Monday, February 17, 2014

From South Florida Wildlands Association … guest blog

Dear Friends,

While the new oil boom in the Western Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp has been dominating our attention the last several months (and if you're not hearing from me - learning to act as my own environmental attorney is unfortunately the reason why), big projects are moving ahead in all three National Park Service units in South Florida.  Biscayne National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, and Everglades National Park all currently have open public comment periods on decisions which have the potential to protect or degrade some of the most unique and biologically diverse ecosystems in our nation.  Whether you live in Florida or not - these are your lands.

We will attempt to get action alerts out on all three comment periods, but will start today with Everglades National Park - Florida's iconic natural area and a World Heritage Site ("In Danger"), an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and the first "biological park" in our nation's history.

This issue is really a no-brainer.  On Wednesday, February 19th, the National Park Service (NPS) will hold a public meeting on the fate of an old (but currently undeveloped) utility corridor covering hundreds of acres which Florida Power and Light (FPL) owns inside the boundaries of Everglades National Park.  The FPL corridor was there when NPS acquired what we now call the East Everglades Expansion Area - over 100,000 acres of wetlands containing the headwaters of the Shark River Slough, the main artery for freshwater into the park - and was supposed to have been acquired years ago. Hundreds of private properties in the area have already been acquired for the purpose of land protection and restoration.  Here is a key section of the 1996 letter FPL received from the service explaining the purpose of the park's expansion - and the service's intent to acquire the FPL property. 

"The 'Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act of 1989', was enacted on December 13, 1989, as Public Law 101-229 by the United States Congress. The purpose of this Act is to maintain the natural abundance, diversity, and ecological integrity of native plants and animals, as well as the behavior of native animals, as part of their ecosystem and to enhance and restore the ecological values and natural hydrologic conditions...Your property has been identified as being within the authorized park boundary. The purpose of this letter is to advise you that we are fully funded to continue the acquisition process and ask for your cooperation and assistance in completing this project."

After explaining to FPL that their acreage had been appraised for about 110 thousand dollars, NPS sent the company an "Offer to Sell" form and a follow-up letter explaining that if the company didn't wish to sell for any reason, then NPS was prepared to acquire the property by eminent domain.

That was in 1996.  And sadly, there FPL's unused corridor in the middle of the Shark River Slough sat. Until 2009.  Suddenly - tucked away in a massive land bill called the "Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009" - was a small provision called the The Everglades National Park Land Exchange Act.

Strange as it seems, that little piece of legislation - pushed at the time by Senators Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez - authorizes FPL to give up their old corridor - but also authorizes NPS to hand over the eastern side of Everglades National Park to FPL for the construction of three massive power lines (up to 150 feet tall) from their Turkey Point Nuclear Plant on the shores of Biscayne Bay.  Those power lines will:  create a threat to birds - including the federally endangered Wood Stork with 3 known colonies in the area - from electrocutions and collisions; change the area's natural hydrology with hundreds of concrete pads and miles of access road; spread invasive plant species throughout the corridor area; and create a newly industrialized skyline for the heart of the Shark River Slough - the main beneficiary of the multi-year, multi-billion dollar Everglades Restoration program.

It should also be pointed out that both the existing corridor and the land that FPL wants to acquire have already been designated as "wilderness eligible" by the Department of the Interior.

NPS has put forward a number of complex alternatives for dealing with this property - and a link to all of them follows at the end of this alert.  But only one really makes sense.  Although NPS has yet to identify its "preferred alternative" (essentially its decision), NPS has already identified the "environmentally preferred" alternative:

ALTERNATIVE 2 -  "The FPL property within the boundary of the park would be acquired in fee."

Here is the National Park Service's own short review of this alternative:

"Acquisition would be consistent with direction provided by the Expansion Act and the 1991 LPP (Land Protection Plan) for the East Everglades Addition. It would increase the level of protection of the park’s resources and values.  This alternative would facilitate Everglades restoration efforts by removing an obstacle that prevents hydrologic restoration in NESRS (Northeast Shark River Slough).  Restoration...would result in ecological benefits across 109,000 acres of Everglades National Park. This alternative would also facilitate future restoration efforts including Tamiami Trail Next Steps, Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), and CERP, which may result in benefits throughout much of the greater Everglades including nearly all of the freshwater wetlands in Everglades National Park, and extending into Florida Bay.  This alternative fully meets the objective.

Done. If selected, a court will likely decide the current monetary value of the corridor - and the National Park Service and the owners of this irreplaceable piece of land - the American people - can buy FPL's corridor and say good-bye to FPL as a  neighbor in Everglades National Park once and for all.

As noted above, there are two ways for you to get involved.  First - come out this Wednesday night to the public meeting at Florida International University.  NPS officials will be on hand to explain the alternatives in detail and take public comment.  I should add here that South Florida Wildlands Association is opposed to ALL alternative power line corridors for this project - whether inside the park or out.  The power lines that FPL wants to construct are a part of their application for a massive expansion of their Turkey Point Nuclear Plant adjacent to Biscayne National Park.  For many reasons - e.g. expected sea level rise, nowhere to safely contain the nuclear waste already piling up on the shores of Biscayne Bay, further damage to the Biscayne Bay ecosystem - SFWA is deeply opposed to that project.  

Here is the information for Wednesday's meeting.  Heavy turnout in support of ALTERNATIVE 2 - which leaves no room for misunderstanding - is important.

Date: February 19, 2014 Time: 5:30 to 8:30 pm
Location: Florida International University-Stadium Club
11310 Southwest 17th Street, Miami Florida, 33199
The Stadium Club is located within the FIU Football Stadium between gates 2 and 3.

Google Maps link is here:

If you can't make it to the meeting you can also send written comments - hopefully in support of Alternative 2 - here. Comments will be accepted until March 18th.

Sorry for the lack of a petition to sign on to - but National Park Service policy is to treat all signers as a single response.  Your unique comments - doesn't matter how long - are the way to go here.

Feel free to send me any questions or comments with regard to this email. And if you can, donations to South Florida Wildlands Association - link below - are essential to this work and always very appreciated.

Please pass this on - turnout on Wednesday is very important.  Everglades National Park will be a very different place if we don't stop this now.

Matt Schwartz
Executive Director
South Florida Wildlands Association
P.O. Box 30211
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33303

P.S.  Some helpful links:

Draft EIS for FPL Power Line Acquisition.  A summary table with all alternatives starts on page 51:

Copy of 1996 letter from NPS to FPL asking for the corridor:

SFWA's previous comments on the topic of FPL's power line corridor in Everglades National Park:

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P.O. Box 30211 | Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 33303

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