News From the Chair
By Maryvonne Devensky
Memorial week end is here and to remember veterans and values they defended, I propose that you listen to Larry Kirby, a WWII veteran reading an essay about WWII and American values. Please go to http://onpoint.wbur.org/2016/05/26/wwii-vet-larry-kirby to listen to the 91 year old vet reflecting on the power of community.
Sharing the values of community and to link this back to our SSJ Sierra Club community, I want to thank Scott Camil, Vietnam Vet and founder of our local chapter of Vets for Peace, and his wife Sherry Steiner as well, for the work they are doing in support of our community. Last weekend, on May 22, Scott and Sherry organized a party for Stand By Our Plan (SBOP) supporters to thank them for their help in the opposition to the Plum Creek/Weyerhaeuser (PC/W), for attending the various County Commission meetings we had last February…and also to remind all who attended that the opposition to PC/W is not over…We have elections coming up for two County Commissioners who stood by our plan and voted against PC/W’s proposal. Both of these Commissioners now have opposition from candidates who support PC/W. These races will be decided during the August 30, 2016 primary, not in November with the presidential elections. Please study the candidates’ stance on this issue and vote in the Democratic primary August 30th!
Also important: When you vote on August 30, support Amendment # 4 to allow Solar Choice to all citizens, contrary to the “Smart Choice” Amendment #1, on November 8, 2016 - with that one local and state regulators would maintain control over solar energy production.
NEWS TO SHARE
I have the pleasure to share the news that the Sierra Club has hired a new staff person for our area: Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson whose name may already be known to you. She will start to work for the Sierra Club on June 1, 2016, as advocate for our Springs. Her incredible commitment and amazing energy will be compensated by a salary, even though I feel that she is “priceless”….
For the time being, she will work out of her business location, “Rum 138”, which is based on the Santa Fe river in Fort White. More information to share later as Merrillee develops goals to continue working for protection of our springs and rivers, and for water conservation.
MOMENTUM IS GROWING AGAINST THE SABAL TRAIL PIPELINE
May 15, 2016, about 30 people met at the Suwannee River State Park (some of us had met there on January 16) and took a hike through the area where the Sabal Trail company staked the path of their pipeline. This time Congressman Ted Yoho was with us as well as Senator Nelson Regional Director Mary Louise Hester, John Quarterman, President of WWALS, Jennifer Rubiello, Director of Environment Florida, Kimberly Williams, from Environment America. Dennis Price, geologist, led the hike with Chris Mericle and we could all see that the ST documentation is not accurate, contains errors or omits information regarding the terrain. That day Congressman Ted Yoho promised us that he was going to intervene in your name to request a supplemental environmental impact survey from the Army Corps of Engineers.
You need to remember that this project “is not a done deal”…The Army Corps of Engineers and the Water Management Districts have not given their permit yet, so we need to push for a more complete Supplemental Environmental Impact Survey from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Our main concerns is still that Sabal Trail documentation so far has not included important sinkholes and other geologic features typical of Northern Florida Karst geology – which is unique in the world – with dozens of springs, creeks, caves and caverns.
A correct Supplemental Environmental Impact Survey (SEIS) from USACE is necessary and we need to keep demanding it from our County Commissioners in ALL the Counties affected by the Sabal Trail pipeline. Unless the Corps is willing to allow other studies on the record and consider them through the SEIS process, we will continue to see agencies trusting that Sabal Trail has done their jobs correctly. So I would suggest continuing putting pressure on Marion County BOCC for the SEIS. Keep speaking up about your concerns (only 3 minutes at BOCC Meetings), sending emails and letters to all members of that Commission.
See the correspondence between Marion County BOCC, Sabal Trail administrator and USACE at this link:
With the summer coming, some of us on Excom and some of you, will travel and be away for a while. Stay in touch and stay informed by going to http://www.spectrabusters.org or to the website of the WWALS Watershed Coalition.
FUTURE FALL PROGRAMS:
No General meetings in June, July and August.
September 1st: Adrian Hayes-Santos, City Commissioner recently elected.
October 6th: Meryl Clark, Forest Ranger at Morningside Nature Center, will tell us about John Muir when he hiked Florida from Fernandina Beach to Cedar Key in 1867.
Enjoy your summer…and do not forget to vote on August 30, 2016. The August 30 democratic primary in Alachua county will be a chance for residents to vote, directly, on the Plum Creek issue.
ICO OUTINGS AT PRAIRIE CREEK PRESERVE
Thank you to all the ICO volunteers: Dan Rountree, Amanda Nichols and Pete Monte. The students said they “enjoyed the hike the most”, “seeing the lightning bugs”, “seeing a tree frog and the scrub lizard”, as well as sleeping in the tent and making S’Mores.
News from the Conservation Chair
By Whitey Markle
The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will vote on yet another Bear hunt across Florida next winter. The Commission will vote on whether to conduct another slaughter on June 22 in Apalachicola. The meeting begins at 8:30 AM and the Bear Hunt is on the agenda under item 5B. The meeting will be held at the Franklin County School Gymnasium, 1250 Highway 98 Eastpoint, Florida 32328.
If the Commission does indeed conduct another hunt they should consider three issues in their deliberations:
The lack of complete and up to date science regarding the status of the Florida bear population: For the second year the Commission is relying on incomplete Bear population data.
The value of preserving an iconic Florida large mammal species: Doesn’t it seem like the Wildlife Conservation Commission should be considering the value of these creatures in their natural habitat rather than their value dead on the wall or the floor?
The subterfuge of the bear hunt as a way to clear Florida's wildlife out of the way of development: This is the issue in a nutshell. The governor and the legislature seem to be bent on growth at all costs. We know from recent history that wildlife protection interferes with their plans to develop as much as possible - more development in the undeveloped areas (habitat), more new highways, and the services and pollution that come with population growth. Florida is now the third largest state in the union. The two biggest states are California and Texas which are far larger than Florida. So what we have is a thicker density of population than the two biggest states. State parks and conservation land are envied by the development people and are being transformed, little-by-little, into hunting grounds.
Inappropriate location of hunting Bears: The whole argument we get from FWC is that the hunt(s) deplete the Bear population that is harming humans. So of all the places they hold the hunt(s) is out in the middle of nowhere where no people live (Apalachicola National Forest being the largest hunt area). The result is that the Bears who aren’t bothering humans are the ones being slaughtered and the Bears who have “harmed” humans are not being hunted, so they continue to bother humans and therefore justify killing more. Makes no sense.
We hope to see as many people as possible in Apalachicola on June 22 to speak out against the slaughter.
PHOSPHATE MINING IN BRADFORD AND UNION COUNTIES
A crowd of around 100 people turned out for the Bradford County Board of County Commissioners meeting on May 19th. I counted 28 people who spoke against the mining application permit by HSP Corporation being considered. The application has several legal issues in its process and content and the fee for the application was paid after the deadline date. The Bradford BOCC voted 3/2 to not withdraw the permit application. I counted 3 persons who spoke in favor of the proposed mining operation. Alachua County Commissioner Ken Cornell spoke to the Bradford Commission and reiterated Alachua County’s willingness to assist in data management and advice (since the Bradford Commission has admitted freely that they are not capable of handling a mining permit application due to lack of capable staff). We came away feeling the Bradford Commission is willing to collaborate with Alachua County’s environmental staff and with the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council.
OCKLAWAHA RESTORATION MOVES FORWARD?
The SSJ EXCOM voted unanimously to join with the Florida Defenders of the Environment in sending a Notice of Intent to sue if the Florida Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t move forward with the restoration of the Ocklawaha River.
Last month the St. Johns River Water Management District published a document that cleared the way for restoration permitting from that agency, which trigger a reverberation of actions from environmental groups and governmental agencies. We certainly hope to see the legislature and the state agencies move forward with the Ocklawaha restoration.
YOHO DOES A YOYO
US congressman Ted Yoho showed up for a hike around the area of the Suwannee River near Live Oak where Sabal Trail is proposing to put a natural gas pipeline. The good congressman brought the press and showed concern for the old river, swore no to fracking in Florida, and promised to fight against the pipeline…..until he got back home and wrote back saying he couldn’t help us with the Sabal Trail issue.
ORANGE LAKE HABITAT MANAGEMENT
Over the past two years the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has conducted some 6 meetings and workshops to develop a Habitat Management Plan (HMP) for Orange Lake. Many presentations were given of the two year course, by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, University of Florida scientists from various disciplines including the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) St. Johns River Water Management District, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). A year ago FWC hired Normandeau and Associates who conducted the meetings’ formats until the end of the process.
Historically speaking, Orange Lake has been a unique geographical area. Unlike Newnan’s, Wauberg, and Lochloosa, Orange Lake is mostly Karst geology (underlain with limestone and vulnerable to sinkhole development). The surface water that drains from the watersheds around the lakes in the basin, as well as the direct rainfall around and on the lake itself, drains into the sinkholes and into the aquifer and some of the water drains out of the Southeast end of Orange Lake to Orange Creek and eventually to the Ocklawaha River near Orange Springs.
Until the late 1940’s Orange Lake was able to drain naturally down Orange Creek, but the drainage pattern was permanently interrupted by a series of weirs and dam-like structures at the foot of the lake in order to allow for vegetable farming in the floodplain Southeast of the lake. Additionally, in 1962, U.S. 301 was built across the Southeast end of the lake. Unfortunately for the lake, a roadbed of fill dirt was dumped across the floodplain and a box culvert was placed in the middle to allow for drainage. In 1964, the Alachua County Recreation and Water Conservation Authority placed a concrete weir across the remaining drainage “to control flood water”. The weir still remains there, but the Authority was dissolved many years ago, so authority over the decrepit weir, which is literally coming apart at the seams, is now under FDOT since the powers-that-be say the weir is attached to the U.S. 301 box culvert.
Although I spoke to the crowd at the first meeting of the HMP process and stated that the ultimate solution to the pitiful condition of Orange Lake is to remove the weir, remove the berm under U.S. 301, build a causeway bridge over the lake’s Southeast end, and improve the CSX railroad trestle , FDEP and FWC plowed forward with the same-old-same-old management that they have done over the years.
Of utmost importance to us few environmentalists in attendance was the issue of herbicide spraying for exotic weed control. Although FWC says that spraying the weeds is the cheapest means of control (vs. harvesting, chopping, dredging, etc.), we know the harm in herbicide spraying, especially the harm to the aquifer.
My speech regarding the causeway was immediately poo-pooed by the state representatives. “We will discuss the issue with Task Force” (which is made up of the bosses of all these mostly-dedicated workers). Of course, the report back is that the Task Force thought it is a bad idea. That’s it!
So we came to the 6th and “Final” gathering where they, once again, reiterated the fact that they would continue to use herbicides “as needed”. Later that meeting they sent instructions to each “stakeholder” to send in comments on the “Final” Plan, along with attachments of the Final Habitat Management Plan”. The attachments were PDF files that a person with 3.0 magnifying reading glasses couldn’t read. One of my comments (first) was that nobody could read the stakeholders’ comments. The few I could read with my 3.o readers were extremely critical of the herbicide program proposed, which I stated in my comments. So far, no reply from the Orange Lake Habitat Management folks at FWC. Stay tuned.
Recent Gainesville Election Makes a Difference
Elections have consequences, and one big consequence of the recent Gainesville City Commission election is rejection of the Blues Creek Unit 5 Development proposal which would have run sewer lines through a 90-acre conservation area and under Blues Creek.
The reason the Commission, led by newly-elected Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos and Mayor Lauren Poe, rejected the developer’s proposal was not specifically related to our concerns but rather to the road extension which did not meet requirements of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The developer can come back with an alternative plan but, given the constraints of the parcel, this may force the elimination of the utility lines through the conservation area and reduce the number of houses to be built in the part closest to the creek. In any case, the City’s rejection has allowed us more time to organize to protect Blues Creek and the surrounding sensitive areas.
As a new commissioner, Hayes-Santos displayed a remarkable depth of understanding of the City’s Comprehensive Plan and made articulate arguments for upholding it in this case. Mayor Poe made additional points in support of the Comprehensive Plan and, between the two of them, were able to convince Commissioners Harvey Budd and Helen Warren to vote against the development proposal.
Had the vote taken place one month earlier, the outcome would have been very different. While the fight is not over, it is nice to know that we once again have a majority of smart, pro-active, pro-environment representatives on the City Commission.
Stand by Our Plan
Whitey Markle and the Swamprooters treated guests to folk music as they walked into the Stand By Our Plan Rally and Picnic held at Marshall Irby’s farm on Sunday, May 22. Friends chatted as they waited in line for burgers and Wahoo, provided by The Real Meal, and took seats among the pecan trees that swayed in the light breeze of one of the last spring days of the year.
By Kyle Giest
Eighteen minutes by car and 13 miles from Southern Charm Kitchen, Irby's farm is a quite a trek from the city. The farm, surrounded by forest off of County Rd 234, is essentially 'ground-zero' for Plum Creek's plan.
It was just a handful of long-time Alachua County residents, involved in Suwannee - St. Johns Group/Sierra Club, who discussed Plum Creek Timber Corporation’s real-estate development proposal in December 2013. Stand By Our Plan (SBOP) emerged from their discussion to combat Plum Creek’s marketing scheme of a “community vision” for the future. Since that meeting over two and a half years ago, SBOP has turned the Plum Creek plan - a plan that would bust the county’s critical urban growth boundary and fill hundreds of acres of wetlands - into a hotbed political issue in Alachua County.
In March of this year, the citizens of Alachua County pulled off an improbable victory in round two with Plum Creek, when the county commission, in a 3-2 vote, denied Plum Creek’s proposal for development rights to 5000+ acres of its rural timberlands in the eastern half of the county.
The afternoon picnic launched the lead up to the next face-off with Plum Creek. Long-time activists from the Alachua County community and many rural residents from “ground zero” enjoyed the food as Scott Camil approached the microphone.
Camil, the long-time Gainesville political activist (who just turned 70) and lead coordinator for Stand By Our Plan, introduced the speakers to the mixed group of nearly 150. Camil explained the realities of the Alachua County citizens’ fight with this Washington-based, billion dollar corporation. His message was clear: the hard work put in by numerous citizens over the past two years has blocked Plum Creek's corporate astroturfing campaign thus far, but it is not over. The next round of the Plum Creek battle won’t be in the hands of the county commissioners, but with Alachua County citizens voting at the ballot box.
"All Plum Creek has to do is win one of those seats," Scott explained, referring to Commissioner Byerly's and Hutchinson's county commission positions, "and all our hard work will be for nothing. We have to win every time. They only have to win once and we lose our quality of life. We lose our wetlands." According to recently released Chamber of Commerce documents, Plum Creek might even have a new weapon in the form of a PAC at its disposal now to influence elections.
County Commissioner Mike Byerly, the public official whose goal since the formation of Stand By Our Plan has been to fairly inform the citizens about Plum Creek’s development proposal, spoke next.
"This election is about the Plum Creek issue," he said. In essence, it is a community referendum on Plum Creek's proposal, given their distinct positions on it, Mike explained. Byerly will be defending his district 1 seat, and the rural residents of the county, against Kevin Thorpe, an Envision Alachua task force member. This is the same Thorpe who has expressed homophobic views in the name of divine morals. Robert Hutchinson will be facing against pro-Plum Creek candidate, Larry McDaniel, in the district 3 primary.
"We don't want to be like South Florida," Byerly warned as he wrapped up his speech.
Jim Dick rose to the microphone next. His first words to a crowd composed of many Bernie supporters: "I'm a Republican".
For Jim, his political label means little now. After moving out onto several acres of rural land in the over ten years ago, Dick's plans were to lead a quiet, secluded life and raise chickens. But Plum Creek's development plans threw his world upside down when his rural home became ‘ground-zero’ for its development.
"The most important thing in my life is my house," Dick explained. "I don't want to live in a city in the swamp."
But Dick's focus wasn't Plum Creek on this day. Highways were on his mind.
The Florida Department of Transportation, also known as FDOT, is currently studying options for "new multimodal and multi-use transportation corridors between the Tampa Bay region and I-75 in North Central Florida."
Essentially unreported in Alachua County until the Gainesville Sun's benign article about 'transit options' came out May 21, the FDOT project could lead to the creation of a highway that passes through rural areas of Alachua county -- displacing long-standing communities and destroying ever-decreasing pristine natural areas -- in the name of providing relief to I-75 and "creating economic development opportunities in rural areas."
“There is going to be development in Florida, that's fine. But let's be smart about it," Dick explains. Dick and a few other SBOP activists have attended every I-75 relief task force meeting thus far, and continue to post information on the high-traffic facebook page, WHO IS PLUM CREEK AND WHY DO THEY WANT TO DEVELOP OUR BACKYARD? He is also a member of the more recent, but just as self-explanatory, citizen facebook group, I-75 Relief - North Central Florida info.
Members of the crowd listened intently to the Republican who will be switching his voter card to 'Democrat' this summer. The August 30 democratic primary in Alachua county will be a chance for residents to vote, essentially directly, on the Plum Creek issue. And for Jim, his house and his way of life are more important now than the colors red or blue.
"We don't really want to be turned into South Florida here," Jim said, reiterating the concerns of Mike Byerly. "No toll roads. No limited access highways. Period."
Last to talk was Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson. A new face to many Stand By Our Plan citizen-activists, Malwitz-Jipson is an organizer for the recently started fight against phosphate mining interests on the New Santa Fe River in Union and Bradford counties. In the three months since initial organizing, citizens of Union county have been able to get a moratorium on mining. Their facebook page already has 1,372 likes.
But Bradford County is a different story. "[County officials] are not listening to their citizens," Malwitz-Jipson explained. She continued to explain their work to protect the springs and estuaries of North Central Florida. "Having a mine that is 11,000 acres" she explained, "is the worst thing in terms of development."
Citizens' biggest needs at the moment, she said: experts in planning, engineering, water, and related fields to help convince Bradford county from making a decision that would sell its people and environment to corporate interests.
Concerned citizens, including those of Alachua County whose water quality would inevitably be degraded by the presence of a mine, have been asked to sign an online petition opposing the phosphate mining -- so far, it’s up to 2,648 signatures.
"I don't want to see South Florida or Orlando, or that type of sprawl in our area," Malwitz-Jipson concluded.
For activists and rural residents alike, South Florida symbolizes one thing: sprawl. It's a term that conjures up images of congestion, traffic, and the absence of natural areas for miles. And the studies about sprawl corroborate these images: citizens who live in metro areas with high sprawl indices, such as Tampa and Miami, spend significantly greater percentages of their household incomes on transportation and have less economic mobility. In contrast, citizens living in more compact, connected areas, such as Gainesville, "tend to be safer, healthier and live longer than their peers in more sprawling metro areas."
The county planners at Alachua County Growth Management have unequivocally shown how Plum Creek's plan meets the state's criteria of sprawl. A new highway and a phosphate mine wouldn't help much either. A South Florida future for Gainesville doesn't seem so far off now. But there is hope.
What started as just a few concerned residents in late 2013 has transformed into a coalition of citizens fighting on multiple fronts against the onslaught of development that threatens to carve up North Central Florida. With citizens organizing, Gainesville and greater North Central Florida may yet hold on to the unique character and beauty that attracts people to these areas in the first place.
Need a speaker for your group?
The Tri-County Working Group, in conjunction with the Sierra Club Educational Committee, is embarking upon an educational tour, offering a slide show and accompanying discussion to acquaint interested groups in our area with the main environmental issues that Sierra Club is concerned with. The hope is that this education program motivates people to practice both good conservation habits as well as the will to press our government officials to seek more effective solutions. If anyone knows of any type of group, club or home owners association that might be interested, contact Education Chair Jon Brainard…..(407) 491-8158 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CONTACT US: See a list of the SSJ Executive Committee HERE