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News Continued

The guest speaker at our October 3 meeting is Mr. Eric West who will speak on the subject of (Un)reasonable Development in East Central Florida.

Eric graduated from Winter Park High School in 1962 and from FSU in 1967. He received his masters degree from FSU in 1972. He worked as a Peace Corp volunteer in Liberia from 1967 through 1970, as Curator of Animals for the Tallahassee Jr. Museum from 1972 until 1975 and later, briefly, for the Maymont Foundation in Richmond, Virginia. He then moved to Annapolis, Maryland to pursue one of his other loves, sailing. He worked as a Young Adult Librarian for the Anne Arundel County Library System and then as a sail maker for two years before returning to Florida aboard his own boat. Since then he has spent 16 years as a yacht broker, owning his own brokerage, Eagle Yachts, Inc.; racing sailboats; delivering boats and training people to operate powerboats and sailboats.
Eric was active in the civil rights movement in the early 1960's and has worked in political campaigns all his life. He opposed the pollution of the Fenholloway River by the Buckeye Paper Plant in the late 1960's. More recently, in his own words, he "has been involved in trying to bring Volusia County and the SJRWMD into the twenty-first century with regard to stormwater management and development codes."
Eric is an environmental advocate who is well known for studying the issues, proposing alternative solutions and rebutting developers' arguments with a passion. His views regularly run counter to the claims and desires of Volusia County Council, Saint Johns River Water Management District, and other local governments, not to mention Florida's land developers.

His knowledge of the perils of rampant development and his studied approach to draw attention to it and hopefully thwart it, are demonstrated in the following letter which he recently wrote in response to "The Final Report of the Committee for a Sustainable Treasure Coast." This was distributed to several members of the media, Volusia County Council members and other local leaders. (I'm glad he's on our side.)


Following is the text of that letter:

Dear Mr. Spyke,

I did read through your example of what you consider brilliant, well-thought out planning at . On first reading, it looks as if it might indeed be that, but on more careful scrutiny, it actually is just another way of assuring that developers will be able to develop as much as they please and have it be much more profitable and taxpayer funded, too.

This entire study is dressed in the "smart growth" cloak which hides the wolf beneath. The study talks about sustainability, but instead of sustainability, it is really talking about making sure farmers get a lot more for their property than it's worth. This plan actually makes it almost impossible for a farmer not to sell his property because the deal is so good. It's sort of a "you keep most of the land and use it for farming and we build 50,000 new homes" kind of approach.

This study relies on practices which it calls Best Management Practices, but which, in reality are already disproved as ineffective. For instance, the plan relies heavily on Wetland Banks, a practice so outmoded and unreliable as to be just another giveaway to developers, a policy that, for example, takes a wetland away from the headwaters of the Outstanding Florida Waterway, the Tomoka River, in exchange for a $50,000 bribe to the state to cover a channel wrongfully dug by the state, at the other end and which does absolutely no good for the quality of the water of the river itself. The policy should be that no wetlands, no matter how small, can be affected by a development, period. That means the the BMP would include buffers and not allow tree removal or grading of the property instead of destruction of the habitat for retention ponds, roads, etc. Just say 'No' to wetland destruction, period.

The study relies on huge water storage areas, another goofy idea that just means that developers will have yet another taxpayer funded water supply or water treatment area. Nearly two decades ago, water management studies, which have been largely ignored by the WMD's themselves, showed that retention ponds that are lined merely evaporate water that should be recharged and unlined retention ponds draw down surrounding groundwater and cause subsidence, wetland destruction and ecological damage. This plan relies on huge drainage ditches criss-crossing the state, another source for supplying developers with the opportunity to build on drained land while actually sucking water out of the aquifer instead of recharging it.

This plan is a developer's dream, not a plan for saving the state. If you want to save the state and you are really worried about reducing our carbon footprint, then let the cities in-fill where public transportation can actually be viable. Don't let any construction go ahead without a verified supply of water, concurrency on schools, roads, clean-renewable power, green spaces and things that really make a place sustainable, all paid for in advance. Working on 'saving farmland' by making it really profitable to sell it just doesn't cut the mustard.

And, since the SFWMD, SJRWMD, COE and FDEP are the agencies that funded this study, how else would it come out? After all, those are the same agencies that have allowed South Florida to destroy the Everglades, the sugar industry to pollute Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades and the St. Lucie River and the Caloosahatchee River and Florida Bay and kill off the reefs from Ft. Pierce to the keys. These are the same agencies that have insisted on pumping raw and treated wastewater into deep wells that, contrary to their promises, don't store it, but let it seep into Florida Bay and into the coastal waters of the Atlantic. These are the same agencies that keep pushing ASR wells in our spongelike karst formations despite USGS studies that show that no water is stored after the injections, but just flows out like all the water under the state of Florida (what a surprise that it would behave exactly the same way the water that's actually there does!). These are the same agencies that admit to having so over-permitted Consumptive Use Permits that all of Flagler County and almost all of Volusia County are now designated Priority Water Resource Caution Areas, that they knew in 1995 that the sustainable volume the Volusian Aquifer is from 91 to 111 mgd and yet in that same year authorized the removal of 122 mgd, continue to allow rampant wetland destruction and still haven't put structures in place to raise the water levels in all of the drainage canals that drain, of all places, our conservation corridor/aquifer recharge area. Don't forget also that our illustrious FDEP has been sued for actually claiming that because they were pumping polluted water into the Everglades and it wasn't getting there by natural means, that it didn't have to be cleaned up. These are the same folks that have allowed the Buckeye Paper Plant to pipe poisonous effluent into the Gulf of Mexico (and since that time, the Red Tide outbreaks have in creased dramatically) instead of cleaning it up and were just told by a judge in the Panhandle that despite their desperate attempts to allow another paper plant to pollute our state waters, that they couldn't. Now these are really the people that have credibility in every way. Why the COE even said the pumps in New Orleans would work and the destruction of a thousand square miles of wetlands caused by another of their incompetently designed plans was OK.

Maybe, if we let these agencies go on unrestrained for just a few more years, we won't have any economy left or environment. It will be a sort of final step in development.

No, Mr. Sykes, I don't think that site was a good example of what needs to be done. Although I list some of the same methods that are in the study, they are predicated on not using much else that was in the study because the way it is proposed still leaves it open to abuse from the development industry. What really needs to be done is for development to be tied directly to sustainable, available, local water supply (not from draining our Outstanding Florida Waterways (and this obviously means that there is a finite amount of growth that can take place)), for development to have no impact on any more wetlands, for development to in-fill our towns and cities before it is allowed anywhere else, for mass transportation to be required between all new and existing developments, for all development to use the latest technology in energy efficiency and building techniques, for concurrency on schools, roads, and any other infrastructure necessary for the development, for green spaces to be inter-connected to each other, for smaller parking places that won't accommodate SUV's, for pedestrian and cyclist friendly layouts to development and our cities, for malls and big box stores to be banned, for mixed use development to be required, not just allowed, for no incentives to be given to farmers to sell their property, but rather incentives to keep their property 100%, not just pieces so that developers can have the rest, to make it almost impossible to get changes to the comprehensive plans unless it can be shown that the changes will be better for the environment, our health and well-being, for traffic and other infrastructure needs and not just for profitability.

"Highest and best use" should mean exactly that, not raping of the landscape for bigger profits. Farming should be considered a highest and best use, not condos. It's really a matter of attitude. Better life for everyone or bigger profits for a few?


Eric West