Locals decry forest plan
(Note: This is not a 'forest plan' -- it is a major increment of The Wildlands Project, which is a global land/water/resources control Trojan Horse. Please visit The Wildlands Project and Everglades buttons at my website for irrefutable proof. This note and the notes within the article are by Julie Kay Smithson.)
July 3, 2004
The Golden Gate Gazette Online
11725 Collier Blvd., Unit C
Naples, Florida 34116
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With people overflowing the meeting room and spilling out into the hallways, state and federal officials were unprepared for attendance at the Southern Golden Gate Estates/Picayune Strand restoration meeting, June 17, at the Best Western Motel on Pine Ridge Road.
Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) set up for nearly 200 people, yet over 300 came, waiting up to four hours to be heard, in spite of the lack of air conditioning.
The workshop began with an open house at 6:30 p.m. and the actual workshop got underway at 7 p.m. The Corps, designers of the massive project, hosted the meeting as part of the federal process to obtain approval and funding through Congress. So far, the total monies already spent, both state and federal, has reached nearly $400 million.
This massive project takes in all of the Southern Golden Gate Estates (SGGE) and the South Belle Meade State Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) project. Officials say restoration of the area will tie all critical natural habitats together and generate significant positive effects on the hydrology, vegetation, and wildlife of the project area and surrounding public lands.
The goal is to restore the natural waterflow across 55,000 acres south of Interstate 75 by means of installing three huge pumps and plugging canals through the 55,247-acre former platted subdivision as well as tearing out miles of roads.
The public comment period expired on June 28, but property rights advocates circulated a petition during the meeting, requesting an extension -- which has been granted through Tuesday, July 13.
Opponents of the project had plenty to say.
Some voiced concern on whether the project made adequate provisions for emergency evacuation routes from northern Golden Gate Estates.
Others feared possible flooding of their homes in the Northern Estates.
SFWMD representative Janet Starnes told the audience it was 'possible' that an emergency-only access would be made available at I-75 and Everglades Boulevard.
Some questioned why the DEP would agree to berm 6-L's farmland and other areas, but not Jesse Hardy's property.
Starnes said the project called for a pump station to be located in the middle of Hardy's property, and the backwater might adversely affect his fish farm.
Residents questioned how the project might affect horse trails along Miller Boulevard and Newman Drive.
Officials said the trails would remain open; however, during the rainy season the trails might take longer to dry out.
A group of young people patiently waited their turn to state their personal objections to this restoration project.
The group said although they support the restoration of natural waterflow, they would no longer have recreational access to Bad Luck Prairie, a long-time haven for ATVs and buggies.
"Every year it floods the area we ride our swamp buggies in. How will this project affect the existing flooding?" asked fourth generation Floridian Ashley Nobles, 19. "My dad rode his bike out here when he was younger. We see bears and deer out here along with alligators. We already lost the skating rink to a Bingo Hall; what's left?"
A discussion ensued over the proposed 640-acre park promised by SFWMD in exchange for Collier County turning over its road easements.
Starnes said SFWMD was having trouble finding a full section of land to purchase in order to accomplish this goal. [SFWMD has] one more year to fulfill this component of the plan.
Local resident and Golden Gate Estates Civic Association Board Member Pat Humphries questioned the Corps on what alternatives were planned if the restoration project doesn't work.
"We have confidence it will," said Dennis Duke, Project Manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: This is just the sort of NON-ANSWER that is given contentiously by such agencies.]
Numerous people questioned how many public hearings, such as the one that night, were required by law.
Audience members said three were required and [that] time had not been given them to read the 300-page proposal. [NOTE: It is a 700+ page document, NOT 300 pages.]
Brad Foster, an ecologist with Corps, stated [that] one public workshop and one hearing was all that was required by law.
Mildred Mercodo questioned the plans for mosquito control that additional water flow will bring.
Another resident questioned whether the grade would be changed on Miller Boulevard to avoid impacting the properties of those living there.
A levee goes around those properties now, but residents questioned how they will access the property if the flooding increases.
Public access was a recurring concern.
Residents said they want answers before the project is built, not after.
Officials said the Florida Division of Forestry, caretakers of the land in Southern Golden Gate Estates, will handle these concerns 'in a separate forum'.
Humphries read a statement from the Golden Gate Estates Civic Association pertaining to support for SGGE resident Jesse Hardy, stating that while the Association supports the restoration concept, it is against the use of eminent domain on Hardy's land, the lack of a guarantee of public access to the land and the inability to sink wells for drinking water for Collier County. [NOTE: They can't have both.]
Dione Carroll, an attorney for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, spoke briefly about the 800+ [acres that] the Tribe owns in the SGGE.
She reminded officials that the Tribe was one of the most assertive and strongest advocates for this Everglades Restoration project and now their land is being threatened again. [NOTE: They can't have it both ways.]
She said the Miccosukee purchased the land for cultural harvesting, growing herbs and building chickees. Additionally, two archeological sites have been discovered on the land. She said the Tribe has repeatedly offered to transfer the property into conservation trust for Tribal usage.
"We just ask that you take our Tribe into consideration before making your final decisions," Carroll stated.
Golden Gate Fire Chief Don Peterson asked that the agency be kept in the loop.
He said the DOF's Comprehensive Plan should include funding for emergency response by local fire districts.
Peterson said that due to the road condition of both Miller Extension and Janes Scenic Drive, which are under water most of the year, the most reliable source for emergency response would be Golden Gate Fire & Rescue Station 71, on 13th Street SW, with secondary response from Station 72, off Beck Boulevard at the intersection of Davis and Collier boulevards.
Peterson said the gate currently located on the northwest corner of Everglades Boulevard and I-75 is usable only by brush vehicles.
The Fire District has repeatedly asked to move the gate to the southwest corner for safety reasons to allow all types of emergency vehicles to respond.
"We want the Forestry Division to tell us exactly what expectations they have for us to provide for everyone in the South Blocks," Peterson said. [NOTE: Why do private citizens fail to tell the agencies what they expect of said agencies?]
Speaking on behalf of the environmental community, Florida Wildlife Federation spokesman Nancy Payton cautioned officials against overdraining the Estates [to the] north of I-75.
Richard Gatti, of Port of the Islands, requested that planners work with residents in order to avoid well field concerns that would affect his community.
Resident Sari McMahon expressed concern regarding accuracy of soil sampling associated with the project, stressing that failure to do so could result in destroying the very thing the project is trying to preserve.
"There are no other Everglades in the world and to destroy it would be a crime," she said.
Copyright 2004 Tuff Publications, Inc.