Please indulge me - this is an extra long post. 
(10 pages and 5,097 “words” as a WORD Document)
<Now, 20 pages and 9,827 "words" in its revised form>

It’s a history review, and a commentary on "how we got to where we are now" regarding Gov. Crist's announcement this past Tuesday that The State of Florida had reached an agreement to buy out the United States Sugar Corporation for $1.75 billion and reacquire 187,000 acres of land in the Everglades Agricultural Area.  This subject has received extensive discussion by postings in both the Floridarailfan group and the FECrailway Yahoo group, as well it should, and my "reply" will be to both (and others)  though not specifically in response to any particular prior posting.

The announcement just got me to thinking about all that I know about the development of South Florida  that many others – just don’t. 
I want to share what I know.

The proposed deal definitely has a Florida rail and FEC rail "Root" – as it relates to the opening up of Florida, its development, The FEC's K Branch Line from the Ft. Pierce Junction to Lake Harbor, and the USSC's railroad holdings thru its subsidiary company - the South Central Florida Express.

More about FEC's K Branch Line

Florida, U.S. Sugar strike deal
for 187K acres in Everglades
This is the "HEADLINE" that greeted me in the Fort Pierce TRIBUNE on Tuesday, June 24,2008
!!  UNREAL  !!
(The stories placement was "unreal" too.  Front page, yes - but "below the fold"; 3 1/2 column inches x  1/2 page in the bottom left corner)

Link to the U.S. Sugar Corporation's Media Kit & more Detailed information about the agreement

This USSC MediaKit (a 4 Mb PDF file) has been saved and uploaded to my website in the interest of preserving it for posterity.  It is the sole work product of The USSC , and the saving , and use of the file is solely with the intent for it's preservation.  It  is a 17 page document including a 2 page release statement by Robert Bunker, President & CEO of USSC,  the 3 page Statement of Principles signed by The USSC, The SFWMD,  and Gov. Crist,  a FAQ Section, an EXCELLENT map of the USSC lands in Palm Beach, Hendry, Glades, (and Hilcrest) Countys WHICH ALSO IDENTIFIES "The Holey Land and Rotenberger Preserve Lands (State Wildlife Management Areas, Private lands NOT owned or included in the SFWMD's Water Conservation areas) as well as SFWMD's Water Conservation Areas #1 & #2 and The SFWMD's existing and proposed expansion areas for it's STA's (Storm Water Treatment Areas or Filter Marsh's,  and a  "brief" history of the USSC ,  and it's various subsidiary businesses.

By:  R.E. (Rick) Langdon - Saturday, June 28, 2008, revised 7/17/2008
       (About the writer)

First, there's no doubt that the proposed deal is ABSOLUTELY MONUMENTAL.

Hopefully it will lead to filling a critical gap in the approved Everglades Restoration Plan - the recreation of the historic southward flow way from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay and also the near total reduction of the discharges from Lake "O" to the East and West Coasts of South Florida.

If you will refer to the MAP contained in the USSC"'s Media Kit Release, "MY" vision for the recreation or the historic Everglades Flowway would include modifications as necessary to the Palm beach canal for eastward flow to the headwaters of The Existing (and expanded STA's at the north end of WCA #1, plus modifications to the North New River and Miami Canals for Southward flow plus the addition of several shorter South discharging canals between South Bay and Clewiston, and the creation of STA's, dikes and pump stations as necessary in Western Palm Beach County and Eastern Hendry County (East of the L-1 Dike and Canal) in the northern end of the existing southern EAA between US Hwy 27 and the L-1 Dike ... with a flow way restoration south of these New STA's to include all, or virtually all,  of these lands South of the existing Route of The FEC's Lake Harbor Branch Line to Ft. Pierce and the SCFE's Line from Palmdale to Lake Harbor - or possibly as far south as the existing "Bowles Canal" (6 miles South of Lake Harbor) or possibly one of the other 2 "semi major" East - West canals Between Lake Harbor and the Bowles Canal.

Google Earth Image CAPTURES - South Florida & The Everglades Flowway -
   from the North End of Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay - "From  232 miles up"
   from the South End of Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay - "From 131 miles up"

Second, at this point it is "only" the announcement that a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed which "may" (or may not) lead to a finalization on "The Deal".  The seller wants to sell, the buyer wants to buy - but the buyer must still arrange for appraisals of the various properties involved to justify the proposed expenditure for the properties and must still arrange financing for its purchase.

The  targeted closing date November 30, 2008, and the target occupancy date is still six years in the future before the State can actually "do" anything with the property that it actually desires - and this desire is to "get back" USSC's agricultural land in the Southern Everglades Agricultural Area which it granted or sold in the late 1800's and aggregate these lands South of Lake Okeechobee between Clewiston and South Bay with other lands still privately held in an attempt to recreate something similar to the wide southward flow way through The Everglades to Florida Bay that existed in and through the mid to late 1800's.

Assuming that the state doesn't want, or need, office space in Clewiston, the vast inventory of agricultural equipment, two sugar mills, a sugar refinery, it's citrus processing facilities, or its remaining cattle inventory - I would assume that prior to closing USSC would be free to dispose of these items (with an appropriate adjustment to the final purchase price) or, following the closing, the state would dispose of these properties for "cash" to others and use that cash in the accomplishment of it's goals for restoration of The Everglades.  The same assumption would hold true for USSC's SCFE railway properties including ~120 miles of trackage thru the cane fields to it's mills and refinery and ~ 1,100 cane cars. locomotives & it's yard and shop facilities..  I would also assume that the SCFE's lease interest in the FEC's Lake Harbor Branch lines serving The Glades region would be terminated and this Branch Line trackage and it's service branches would be returned to the FEC.

Link to Wickipedia's write up for the SCFE (I agree with "most" but not quite "all" of this write up.)

I recently acquired a copy of the book, currently titled A Study in Bureaucratic Self-Deception SOUTH FLORIDA IN PERIL How the United States Congress and the State of Florida in cooperation with land speculators turned the River of Grass into a billion dollar sand bar (original title EVERGLADES OF FLORIDA)   (c) 1998 and printed by The Florida Classics Library in Hobe Sound.  It is a reprint of a report delivered to congress in 1911 - "Senate Document No. 89, 62nd Congress, 1st Session" which traces the history of the drainage effort in the everglades from the 1850's to that point in time, 1911, and the disposition of the "Swamp and Overflowed" Lands of Florida, by grant or sale, acquired by the State from the U.S. Government under the "Swamplands Act" of 1850 - 31,569 ¼ square miles of Florida’s 65,795 sq. mi. total.  Imagine, 48% of Florida was considered to be “Swamp and Overflowed Lands”!

These U.S. Government Patent lands and the Land Grant and sale process were administered by the Board of Trustees for the State of Florida's Internal Improvement Trust Fund.  Some of the States "Swamp and Overflowed Lands" were sold - thus contributing to the Fund (which was earmarked for construction of public schools).  Some of the State Lands were Granted to soldiers serving in the First Seminole War as "payment" for that service, some was Granted to settlers under the "Armed Occupation Act of 1842" - with the intent of providing a ready source of local militia to assist Federal Troops in the 2nd and 3rd Seminole Wars, and there were several other grants issued for services rendered in the effort to identify, survey, and map Florida’s swamp and overflowed lands and obtain U.S. Government Patent Deed to these lands .  However, the majority of these "swamp lands" were granted to entrepreneurs for works leading to the "Internal Improvement" of the state.  In addition to MASSIVE Grants for drainage, MASSIVE Grants were also issued to the early transportation pioneers for the development of Florida's railroad systems as well as some SIGNIFICANT Grants for the dredging what is now portions of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Total acres patented to the State


Grants issued to railroad companies


Grants issued to canal and drainage companies


   Deeded in sale to Hamilton Diston  *


   Deeded to all others  **


Total disposed of


Balance remaining at January 1, 1909



* The 4 million acres, deeded to Diston in the 1880’s, were in exchange for $1,000.000.00 cash paid to The State to save it from near bankruptcy.  (This sale was at 25 cents per acre, or 20% of the established rate for "first sales" at the time of $1.25 per acre!)  Some of the lands sold were in the Southern EAA where he established the Diston Drainage District in the early 1900's around Lake Harbor and sold these earliest drained lands for development as farm lands.  Some of the other Diston lands were here in my own "back yard" in what is now The Savannas State Preserve and also much of the lands now identified as the Jensen Beach and Rio communities in Martin County North of the St. Lucie River.  These communities were former station locations on the FEC's Main Line.

** The lands deeded to "all others" were a combination of Land Grants for services rendered and Cash Sales.

In 1911, the status of these canal dredging works was roughly 1/3 complete, with the initial dredging of the Miami Canal, North New river Canal, Hillsboro Canal, and Palm Beach Canal "dredged" from the East coast to Lake "O".  These canals were available for drainage AND canal boat passage.  

The State then assumed the task for completion of these major canal projects, including the St. Lucie Canal and the Moore Haven Connector Canals "in house" with State dredges.  In 10 years, by the early 1920's all of the initial drainage canals were essentially complete and the EAA lands were well on the way to being “recovered”.  Although they were still “wet” they were to a great degree available for development as agricultural lands.  This sparked the great Florida land booms of the 1910's and 1920's (and the “bust of the speculative bubble” in 1926-1927).  What was lacking at the time was the vast network of interconnected 2nd and 3rd level drainage canals that exist today.  These came later through the combined efforts of The Central & South Florida Flood Control District and the “new” land owners.

Large Scale MAP from the May 1947 issue of "Trains Magazine" - Identifying these early drainage and transportation canals

"Most" of the early C&SF FCD works were concentrated around, South, and East of Lake Okeechobee and were an extension of the early works of the State of Florida, and others, which lead to the draining of Lake "O" through the dredging of the Miami Canal, the North New River Canal, the Hillsboro Canal, the Palm Beach Canal, and the Bowles Canal which provided a "crossflow" connection between them These earliest canals also provided canal boat transportation routes to the interior of South Florida.

Google Earth Image - Historic Lake Locks
(At Canal Point on the Palm Beach Canal - from West Palm, Belle Glade on the Hillsboro Canal from Deerfield, South Bay on the North New River Canal from Ft. Lauderdale, and Lake Harbor on the Miami Canal)

The St. Lucie Canal to the South Fork of the St. Lucie River, and the Canal at Moore Haven connecting Lake "O" to Lake Hicpochee and the headwaters of the Caloosahatchee River were also completed and would become the MAJOR Lake "O" outlets to the East and West as well as providing a coast to coast / cross Florida canal & river navigation route - shortening the passage distance from Punta Rassa on the West coast to the Stuart Inlet on the East Coast by about 350 miles (from ~ 500 miles to ~ 150 miles).  The Okeechobee Waterway is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers , South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston.  It was officially opened in March 1937.

Google Earth - Across South Florida Canal and River Route

Interactive PDF Map - Okeechobee Waterway by USACEC - SFOO

In this report to Congress, I was somewhat amazed to learn that the early surveys exploring Florida's southern interior identified the water level in Lake Okeechobee as Elev 21 - 24 and that it covered an area of 1,080,000 acres (1,687 ½ square miles !).

Compare this elevation to Lake "O’s" control elevation range, and size, when I was with The Corps in Clewiston in 1969/71, by then "enclosed" by the Herbert Hoover Dike - which was Elev 13.5 to 15.5 and it's current drought induced elevation of about 9.4'.  Also compare the original area of Lake "O" to it's current area which is placed at 730 Sq. Miles, or 467,200 acres.  What happened to the difference in area?  613,000 acres, or nearly 978 sq. miles, of now arable lands in The Everglades Agricultural Area was created!  This WAS, after all, the State's intent in arranging for the dredging of these early canals.

These lands reclaimed for agricultural development are primarily on the South and East Sides of Lake "O" and were developed primarily as "crop lands".  Lands were also reclaimed North of Lake "O" and up the Kissimmee River Valley which were also used for crops to a lesser degree, but were primarily developed as "cattle lands".

Florida was purchased from Spain in 1821. It became a State in 1845.  It’s hard to imagine now, but as recently as the early 1920's - Florida was the last wilderness frontier in the continental United States.  When I arrived in 1961, this was still - to a great degree (except for a narrow strip of development along the coasts) - true.  The interior lands of South Florida, beyond that narrow strip, might not have been identified as "Swamp and Over Flowed Lands" but they were still to a great degree "wetlands" suitable (with additional secondary drainage effort) only for agricultural use (sand crops or grazing lands).

The vast, undeveloped interior, still either "wetlands", or developed as agricultural lands, had a great effect on the climatology of South Florida.  When I moved here in the early '60's you could just about set your watch by the arrival of afternoon rains in the summer.  Now, with additional 2nd and 3rd level drainage along the coastal zones and changes to its topography for residential use (the development of "roof tops") extending far inland, combined with even greater 2nd and 3rd level drainage and expansion of lands reclaimed in the EAA for agricultural development, that historic evaporation-transpiration-condensation rain cycle has also been upset resulting in less rain in South Florida.  (At least that’s the perception expressed by nearly all “old timers” that I’ve talked with about changes in our rain patterns.)

The Herbert Hoover Dike was built in the 1930’s.  It was constructed following the “Great Miami Hurricane” in 1926 and the “Okeechobee Hurricane” in 1928 - both of which breached the low lying “muck dikes” along the southern borders of The Lake and combined - drowned thousands.  It was expanded, extended, and raised in the 1960’s following flooding from two hurricanes in 1947.  It was constructed as a hurricane protective DIKE and it now surrounds, and hopefully contains, Lake “O”.  It was not constructed as, nor ever intended to be, a DAM around a "reservoir".

The "experiment" by the, now named, South Florida Water Management District to use Lake "O" as a reservoir in the 1970's through the early 1990's by raising it's control elevation to, I believe, 19.5 to 21.5, and it "might" have been 21.5 to 23.5 proved that the HOOVER DIKE was not a DAM when it started "leaking" and threatening it's original purpose as a hurricane protective DIKE.  The control elevations were returned to, I believe, the current range of 15.5 to 17.5.  (During much of this time I was not "in" Florida except to visit family still here, and those control elevations and time periods may, or may not, be correct.)

This does not mean that the existing DIKE is a failure.  It has served its intended purpose now for 70 years or more.  What the current project to "strengthen the dike" mean is that society's intent for this structure has changed from hurricane protection to hurricane protection AND water storage and its design and construction must be modified to serve as a DAM in order to again allow the raising of Lake “O’s” control elevation and approach its historic storage volume.  In addition to changes to the core design of the dike/dam this may also require an increase in its height.

The result of the work in the 1880 -1920 time period, dredging the major canals of South Florida, along with the early works of the C&SF FCD and the farming land owners (the additional 2nd level canals, 3rd level ditches and state and private pumping stations) was the exposure, for agricultural development, of vast amounts of tropical land in the historic Everglades flow way, the flow way that Marjory Stoneman Douglas immortalized in her book RIVER OF GRASS.  This area is, nearly “dead flat” with an average slope of only about 0.2 feet per mile from the shores of Lake “O” to Florida Bay.  With its complex array of interconnected ditches, canals, and pumping stations it is truly a “modern marvel” of Civil Engineering. 

The southern EAA is covered with rich, black, muck (referred to locally as “Black Gold”) which combined with its tropical location was a tremendously valuable asset to be developed, if possible.  This soil was formed as the resultant accumulation of eons of tropical swamp plant growth, death, and decay and is the soil that is the basis for Belle Glades motto "Our soil is our fortune".  This could also be considered to be the motto of the entire southern Everglades Agricultural Area for the past 85 or more years! 

For its ORIGINAL purpose, the drainage and flood control works of the State of Florida and the Central and South Florida Flood Control District can be considered to be an unqualified success.  The value of the crops produced on this previous “swampland” over the past 85 years has to be in the hundreds of Trillions!

One major effect of the draining of Lake "O" via canals to the East and West coasts was the diversion of its historic outlet, which had been primarily via over land flow East and South to Florida Bay, to estuaries on the lower East and West coasts – significantly reducing the historic flow to Florida Bay.  The Everglades National Park, founded in 1947 - South of The Tamiami Trail - along with the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve to it's West, all bordering Florida Bay and all essentially "undeveloped” and "untouched" WAS the remaining, original, Swamplands of South Florida - thru which this overland flow way passed on it's way to the Bay. 

The three vast Water Conservations Areas created by the C&SF FCD, along with state owned lands known as the “Holey Land” and “Rotenberger” Wild Life Management Areas - all within the historic “River of Grass” flow way, “resemble” the historic Everglades in many respects.  However, they were created for the control and management of flood waters, or as wildlife management areas, and are not “free flowing” flow ways. 

The following is From the National Park Services web site's description of The Everglades National Park.  It can apply as well to the Big Cypress and the Fakahatchee Strand Preserves:

Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The area boasts many rare and endangered species … It has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, in recognition of its significance to all the people of the world.

It was shortly realized that the diversion of Lake "O's" discharge from southward to East and West was having a seriously detrimental impact on the Parks "Wetlands" status.

A second "side effect" of Lake "O's" draining and the conversion of the recovered "Swamp and Overflowed" lands for agriculture - was a direct result of those agricultural purposes.  To "maximize" agricultural production on these lands fertilizers and pesticides were introduced thus contaminating the waters discharged.

North of Lake "O", in the primarily "cattle lands" the runoff from these lands - now enriched with excess fertilizer nutrients and animal wastes were delivered to Lake "O" via drainage canals and a "straightening project" on the Kissimmee River (completed while I was stationed with the USACEC in Clewiston).  This was intended to improve navigation thru a series of locks and a reduction in distance traveled from Lake "O" North to Lake Kissimmee at SR 60, as well as providing an increased capacity for flood control for Lake Kissimmee and points North to Orlando.  These, now nutrient enriched waters, were then delivered "directly" to Lake "O" and are discharged primarily to the coastal estuaries at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie Canal.

It's realized NOW that Lake “O” is suffering from the increased nutrient load and these coastal estuaries are also suffering severely - not only from the increased introduction of fresh water, but also from the fact that this Lake "O" discharge is now so nutrient rich.

A Part of the $7.5 Billion Everglades Restoration Plan, approved in 2000,  is directed to the reversal of that Kissimmee "Straightening" project.  The "new" specialty branch of Civil Engineering,  Environmental Engineering, has now determined that marsh lands are "good" and accomplish the valuable function of nutrient removal from waters passing through them.  This "discovery" has lead to projects to return the flow way of the Kissimmee River to it's old meandering path and the planned construction of several "filter marshes" East and West of Lake "O", to meet this "new" social goal for nutrient removal as well as restrictions on how much, when, and "how" water is released from Lake "O" East and West thru the St. Lucie Canal and the Caloosahatchee River.

Was this Kissimmee River Straightening and flood control project a “failure”?  For it’s intended purpose – no.   “New discoveries” have changed society’s goals, and changed the SFWMD’s direction and design goals for the project.

South of Lake "O", in recognition of the value provided by filter marsh’s,  projects have been built in areas East and South of the EAA to create them and remove the increased nutrient load in the run off waters from crop production (the original goal for draining the Lake) prior to its introduction into the water conservation areas.  In addition, restrictions have been put in place to limit (or eliminate) the practice of “back pumping” water from the Southern EAA into Lake “O”.  Also, to restore, or at least increase, overland flows to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay, revised project requirements call for canal improvements to the Miami and North New River Canals to increase flow southward and to provide for increased flow capacity under Alligator Alley and the Tamiami Trail.  To aid in "levelizing" the southward overland flows during dry periods (and some think to provide a reserve storage area for domestic use), a large reservoir is currently under construction South of South Bay and West of Hwy 27 and the North New River Canal in conservation Area 3.

Was the original design of these major drainage canals, the water conservation areas or the culverts providing for water movement under the roadways bisecting WCA #3 or bordering WCA #3 -  bad”?

No, they were successful in meeting society’s original goal of draining Lake “O” for the recovery of arable lands.  Society’s goals have changed to also provide for increased southward flow and nutrient removal from agricultural run off and SFWMD has responded with revised project design instructions.

A third “side effect” of the exposure of these “muck lands” for agricultural use is also a direct result of that draining and the soil thus exposed.  The muck, which was SO GOOD for agricultural use, is an almost 100% an organic soil.  As such it oxidizes when exposed.  This oxidation, combined with wind erosion because it’s now “dried out” and exposed has reduced the thickness of this muck soil from 10’s of feet in many areas to now only single digit feet or even inches thick.  At some point in the future, it will no longer be suitable for agricultural use.  This could well have played a part in USSC’s decision that it’s an appropriate time to get out of the business.

Illustrations from BLACK GOLD and SILVER SANDS - A pictorial History of Agriculture in Palm Beach County by James D. Snyder

"Most" of USSC’s lands in the Southern EAA were acquired as derivative lands purchased from the Diston purchase or directly from the State's Sale of Swamp and Overflowed Lands recovered for Internal Improvements and were 2nd or 3rd owner purchases in the 1920's and 1930’s.  USSC was formed by Charles Mott in 1931 with the purchase of the Southern Sugar Company lands and mill located in and around Clewiston.  The USSC's aquisition and success was "the dawn" of corporate farming in The Glades.  Over the years since, USSC has expanded its Ag Land holdings, as lands became available, to its current total of 187,000 acres.  These land holdings initially were concentrated around Clewiston, and for all practical purposes, Clewiston and it’s surrounding communities – Harlem, Hookers Point, Sugarton, and Sugar Junction were developed as a "Company Town".   USSC's land holdings are now scattered throughout the Southern EAA South and East of The Lake.

Foremost with respect to the recent announcement for the Sale of U.S. Sugar Corporations properties and land holdings to the State of Florida, this - by itself - does not necessarily mean the end for Sugarcane production, Cane Trains in the EAA, or hardly for that matter the "end" of agriculture in the EAA.  In addition to USSC other major Sugar Cane growing operations & Sugar Mills are operated by the Sugar Cane Growers Co-Op East and South of Belle Glade and the Fanjul Family South of South Bay and Okeelanta.   Wedgeworth, and Alico are other major Ag Industry Corporate operations with lands in the EAA and there are still many other smaller company  & family farms in the EAA growing Sugarcane, Corn, Beans, Citrus, Tomatoes, Beets, Radish, Celery, Rice, and other "Truck Crop" commodities, although 'cane is by far the #1 crop currently in production.

There's no doubt that U.S. Sugar Corp. with its headquarters and mill in Clewiston and its 187,000 Acres is the predominant Ag Industry in the Southern EAA.  Also, without a doubt it's Clewiston that will be the town most severely and adversely impacted from its demise and the unemployment of it’s roughly 1,600 employees.  Clewiston currently has a population of about 6,500 and nearly all are directly or indirectly dependant on USSC’s presence.

USSC's land holdings are predominately located near the shores of Lake "O" South and East of Clewiston.  However their land holdings are also extensive East of South Bay and up around the East side of Lake "O".  It is these Eastern EAA land holding that "hold the key" for the restoration of a “wide” southern outlet from Lake “O” and the Everglades flow way - as land swap opportunities for the State of Florida, in exchange for other than USCC lands privately held South of the stretch from South Bay to Clewiston and North of The SFWMD's Conservation Area #3.  It's the future trade for, or purchase of, these lands, the construction of discharge structures along the South Shore of Lake "O" through the Hoover Dike between South Bay and Clewiston, and the conversion within this region of the EAA from agricultural "use" to filter marsh and restored southward flow way that will allow for the "true", albeit partial, restoration of “The Everglades”, The Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay and the return to a healthy condition of the estuaries of the Caloosahatchee River on the West Coast and the Indian River Lagoon on the East Coast.

This - is the current social goal - which is considered "good".  It's not that the draining of the lake was "bad" - it did satisfy its goal for the creation of lands for the development of the Agriculture Industry.  What has changed - is society’s goals for the use of this land.

However, it will take lots of time - considerably more than I will be allotted, and lots of $$$$$$$$$$$ to accomplish this "new" goal for the restoration and conversion in land use back from agricultural use to something similar to the Swamplands of the 1850's.

I totally agree that this purchase represents a golden window of opportunity to expand the existing Everglades Restoration Plan and actually recreate, at least partially, Florida’s “River of Grass” from the South shore of Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.  It’s a “good and worthwhile” thing to do.

In the early 1960's, I was still privileged to have been able to catch a glimpse of what "The Everglades" were.  Perhaps now "The Everglades Restoration Plan" can more truly live up to it's title and serve both nature and mans desires.  Is the $1.75 Billion price tag for the buy out of the USSC a “fair price”?  Yes, probably so.  It would represent something in the range of $8,000 to $8,500 per acre for the “land” plus $160 to $250 million for all of the other USSC structures, equipment, and improvements.  The “Land” has not changed in value, what HAS changed is the value of “a dollar” i.e. the compounding and cumulative effect of “inflation”!

It helps to think of “value” in terms of what is paid for a man’s work. 

In 1931 my dad graduated from school (High School) and started work.  His initial job was as a statistician at the Globe Insurance Company of The Royal Liverpool Group  for $50/Mo. (~ $2.30/day).  At his retirement in 1977 working as Head of the Industrial Engineering Department at Pratt & Whitney’s Florida Research and Development Center, his pay was ~ $55/day. 

When I started full time work as a graduate, but not licensed, Civil Engineer in 1971 for JBM Hauling, Grading, and Land Development Company as a Staff Engineer and Estimator my initial pay rate was ~ $45/day.  When I retired in 1997 working as a Plant Engineer at Alabama Power Company’s Gorgas Steam Plant my pay rate was ~ $262/day. (If I was still working today, that would be ~ $362/day (escalating 1997’s pay rate at 3%/year).  So, for similar “work” over the time period 1931 – 2008, the “value of a man’s day of work” went from ~ $2.30/day to ~ $362/day or an increase of ~ 158x between 1931 and 2008.

By this same comparison of “values”, land that was selling for $1.25/acre in 1880, and was selling for ~ $60 /acre in 1930 (an increase in “value” of 48x) just might be “worth” 158 x $60 =~ $9,500/acre today. 

Therefore, $8,000 to $8,500/acre for USSC’s land holdings does appear likely to be a “very fair” price today – particularly in light of the value added to the land by USSC in the addition of canals, ditches, and farm roads.

More about FEC's "K Branch" Line

The current routing of FEC's K-Line (Kissimmee Valley Line) is a derivative of the Lake Harbor Branch Line, from the land boom period of the 1910's and 1920's that ran from New Smyrna to Maytown, through Holopaw then South to Okechobee at the North end of Lake "O" and ultimately around its Eastern and Southern shores to Lake Harbor..  In my view, it was a railway addition "nearly" as ambitious in scope, and in the "long view" probably as, or more,  important to the economic development of Central and South Florida as the Key West Extension.  The original route of this Branch extended nearly 195 miles vs the 159 miles for the KW Extension, and opened up the interior lands for transportation, habitation, agricultural development , and the shipment of of that agricultural produce to market..

From Seth Bramson in his SPEEDWAY TO SUNSHINE The Story of the Florida East Coast Railway (Third Printing, January 2003, pg 93)
... To reach Lake Okeechobee, the construction of a branch line from Maytown, near New Smyrna Beach, was started following the signing of a contract dated November 7, 1910.  Work on what became known as the Kissimmee Valley branch (later Kissinned Valley line, and then Okeechobee Branch) began shortly after the contract was signed.  The builder of the line was the Kissimmee Valley Construction Co., though a good deal of work was performed by the railroad's own forces.

Actual movement of earth began at Maytown on February 25, 1911.  Various segments, aggregating 122.33 miles (30.67 miles North of where the current Glades Cut-Off joins the "old" K-Line), opened between March 11, 1912 and January 5, 1915 <It is a measure of the strength of the Flagler System (obviously, Flagler, himself) that the Kissimmee Valey Line could be contracted for, and construction started a full year prior to the completion of the Key West Extension.> ... the final extension of the line turned out to be to Lake Harbor, and a connection with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, at the South end of the lake, in 1929.
From SPEEDWAY TO SUNSHINE - Photo's of various K-Line Stations
Remember, that the railroad pioneers in the opening up of Florida for development were granted VAST tracts of "Swamp and Overflowed Lands" for their efforts and investments in the development of Florida's early rail transportation systems.  They had land to sell and lands to be developed!!  The FEC had their own Land and Industrial  Development Departments and it's officers also served as managers of the Flagler System's Model Land Company, the Perrine Grant Land Co., and the Chuluota Land Co.

... Kenansville, about midway on the line, was to be a bustling city, named after Flagler's wife, Mary Lily Kenan.  But Kenansville never quite got off the drawing board and today is barely a wide spot in the road...
The Chuluota Land Company was the only one of the Flagler System Land Companies that did not show a profit.  Today Chuluota, about 15 miles east of Orlanda, is on the verge of a boom, but the Flagler System no longer owns any of the land.
The great hope of H. N. Rodenbaugh, the FEC's general manager at the time, was that the line could, possibly, become as important to the economic development of Central and South Florida as had been the hope for the Key West Extension.  While the intent of the K Valley Line was to open up the interior lands for transportation, habitation and agricultural development as well as the shipment of that agricultural produce to market, the line never fulfilled the hopes of the builders and traffic was sparse at best as the development that had been expected in the northern region never occurred.  This is somewhat similar to the Key West Extension in that the major revenue stream expected on that line was to be the shipment, via rail, of coal for the steamship coaling station at Key West.  With the transition of steamships from coal to oil, and ultimately to diesel power - this also did not develop.  Ships which had stopped in Key West to coal up, once converted to oil, could by-pass Key West and continue to their northern ports this also held true for the shipment of tropical fruits from Cuba and the Bahamas and the Flagler Line Ferrys to these locations also did not develop as expected.  Ultimately, following the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, which destroyed a large portion of the FEC's Key West Extension, that line was also abandoned - to later become an extension of U.S. Highway 1 - the Overseas Highway.

With the coming of the great Florida boom of the early and mid-1920's the FEC's management began to consider extending the Lake Harbor Branch Line / The K-Line, to the Hialeah Yard and connect with what was then known as the Miami Belt line so that through freight trains could be routed down the branch - which would have become a second main line had the plans come to fruition.  From some of the early system maps that Seth has published in SPEEDWAY TO SUNSHINE, it "appears" that the route envisioned for this southern extension was from Lake Harbor south along the bank of the Miami Canal (which would today connect directly to the Medley Lead and the Hialeah Yard).  With the "bust" that began in early 1926 and which history has proven was the harbinger of the great Depression that began three years later, the line languished, and was never extended past Lake Harbor..  The Miami extension, to this day, remaines nothing more than a dream.  

Last Fall I met Seth (mrfec) at the SAL Convention and Train Show in Jacksonville and picked up two old FEC Timetables. One was a "public" TT from October 26, 1958 that still indicated passenger service over the K-Line Branch to Lake Harbor and still identified the FEC as Florida's only double track route. The other was an employee TT (No. 17) from November 21, 1965. This "Employee and Government" TT is considerably more detailed and included, in addition to a wealth of other information, the various station names and locations on the K-Line. However, the schedule did not include preprinted identification for train numbers or times, an indication perhaps that passsenger service may, or may not, have still been available as scheduled service in 1965.  In follow-up discussions with Seth he advises that "in 1941 the last mixed train carrying a passenger car operated and scheduled passenger service to Lake Harbor was discontinued".

Here's a "blast from the past" (although I'm not sure now if this was ever heard) -

The Florida East Coast Local Train from Ft. Pierce to Lake Harbor is now boarding:   also serving Cana, Marcy, Mantola, Bessemer, Port Mayaca, Sand Cut, Canal Point, Pelican Lake, Cardwell, Runyon, Belle Glade-Chosen, Dalberg and South Bay. ..... We'll be leaving in 5 minutes folks.
---- ALL A-BOARRRRRRD !!! ----

It's apparent that development on the northern portion of this line was almost exclusively limited to the harvest of forest products.  Anticipated colonization along the line did not materialize although the line did provide transport to the colonists and farmers headed for the developing lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake "O", and a (long) rail path to market for their produce.  In 1947 the line was truncated with a new cut-off connecting Port Mayaca, on the east side of the Lake with Ft. Pierce, on the FEC's main line.  At the opening of the Glades Cut-Off Route, in 1947, the Northern portion of the "old" Lake Harbor Branch from New Smyrna to Holopaw was still FEC operated.  The portion from Holopaw to Utopia (just north of "Mantola") was operated by The Peavy-Wilson Lumber Company (according to the 1947 article and map in "Trains Magazine", linked below).  On completion of the Lake Okeechobee Cut-off route, the Northern Portiion of the "Old K-Line" was also leased to the Peavy-Wilson Lumber Company who continued to operate this northern portion of the line.  They continued their logging operations using their aged steam locomotives.  The cry of the steam whistle was heard on those several miles until 1952, when, the last of the lumber having been cut, Peavy-Wilson ended it's operation on the line and the last train, filled with logs and lumber, ended service on a line that, had it been completed, would today be a major and vital part of Florida's rail system.
From SPEEDWAY TO SUNSHINE - Photo's of Peavy-Wilson Operations on K-Line

From TAP LINES - Photo of Wilson Lumber Company Logging Operations near Palatka     (Link to original Photo at TAPLINES)
This path, and time to market, was considerably improved when, in 1947, the northern portion of this line was abandoned in favor of the heavy duty cut-off route to the FEC mainline at Ft. Pierce.  
From SPEEDWAY TO SUNSHINE - Brochure Cover Announcing the opening of The Lake Okeechobee Cut-off
From Seth Bramson's THE STORY OF A PIONEER - The Centenial Edition brief history of the FEC RY
In 1929-30, only a little over 2,000 carloads of perishables moved out of the Glades.  By 1946-47 this had grown to more than 7,000 carloads, and during the 1955-56 season, the Florida East Coast Railway handled 14,850 carloads of winter vegtables out of this area.

The increase in the production of celery and sweet corn has been particularily marked.  Celery shipments expanded from 2, 552 cars in 1946-47 to
3, 748 cars in 1955-56.  Shipments of sweet corn increased from only 63 cars in 1946-47 to a record 4,279 cars in 1955-56.
FEC's current Lake Harbor Branch Line (still, aka The K-LINE) originates at the Ft. Pierce Junction just South of the Ft. Pierce Yard, North of Savannas Rd, and 3/4 mile East of U.S. Hwy 1.  From there it runs generally Southeast to what "was" the "shoreline " of Lake Okeechobee at "Mantola".  About 29 miles out, at "Marcy" it crosses SR 710 -  The Bee Line Highway between Indian Town and Okeechobee.  Marcy is only a place name now, but it still shows up in Google Earth and DeLorme's "Florida Atlas and Gazetteer, Pg 102). It continues about 0.3 miles Southwest where it curves to the Southeast and joins "the old" Lake Harbor Branch line at "Mantola" (MP 30.0 on the "new" branch = MP 153.0 on the "old" Lake Harbor Branch).  This section, "The Ft. Pierce Cut-off" was opened March 8, 1947 and earned a two page article in the May 1947 issue of Trains Magazine.  [ Page 48 / Page 49] ( Thanks to Noel Weaver for the copy of this article from his collection. )  "Mantola" is  11.2 miles Northwest of the lift bridge crossing the St. Lucie Canal at Port Mayaka, adjacent to SR 76 / The Kanner Hwy.  Page 49 of this "Trains Magazine article has an EXCELLENT PHOTO illustration of the this cut-off tracks construction, directly on the sand, where an elevated embankment was not required  - prior to the track being ballasted..  The article also describes well the topography and elevations of the land from Ft. Pierce to Mantola where it joined the "old" Lake Harbor Branch Line's Route down the East side of Lake "O".  The topopography of the entire existing K-Line is illustrated in the K-Line Track charts that I've scanned and included at the bottom of this article.

SR709 (The Glades Cut-Off Road)  parallels 16 miles this track with "little" development and NO curves - offering great ""Old Florida" rural photo opportunities and paceing trackage.

Between "Mantola" and The St. Lucie Canal the line passes along the west side of the cooling lakes at FPL's Indiantown Power plant.

[NOTE:  The "Rim of the Okechobee Basin" is Elevation 41.0 and is crossed in the "Glades cut-off Section" of the Lake Harbor Branch, MP 22.5,.  from there to Port Mayaca it crosses the Allapatah Flats and around the SouthEast corner of Lake O and the southern Edge of Lake "O" it was built on the sand ridge which formed the rim of The Lake..  From Port Mayaca around the Southeast Corner to about 1 mile past South Bay (MP 40.5 - MP 66.9 the track bed is at Elevation 20.0.  From South Bay to Lake Harbor (MP 66.9 - 70.9) the track bed is at Elevation 19.0.  Also "of note" relative to the historic Lake "O" elevation range previously noted as Elev 22 - 24, is that this Eastern and Southern edge of the lake was COVERED with an extreamly dense growth of Custard Apple and Moon Vines stretching from 3/4 mile to a mile and a half back from the lakes edge.  This created something similar to a "Bevear's Dam"  between The Lake and the Historic Everglades flow way.  This was the "first" land reclaimed with the draining of The Lake, the first land farmed, and the first farm land "protected" from Lake "O" with the early muck dikes.  The "~0.2' per mile" average slope from the northern reaches of this historic Everglades flow way to Florida Bay is based on an elevation of  19.0' at it's upper reaches.]

The line then continues around the Southeast corner of Lake "O" through the present towns or communities of Sand Cut, Canal Point, Pahokee, Belle Glade, South Bay, and on to Lake Harbor at the North end of the Miami Canal - midway between South Bay and Clewiston.  FEC trackage ends at the west side of the bridge over the Miami Canal where it joins up with SCFE (former ACL/SAL, former ACL) trackage.  It is still in use, as a freight line, on a near daily basis.  From MP 15 to the end of this line at MP 70.9 the "K-Line" is currently leased to USSC's South Central Florida Express.  (It's been "rumored" that this FEC/SCFE lease was terminated prior to the FEC's aquisition by the Fortress Investment Group in 2007.)  The FEC still services customers along the 1st 15 miles of the K-Line East of the historic Cana community and Range Line Rd. (aka Allapatah Rd / SR 609) - most notable among these customers is the Ft. Pierce Tropicana Juice Plant just East of I-95.

The traffic today over the K-Line and the Glades Cut-off to Ft. pierce is only a shadow of it's former self (as illustrated above in Seth's Centenial Edition brief history of the FEC).  As noted, the USSC had leased most of this line in order to maintain a connection with the FEC's main line for freight movement.  However, changes in the crops grown in the EAA, have "almost" completely eliminated the growing of "truck crops" in favor of sugar cane.  The packing houses and intermodal facilities that served them in Pahokee, Belle Glade, and South Bay (for Celery, Lettuce,  Green Beans, Sweet Corn, etc) have also either gone idle or disappeared.  Another major blow to traffic over this line came from changes to USSC's own operations.  Prior to USSC's construction if it's own sugar refinery in The Glades, adjacent to its Clewiston sugar mill, it used to ship the raw sugar produced at it's Clewiston and Bryant Mills north to Savannah to be refined at the Dixie Crystals Refinery.
It was here in Lake Harbor, just East of the Miami Canal and South of "old" U.S. 27" (Corkscrew Blvd.) and the historic Lake Harbor Lock on the Miami Canal, that there is a wye which lead to the Lake Harbor Depot and is the FEC's K-Line interface point with the ACL, SAL/ACL, now SCFE  line thru Clewiston and on up the West side of the Lake to Palmdale - South of Sebring.  In the "early days" (the 1910's thru the 1950's) Lake Harbor was a bustling community.  The Miami Canal and the other early canals were locked canals and the "only" transportation routes to the Glades prior to the FEC's arrival in 1929.  The Bowles Hotel at Ritta (later to become Lake Harbor) was THE place to stay for farmers (and speculators) seeking land in the newly drained Everglades Agricultural Area.  Lake Harbor was the location of the lake lock on the Miami Canal, The Lake Harbor Depot, the terminus of the FEC's Lake Harbor Branch Line, and the Bowles Hotel.  In addition, it also boasted the Lake Harbor Post Office, several gas stations, restaurants, Grocery and general merchentile stores, The Lake Harbor School, and the rice plant (served by a wye on the West /ACL side of the Miami Canal), and "The Little White Church in the Glades" - where Lin and I were married,  and supported a thriving community including several residences (in two segregated communities).

This is "exactly" where my wife, Lin, and her six brothers and sisters were born and raised prior to the "new" hwy 27 being built - on the East bank of the Miami canal between the new Hwy 27 and the Herbert Hoover Dike.  Lin's dad, R.O. (Rollin) Plank, was a mechanic and operated a pump station for the Diston Drainage District here that discharged to Lake "O" North of the old Locks in the Miami Canal prior to the Hoover Dike being built, and continued to operate that pump next to their home (one had to walk through the pump house to get to their home)  up through the Early 1970's. Lin's mom's (Winnie Wingate Plank) father was a railroad man up in Georgia. Lin also had several uncles that worked on either the FEC,  the SAL, or the ACL (or all three).  Lin's granddad, Finnis "Papa" Plank, was farming on Ritta Island North of Lake Harbor in the 1920's and survived the hurricane of 1926 and the flood that breached the old "muck dikes" there and more significantly on the Southwest side of the Lake at Moore Haven where several hundred people were drowned.. This was prior to the "Big Blow" in 1928 that breeched the muck dikes around Belle Glade and South Bay that killed thousands.

See a copy of the letter from Papa Plank to Mom Plank after the hurricane dtd Sept 21, 1926, 4 pages, & 3 pages of early photo's around The Glades - from The 2000 Plank Reunion Book that Lin and I assembled  and titled - "PLANKS --- PLUS Splinters".

Lin's mom worked in one of several restaurants in "old" Lake Harbor directly across old Hwy 27 from the Lake Harbor Depot and served the rail station's passengers, passengers from the canal boats on the Miami Canal and patrons at the Bowles Hotel at Lake Harbor, all now long gone. This old restaurant building is now one of the few structures remaining in that community, has been converted to a home, and is currently home to Lin's sister Barb and her husband "Daddy Bo" Austin, and where they raised their kids. "Daddy Bo" was the Station operator at the South Florda Water Management Districts pump station in the Hoover Dike on the Miami Canal at Lake Harbor. Five years ago, I scattered Lin's ashes in the discharge canal at her old home here in Lake Harbor.

Yes, my ties to the area, which may in the future be "restored" to again become the headwaters of the Everglades flow way, run deep. The future vision of the Everglades flow way restoration will also effect the lives, and homes, of several of my "in-law" families - here in Lake Harbor, in Clewiston, and 20 miles South of Clewiston at the southern edge of the Everglades Agricultural Area.

Who knows, and it's only "informed speculation" at this point, but the great hope of H. N. Rodenbaugh and his vision of extending this Lake Harbor Branch to connect with what's now the Medley Lead and the Hialeah Yard just "might" be in the future - given the draft Vision for Florida Passenger Rail published by the Florida DOT, the purchase of the FEC by the Fortress Investment Group LLC, the operation of the FEC merged with Rail America (also a Fortress "property") and the visionary "plans" in Palm Beach County for the development of an "Inland Port" (of Palm Beach) in the Glades .... it just all seems a bit more than "coincidence".


Large Scale MAP from May 1947 Trains Magazine Article (with emphasis on FEC Main Line & Branches)


The Ft. Pierce Station was at FEC Main Line MP 241.6 (Orange Ave.), the Lake Harbor Cut-Off Junction is at MP ~243.8, South of the FP Yard
(The "trip" from Ft. Pierce to Lake Harbor via "Track 3" at Ft. Pierce, the Ft. Pierce Cut-Off,  & the Lake Harbor Branch Line was a 73.1 mile trip.)

The Glades Cut-off Section:  MP 0 to MP 5 (Ft Pierce & low point),  MP 5 to MP 10,  MP 10 to MP 15 (Cana @ 14.0),  MP 15 to MP 20,  
MP 20 to MP 25 (high point), MP 25 to MP 30  (Marcy @ 28.5 & Mantola @ 29.2),
    (equation at MP 29.32 joins Glades Cut-off to "old" Lake Harbor Branch Line from New Smyrna)
MP 30 to MP 35,  MP 35 to MP 40 (Bessemer @ 38.2),  MP 40 to MP 45 (Port Mayaca @ 40.0),  MP 45 to MP 50 (Sand Cut @ 45.1
& Canal Point @ 49.7),  MP 50 to MP 55 (Pelican Lake @ 52.5),  MP 55 to MP 60 (Cardwell @ 55.6 & Runyon @ 57.6),
 MP 60 to MP 65 (Belle Glade/Chosen @ 61.6, Dahlberg @ 63.0, & South Bay @ 64.5),  MP 65 to MP 70
MP 70 to MP 70.9 (Lake Harbor @ 70.9)

Google Earth Images CAPTURES (with The K-Line / Lake Harbor Branch Line highlighted):

K-Line Overall
- "From 87.47 Miles up"

A detail / over view of FEC's Lake Harbor Branch / Glades Cut Off MP 0 to MP 15 - "From 20.55 miles up"

A detail at the K-Line's origin at Ft. Pierce - "From 9,891 Feet up"

The K-Line, Ft. Pierce to Lake Harbor (in "5 mile" segments) - mp 0 to mp5 from 47,217, balance "From 32,600 Feet up"

The Glades Cut-off Section:  MP 0 to MP 5,  MP 5 to MP 10,  MP 10 to MP 15,  MP 15 to MP 20,  MP 20 to MP 25, MP 25 to MP 30
(Note:  equation at MP 29.32 joins Glades Cut-off to "old" Lake Harbor Branch Line from New Smyrna)
MP 30 to MP 35,  MP 35 to MP 40,  MP 40 to MP 45,  MP 45 to MP 50,  MP 50 to MP 55,  MP 55 to MP 60,  MP 60 to MP 65, MP 65 to MP 70
MP 70+ Lake Harbor to Clewiston

A detail at the K-Line's Terminus at Lake Harbor - From 9,810 Feet up"


For another of my articles - about Henry Flagler's impact on the ecomomic development of Florida, the FEC Main Line (thru my back yard)  and the historic Jupiter to Lake Worth Railroad, "The Celestial Railroad"  - GO HERE


My relationship with Florida, Florida Rail, and "The Glades" began in the early 1960's.  I've identified South Florida as "home" for the past 47 years (since moving from Connecticut in 1961 at 16) and have observed first hand the tremendous changes that have taken place here over that time - not only it's tremendous growth in population and "development", but also the changes to it's topography, climateology, and changes in social goals related to the "use" of South Florida lands, or it's preservation, and the changes in how society views the results of it's actions which were considered "good" at the time but "bad" now.

I have a keen interest in (and appreciation for) the history of South Florida, South Florida Rail, South Florida Agriculture, Civil Engineering, the civil works constructed to accomplish the draining of South Florida for Flood Control and Ag Lands "recovery & development", and more recently the development of, and appreciation for, a sub group in Civil Engineering - Environmental Engineering.  I learned a LOT through my early work, and continued that with extensive and continuing education through reading, and research.

This Early work included 5 Summers and a Fall Semester while in College working for The Central and South Florida Flood Control District (prior to it's name and mission change to The South Florida Water Management District) and with Brockway, Owen and Anderson - Engineers in West Palm Beach .  Both of these were primarily in the capacity of a Land Surveyor.   This afforded me the opportunity to experience interior South Florida, the drainage and flood control works, and the success of these works in place and under construction "up close and personal".

Following graduation from The Citadel as a Civil Engineer (in 1968) and receipt of my Commission in the Army Corps of Engineers (in Sept 1969) I requested and received my first 2 year posting with The Corps in Clewiston, FL at their South Florida Area Office - Civil Works.  The Corps, thru their Civil Works Branch is the design and construction agency that implements Civil Works actions identified by the public through State governmental agencies - in this case the C&SF FCD / SFWMD.  It doesn't "dream up" Civil Works Projects, but does provide consultant, engineering, and construction services to the Local Government agencies to aid them in meeting the public's desires for Civil Works projects.

With the Corps in Clewiston, I continued to learn about the works in place, and future works planned, to accomplish the draining of South Florida and how the function of these works now also tied into the flood protection goals and mission of the C&SF FCD.  I also had the opportunity to travel throughout the C&SF FCD territory from Holopaw (West of Palm Bay) South to Homestead and grew to appreciate the vast scope and complexity of the works - and the beauty and serenity of The Everglades.

While stationed in Clewiston, I met my wife and "married into" an even older South Florida family with "roots in the muck" around Lake Harbor dating back to the early 1910's - a "real" South Florida pioneer family.

After returning from a tour of duty in Korea, I spent most of the balance of my working life with Alabama Power Company.  I retired "early" from APCo, returned to Florida in 1999 and now live on "The Drive" south of Ft. Pierce with FEC MP 250.2 as "my back yard".  For the past 6 years I've served as the official, and unofficial, Historian for the Indian River Drive Freeholders Association and have several articles about, and maps of this area, posted on my web site at