Hedgie Paul Tudor Jones Pushes For Wetlands Restoration

Feb 17 2015 | 10:21am ET

By Amanda Gordon (Bloomberg) -- Before rocker Steven Tyler came out in a wild print shirt crooning “Sweet Emotion,” hedge-fund manager and philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones, in a grey T-shirt and black jeans, tried to whip up some political fervor.

Invoking “we the people,” Jones asked everyone at the 10th annual benefit for the Everglades Foundation, including AMG’s Sean Healey, real-estate billionaire Jeff Greene and former Nabisco president F. Ross Johnson, to tell Florida’s governor and legislators to go through with the purchase of 26,000 acres directly south of Lake Okeechobee.

The state has until October to acquire the land from U.S. Sugar Corp. According to the foundation, the transaction would allow water to flow south into purifying man-made wetlands, causing all sorts of good things to happen, instead of spilling over to the east and west, polluting other bodies of water and causing the algae blooms of the “lost summer” of 2013.

“If we miss this opportunity, we set back restoration 10 or 20 years,” Jones said in an interview during the Feb. 14 benefit at the Breakers in Palm Beach.

Jones, founder of Tudor Investment Corp., has earned the right to sound alarmed: he’s worked on Everglades restoration for more than 20 years. He also sounded confident, as one would clad in the “rocker chic” dress code requested on the invitation, standing near his wife, Sonia, who wore an almost backless top and white jeans.

Approving Voters

Other factors may warrant his optimism, too, such as having an idea where the money to buy the land will come from.

“Amendment 1 funds this,” Jones said, referring to a measure that received 75 percent of voters’ approval in Florida’s last election (an amendment to legalize marijuana failed to pass). Amendment 1 provides for 33 percent of the state’s real estate tax revenue to be spent on acquisition and conservation for 20 years, which is projected to be billions in the growing state. Jones called it a “mandate to buy land for the Everglades.”

Then there’s this year’s proposed budgets from President Barack Obama and Florida Governor Rick Scott, increasing funding for Everglades restoration projects.

To top it off, a former Florida governor is running for president.

“We love that,” Jones said. Jeb Bush “was a great champion of the Everglades, and I’m sure as president he’d be a spectacular champion of the Everglades.”

Big Sugar

Carl Hiaasen sounded more skeptical. Bush “does have some credentials,” having been “involved in the early stages of restoration; he certainly understood the economics way before a lot of other politicians,” said the Floridian-born columnist, novelist and Everglades advocate.

But Hiaasen warned that “Big Sugar” money may influence Florida politicians and derail the 26,000-acre purchase. Besides, he added, “Jeb’s going to have his hands full talking about education and immigration.”

Other guests mentioned those issues when they talked about Bush -- except for Gamco’s Mario Gabelli, who said, “Bush who? I’m going to wait nine more months,” and comedian Susie Essman, who said her vote will be with “the former senator of New York.”

Bush “has great policy on charter schools and immigration,” said Glenn Dubin, who co-founded Highbridge Capital Management. Peter Kiernan, a former Goldman Sachs partner, said Bush’s comments on job creation and improving education in Florida were “very compelling, at least they were to me as I was listening at a lunch in New York, in the freezing cold.”

Water Supply

Mark J. Costa, chief executive of Eastman Chemical Co., said he likes Bush’s track record on education and the economy. “He has the most practical and realistic solutions to solving our problems,” Costa said. “That’s what we need right now -- not someone who will pull people apart and pander to extremes.”

Eric Eikenberg, the CEO of the Everglades Foundation, said conservation is a “unifying issue.” Getting it done for the Everglades has meant “a commitment, where Washington and Tallahassee came together and said in a unified, bipartisan way, ‘we’re going to fix this,’” Eikenberg said. “It’s a perpetual investment.”

Eikenberg said the “rallying point” is the water supply. “We see it, whether it’s in California, or Brazil or here,” where the focus is providing clean water for 8 million south Floridians. “Water is a resource that cannot be neglected. Conservation is what are we doing to preserve it and protect it.”

The benefit, attended by 800 guests, brought in more than $2.5 million.

Copyright 2015 Bloomberg. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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