April 2016: Click here for text only PDF version
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General Meeting

Thursday April 7th

Featured Speaker: Dr. Wendell Porter UF professor from and a solar energy proponent will address how renewable energy production and use is closer than we think

Doors at 7:00pm, Presentation begins at 7:30pm

At the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
4225 NW 34th St, Gainesville, FL 32605

Free and Open to the Public


April 7th - General Meeting

April 15th- Blues Creek Ravine Outing

April 19th - Dr. Mulkey will speak at the Dunnellon Library at 5:30pm

April 22nd - Earth Day Majorie Carr Luncheon 

For information on more events, see our meetup site or full state outings listing here.

Get Involved

Unique among environmental organizations, the Sierra Club is run by and for volunteers. There are so many fun and meaningful ways to get involved in the Suwannee St. Johns (SSJ) Group's vital work. Below are a few things we need help with:
Programs: We need someone to organize our monthly General Meetings. This includes contacting potential speakers about presenting to our members the first Thursday of each month September through May; creating short article for the newsletter based on the speaker’s bio and presentation topic; organizing our summer picnic. Requires 1 to 2 hours per month.
Publicity: Maintain list of contacts for newspaper and other media outlets; create and distribute press releases regarding our programs and conservation efforts; review and provide suggestions for improvement of our current use of media. Requires 2 to 4 hours per month.
Outings: If you enjoy being outdoors and would like to share your love of our natural areas with others, please consider becoming a Certified Outings Leader. Training offered on a regular basis.
Contact us at ssjsierra.membership@gmail.com or 352-494-9662 or learn more on our website.


News From the Chair

By Maryvonne Devensky

This month a new surge of positive energy is in the air. It may be Spring, or it may be that after the BOCC meetings about the Plum Creek issue, we can somewhat take a rest, breathe and live our life in a more relaxed manner. Let's wait and see how the land swap Hutch is proposing becomes a reality…

RE: Our last General Meeting, I want to thank Nancy Deren for her presentation on "Connections between Food Safety and Energy" on March 3rd. It was very informative on a lot of projects happening in the country to solve some problems related to Food and Energy. Here is a handout from her presentation where  you will find a long list of her resources, videos, books and a list of suggestions titled "What Can I Do?".  Please take the time to read these or watch the videos to educate yourself on the Food "realities" and discover how some solutions are exciting…

Another positive event this month was the 6th Environmental Youth Summit organized by Santa Fe College, Cultural Arts Coalition and some other agencies, including our SSJ Sierra Club.  Last Saturday about 85 students attended this event and the students who arrived 'sleepy heads' at 9:30 am turned to be very excited about environmental issues around 12:00 after they heard comments from the panelists who presented "Why you need to care about the Environment" and "How you can get involved". After lunch, the students met various environmental groups and signed up for projects to complete before Earth Day....I am proud of one of the panelists Destiny Henderson who is one of the Environmental Ambassadors who participated in our ICO program last July. Here is what she wrote about Saturday's Youth Summit.
"I found the youth summit to be very informative. It shows that some people really have an intensity to care about the environment. A lot of things I knew already, but the fact that people transported recycled items to a landfills in India surprised me. I think it's great that programs like these are hosted to educate people,  especially our youth. The youth are able to learn in bite-sized pieces. Kids and teens are our future, so educating them in an entertaining way is really necessary." -Destiny Henderson

So we have now two ICO service outings to complete with these students before the end of April. Great!!!

Conservation Report

By Whitey Markle

In 2014, 75 percent of voters said yes on amending the state Constitution to set aside part of the documentary stamp tax to buy fragile lands, important habitat, wetlands and water recharge areas. That’s more people than said yes to Rick Scott, the Cabinet or any member of the Legislature.

 But some votes are more equal than others. You’re not Big Ag or Big Frack. You’re not Big Sugar. You voted; the Legislature ignored you. Some legislators appear to be above us and smarter than us voters. My favorite is Representative Keith Perry who said the night before the last election that (to paraphrase), “Us legislators know how your money should be spent and we don’t need you plebeians meddling in our business.” He was referring to Amendment One. Then we have Senator Hays who decided arrogantly that the state owns too much conservation land, regardless of our vote on the amendment. 

What amazed me in the State Senate and House proceedings was how EVERY legislator voted “yea” on the pitiful bills that ended up in the final votes. So the Amendment One money that should have been spent on spring sheds or longleaf pine forests or wildlife corridors or aquifer protection will go instead to Workers Compensation claims, car rentals, office furniture, salaries and bonuses, and much more routine expenditures that normally would be paid out of the General Fund. Florida Forever, our conservation land-buying program, got $17 million — a tenth of what that bunch of state agencies received, even though there was $550 million available. Where did that Florida Forever funding go? Into the general budget, where you’ll never see it again. I don’t get it. The Sierra Club and the Florida Defenders of the Environment are still waiting on a decision in circuit court regarding their lawsuit over the Amendment 1 spending fiasco. Senator Thad Altman, a Republican who actually cares about the environment and what his constituents think, tried to put $222 million of Amendment One money back into the budget and should be given a medal for standing up to the Florida senate republicans. His motion was thrown out on the grounds that it was “out of order” because with the money for conservation lands, the Senate budget would be “out of balance.”

A good example of the ineffective legislation was reported by Jim Ash (WFSU news), who wrote on March 18 about tightening water pollution standards and dealing with water shortages in Central Florida: “(Although) the legislators are congratulating themselves, they are giving themselves too much credit,”  quoting Dr. Bob Palmer, SSJ member and chairman of the Florida Springs Council’s political committee.  “The bill is full of loopholes. For example, it says groundwater withdraws don’t have to be measured if the pipe is less than eight inches in diameter. You can have a six-inch pipe, you could pump a million gallons a day through a six-inch pipe, and you wouldn’t be required to meter that because it’s not an eight-inch pipe. It’s just silly.” House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach tried to add a key goal for the Springs Council. His amendment would have led to limits on the amount of groundwater that can be pumped from a single water management district.“Permits are analyzed individually. Cumulative effects are discounted. Actual data on water flows are ignored in favor of model predictions. There is an inherent bias towards granting permits for economic reasons."

On a lighter note, a bill was sent to the good governor to be placed on the Florida ballot in the August primary that will exempt renewable energy devices from Ad Valorem taxes on the local level, somewhat of an incentive for solar hardware in Florida. The big energy corporations are adamantly opposed to this type of legislation.  We should push for votes on this amendment in August and we should continue to collect the petitions for the Floridians for Solar Choice Amendment while we attempt to counter the “phony” amendment called Smart Solar that is paid for and sponsored by the big power companies that propose constitutional amendments and is presently in Florida Supreme Court being challenged on the grounds that its wording is misleading the voters. 

As of March 22, the Union County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to move a one year moratorium on applications for special use permits for  mining in Union County to its third and final reading. This resolution will allow for time to study and plan for a solution to the Union County land use code. 

Perfectly timed was a discovery that the applicants had already begun destroying massive amounts of wetlands by ditching and draining and by sinking 38 test wells WITHOUT ANY PERMITS AT ALL. As a solution, the Suwannee Water Management District fined them a whopping $454. This calculates to a charge of a little under $12 for each well in violation of the law. The illegal ditches are yet to be reconciled. So much for state oversight in situations like this. I pointed out in my testimony before the Board of Commissioners that such lax enforcement (they could have been fined up to $10,000) was a good example of the potential danger of referring to the state agencies for guidance during the moratorium. 

The good news is that several Oval Pigtoe Mussels were discovered in that portion of the New River recently, which means that the federal Environmental Protection Agency could soon be involved in the issue.
The area surrounding the potential mining operation (11,000 total acres within ½ mile of the New River which flows into the Santa Fe River near Worthington Springs) is pristine Florida countryside. Like so  many small North Florida towns, the Lake Butler area is inhabited by people who live there because of its ambiance. Unfortunately, the 4 owners of the potential operation also control the local commerce, so many of the local inhabitants tend to be reluctant to speak out against the proposed operation.

A miracle may occur as a result:  a Phosphate mining operation that uses state-of-the-art (non-existent today) operation that creates industry without environmental destruction. And if this miracle does evolve we have to look across the New River to yet another, more severe problem: the Bradford County Commission seems to be gung-ho on allowing the operation on their side of the river without a moratorium or regulation through their land use code. Perhaps they will look at Union County as a good example. Stay tuned.

Also, please be sure to purchase your tickets for the fundraiser on the http://SSJSIERRACLUB.EVENTBRITE.COM site.   Not only could you win the cottage for five persons with all the amenities on the Withlacoochee River, a pile of fine dining coupons, tour-guided boat excursions, and much more, but you will also be donating to the SSJ treasury to help finance our campaigns, publications, and educational materials and equipment and, most importantly, the economic impact study of the Ocklawaha and Silver Rivers.  Without your financial help,many of these would not be possible. Thanks for your participation and good luck.

Citizens Overwhelm Corporation 
By Scott Camil

In January 2014, we had a meeting to discuss what to do about Plum Creek’s (PC) plan to destroy wetlands, the wildlife corridor, the rural way of life that many of our citizens enjoy, and the Alachua County Comprehensive plan. 

Commissioner Mike Byerly, members of SSJ, EXCOM, and other environmentalists attended the meeting.

We decided to form a new organization to educate the community about the devastating effects of the proposed PC plan and to protect the Alachua County Comprehensive Plan that protects our environment and rural way of life.

We decided on the name Stand By Our Plan.  We spent the next 2 years raising awareness and educating the public.

The Alachua County Comprehensive Plan is as close as we can get to a political consensus and compromise in our community. The product of many years of citizen advisory committee deliberations, workshops, public hearings, and legal challenges, then formally adopted and continually revised by an elected county commission, it provides a carefully considered blueprint for future growth in the unincorporated areas of our county. It balances the public interest with the rights of property owners by directing growth to appropriate areas and protecting public health, neighborhoods, farms, wetlands, and significant natural areas.

In 2011, Plum Creek created the Envision Alachua Task Force and began working on a plan to develop its lands in eastern Alachua County. This would require massive changes to the county’s comprehensive plan, sparking significant opposition by environmentalists and rural citizens. 

In February of 2016, the county held 3 special meetings on whether or not to approve Plum Creek’s plan.  The reason that there were 3 meetings is that there was a huge outpouring of citizens who wanted to speak on this issue.

Each person got up to 3 minutes to speak and more than 200 people gave their testimony over a span of 3 days and more than 11 and a 1/2 hours.  Those speakers who supported the comprehensive plan outnumbered the pro-PC plan by more than 3 to 1. These speakers represented a cross-section of our community, young, old, students, retired people, urban and rural, a cross-section of backgrounds and income.  All of these people have one thing in common; they want to protect our rural way of life, our environment, and the comprehensive plan that protects both.

The PC side is primarily made up of special interests, Plum Creek staff, paid consultants, the Chamber of Commerce, Envision task force members, the builders’ association, and a sprinkling of people from groups and organizations that received money from PC.

PC is having a hard time in Alachua County - they are used to having their way.  They use money, propaganda, manipulation, and deception to get what they want.

On page 1 of their PR book, in the introduction, the first sentence says, “ Plum Creek initiated the Envision Alachua planning process in response to a request from Alachua County”. The very first sentence starts with a deception - there was no request by Alachua County.

The deception continues, from their tightly controlled and carefully choreographed meetings trying to manufacture consent to giving money to worthy causes and organizations in order to buy good will and political influence. They pander to low-income folks, feigning concern for wage disparity, while we all know that they don’t really support a true living wage.

They act like they believe their own propaganda. They promise opportunities for east Gainesville, while their own map shows that their land is further away from east Gainesville than existing economic and educational opportunities that are much closer and have public transportation.

They don’t understand our citizens.  As much as people hate taxes, our citizens have voted to tax themselves every time there has been initiative on the ballot to raise money in order to invest in our community, buy land, and put it into conservation. 

This is the big difference between us. They are motivated by greed and think that they can buy everyone off.

They believe that accumulation of wealth is what life is about so they have a hard time when
they come up against a culture that is motivated by quality of life, not greed. Our folks can’t be bought.

PC understood that our County Commission would decide this issue. Their strategy was to try to change our county commission by replacing environmentalists.  Since 2012, they have been trying to knock Mike Byerly off the commission. 

The main issue of the 2014 County Commission race was the Alachua County Comprehensive Plan or the PC plan.  Ken Cornell won that election beating Pastor Thorpe.  Ken supported the comp plan and Pastor Thorpe supported Plum Creek’s plan.

This year, PC’s Task Force member Kevin Thorpe is running again, this time going after Mike Byerly’s seat. 
Mike and Ken have been unyielding in the protection of our environment and comprehensive plan. They have been very outspoken on this issue.

School Board member Eileen Roy, who also serves on the Planning Commission, voted to recommend that the county not approve PC’s plan.  She too has an opponent, Juliun  Kinsey, another Task Force member.

We believe that PC will also run someone against Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson.

On March 1st the County Commission voted on Plum Creek’s plan.  The vote was 3-2 to deny Plum Creek’s plan.  The commissioners that voted to deny were Mike Byerly, Ken Cornell, and Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson.  The commissioners who voted for Plum Creek and against Alachua County were Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV and Lee Pinkoson.

This was an enormous victory for the citizens of Alachua County and our environment.  Rarely do citizens win a victory over a multi-billion dollar corporation. 

Plum Creek was recently bought out by Weyerhaeuser so they now have more resources for their next attempt to have their way with our county.  We will remain vigilant.

Please support our elected representatives who fight for our future and us.

We thank all of you who participated in this very important victory.

Enviromental Youth Summit

"I found the youth summit to be very informative. It shows that some people really have an intensity to care about the environment. A lot of things I knew already, but the fact that people transported recycled items to landfills in India surprised me.

I think it's great that programs like these are hosted to educate people,  especially our youth. The youth are able to learn in bite-sized pieces. Kids and teens are our future, so educating them in an entertaining way is really necessary."

-Destiny Henderson

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 jonbrainard@gmail.com.    


Suwannee-St. Johns Sierra Club launches its online fundraiser, “WIN YOUR JULY 4 HOLIDAY WEEKEND (and much more!) HERE!” at ssjsierraclub.eventbrite.com. Ticket sales have begun, with thousands of dollars in prizes donated by area merchants. “Our top prize is a 3-day, 4-night July 4th weekend holiday in beautiful, fully furnished cabin on the Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon,” said Whitey Markle, SSJ Fundraising Chair.
“Three different prize bundles, in addition to the July 4 Weekend, include everything from free boat trips on the Rainbow, Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha and Crystal Rivers to personal health assessments, nature park outings and hundreds of dollars in gift certificates,” Markle states. Tickets cost from $2.00 to $25.00 and sales are limited to increase individual chances of winning win. Three prize packages are:
Only 100 tickets will be sold at $25.00 each. Chance of winning is 1 in 100. 
$5.00 EACH. Chance of winning is 1 in 500.
 $3.00 EACH. Chance of winning 1 in 750.
“Log on to ssjsierraclub.eventbrite.com for a complete description of prizes. The website is very secure and easy to use,” states Markle. The more you buy, the greater your chance of winning great prizes for yourself or as gifts,” Markle says. You can also help us promote this event by putting the link on your Facebook or website.

More than 90% of all donations raised go directly to Sierra's important programs. Proceeds of this event will help fund an important Economic Study of the Ocklawaha and Silver Rivers, and environmental educational programs such as "Water Works: Stand Up and Act Now! “& "Seven Wonders." Also under development are other programs focusing on "Solar Energy: The Way to Energy Independence;" and "Smart Growth for Environmentally Sensitive Development in Your Community."
Ticket sales will end on June 10, 2016. Winners of the drawing will be announced by email or telephone on or about June 24 and on our website: SSJSIERRA.ORG


CONTACT US: See a list of the SSJ Executive Committee HERE