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Dr. Joe Little has an excellent guest editorial in the Saturday, Oct. 25 Gainesville Sun, outlining the powerful and far-reaching dangers which the huge Plum Creek development poses to the Florida environment.
Go to this link to see the original article in the Sun . Following is a reproduction of this outstanding article, and as always, OSFR is grateful to Nathan Crabbe and the Gainesville Sun for permission to re-publish their fine editorials.
Plum Creek is another outsider seeking to exploit environment
If Plum Creek has its way, Alachua County taxpayers will wind up chagrined and with a despoiled ecosystem that could cost them dearly to clean up or sustain.
By Joe Little
Special to The Sun
How Tom Sawyer scammed his gullible juvenile chums in fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri, seems to be the model for Plum Creek/Envision Alachua’s pitch to gullible adults in real Alachua County.
Tom ended up with a whitewashed fence, clean hands and accolades from Aunt Polly. His chums wound up with blistered hands, splattered clothes and maybe whuppins for messing them up. (Those were the days when whuppin’ children was no crime.) To be equally successful, Plum Creek/Envision Alachua must persuade the Alachua County Commission to convert thousands of acres of wetlands Plum Creek purchased for peanuts into high-value uplands, damn the environmental consequences. Like Tom, it will walk away sittin’ pretty. Like Tom’s chums, Alachua County taxpayers will wind up chagrined and with a despoiled ecosystem that could cost them dearly to clean up or sustain.
This is nothing new for Florida. For 100 years, enterprising outsiders have exploited Florida by selling undevelopable wetlands to eager bargain seekers. Many buyers simply lost their money, and others prevailed upon taxpayers to bail them out.
The biggest boondoggles have been the most costly. Somebody had the bright idea to drain and develop the Everglades. Growing sugar cane on the cheap was good for everybody. Somebody else thought it good to channelize the Kissimmee River.
Still others thought it would be swell to dig a ship canal right through the northern neck of the Florida isthmus. This metamorphosed into a barge canal and proceeded just far enough to turn portions of the beautiful Ocklawaha River into an ugly ditch and drown other portions under an expensive fishing hole impounded by the Rodman Dam.
Much of this was done at a time when wetlands were “wastelands,” maybe even public enemies, fit for nothing but mosquitoes, rattlers, alligators, “Injuns” and renegades on the lam. That’s what people thought back then.
Water in Florida — just like air in the industrial Northeast — was treated as an inexhaustible freebie available for the taking by those with the wherewithal.
This was not true in latter years, as proved by the army of Florida Defenders of the Environment who, lead by the late Marjorie Harris Carr, brought that project to a halt and still fights to restore the free flowing Ocklawaha River. Carr understood better than anyone that natural areas are required to sustain human life in Florida and make it livable.
Some of Florida has awakened to the truth. Taxpayers have spent millions of dollars to restore the Kissimmee River to something approaching its natural state and many millions more — maybe billions — to reclaim some of the despoiled Everglades and protect what remains. We Floridians have even adopted amendments to our state constitution to try to undo the damage to the Everglades.
But who in Alachua County heeds this history? Who among us isn’t beguiled by Plum Creek/ Envision Alachua’s siren cry of goodies for all at the mere price of a local environmental calamity? Like Tom Sawyer, a successful Plum Creek will stroll away with a jaunty whistle plus many millions of profit.
And Alachua County? It will be left to cope with the rubble of fallen castles in the air.
Most troubling about Plum Creek/Envision Alachua’s pitch is its not-too-subtle attempt to set the east side of Alachua County, i.e., the poor black side, against elite environmentalists, i.e., the wealthy west side. This denigrates what I believe to be true: the same humane impulses that motivate people to protect the environment also motivate them to support civil rights and equal economic opportunities. It ignores what I also believe to be true: Big developers have shown disdain for both, except when it disguises a profit motive.
In Tom Sawyer’s day ailing folks were administered castor oil with the admonition to “hold your nose and drink it down.”
Sometimes a little sugar was added “to make the medicine go down.”
Plum Creek/Envision Alachua urges Alachua County to hold its nose and swallow. The difference between castor oil and Plum Creek? Castor oil won’t hurt and might actually do some good.
Joe Little lives in Gainesville.