protection. The industry needs to stop pre-harvest sugar field burning and switch to green harvesting now."
Scott remarked, "Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the harvest with family, and the Glades is a true horn of plenty. The sugar industry reaps a profitable harvest from our rich soils but our communities have not shared in the profits. In the Glades, harvest season means smoke and ash, exacerbated asthma symptoms, the high cost of cleaning off our cars and homes, keeping kids inside and fear. This Thanksgiving needs to be the last one celebrated under this dark cloud."
Scott brought it all home with stories about how generations of her family and neighbors have been impacted by the burns. "The only smoke I want for Thanksgiving is a smoked turkey. Until burning is completely phased out and is replaced by green harvesting, we are not safe, we are not healthy, and our lives are not respected."
Messam went on to say, "We are thankful for a number of things this year. The number of Stop the Burn Campaign activists is growing every month. FDACS has started to talk about green harvesting. Next year we want to be thankful for a FDACS-sponsored green harvesting economic opportunity workshop in Belle Glade; this is something Commissioner Nikki Fried can start to plan for right now. And we will be thankful when Commissioner Fried comes to Belle Glade to meet with us and hear our stories; we have been asking her for months to come here and experience the burns first-hand."
The crowd got their two cents in too, chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, toxic smoke has got to go!"
Photos taken the morning before the protest on Nov. 23, 2019, showing smoke and ash over Belle Glade: http://bit.ly/37wiyjt
Photo of Steve Messam: http://bit.ly/2QRpzVU
Photo of Shanique Scott: http://bit.ly/2XHNfO7
Photo of Smokey the Bear: http://bit.ly/35uUjjW
Protest video: http://bit.ly/2P7a5ed