Commentary: Developers have allies in their assault on wetlands
[A congressman or senator promptly picks up the phone or fires off a letter,
and magically the developer's permit is expedited]
(Tallahassee Democrat, 6/1/05)
Developers have allies in their assault on wetlands
By Carl Hiaasen
THE MIAMI HERALD
Posted on Wed, June 01, 2005
If Miami-Dade commissioners sell out to developers and vote to move westward
the county's Urban Development Boundary, thousands of acres of wetlands will
be open to destruction.
The decision would effectively sabotage the $8billion Everglades restoration
plan and would further imperil South Florida's future water supply.
In theory, wetlands are supposed to be protected under the Clean Water Act
by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Since the federal government is an
equal partner with Florida in the much-hyped Everglades project, you might
reasonably assume that the Corps would make at least a token effort at
But you'd be wrong.
If the UDB gets moved, all remaining wetlands along the rim of the
Everglades are in danger. Judging by its past actions, the Corps will
the developers as meekly as the politicians do.
A series of superb articles in the St. Petersburg Times has documented that
at least 84,000 acres of wetlands in Florida have been obliterated since
That was the year that the first President Bush unveiled a federal
initiative called "no net loss." The idea was that developers would be made
to replace the pristine marshes and swamps that they destroyed.
"It's a huge scam," Steve Brooker told the Times. For 15 years he reviewed
wetlands permits for the Army Corps in Florida.
"A make-believe program," agreed Vic Anderson, who spent 30 years with the
Basically, here's how it is meant to work. Through a process known as
mitigation, developers are allowed to drain and pave a wetland if they agree
to re-create another one somewhere else.
Unfortunately, constructing a shopping mall is much easier (and much more
lucrative) than constructing an ecologically healthy swamp. Many of the
artificially devised wetlands are nothing but glorified rain puddles.
Not that the Army Corps would ever notice. To this day the agency has no
system for tracking the success or failure of mitigation projects. Usually,
it's content to take the developer's word.
According to the Times' investigation, the feds approve more wetland
destruction in Florida than in any other state.
How easy is it to turn a marsh into asphalt and concrete? Between 1999 and
2003, the corps approved more than 12,000 wetland destruction permits here.
Number rejected: One.
Agency officials say their job is not to "impede" development, but
work with developers during the permitting process to minimize the project's
Look around Florida and see what a swell job they've done.
In Pensacola, a top Democratic fund-raiser named Fred Levin and his brother
were allowed to erect five 21-story condos on prime beach marshlands,
despite the objections of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and
Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The mitigation was a flop. The man-made wetland was so feeble that it was
destroyed by the first hurricane to blow through.
Here's how the "no net loss" policy really works: Developers call up their
congressman or senator, to whose campaigns they've generously donated, and
whine that the Army Corps is dragging its feet on a wetland permit.
The congressman or senator promptly picks up the phone or fires off a
letter, and magically the developer's permit is expedited.
This scenario was documented in shameful detail by the Times. Both
Republicans and Democrats (Sen. Bill Nelson, Rep. Alcee Hastings, even
Everglades champion Bob Graham) have intervened to hasten the demise of a
Most of western Broward County, including the whole community of Weston, was
once wetlands that nurtured the Everglades.
Which is why those seeking to dissolve the UDB in Miami-Dade aren't terribly
worried about the feds interfering with their plans later on. All have
lobbyists who know exactly whom to call in Washington.