Palm Beach Post (Florida)
[note from PBCEC: Below is an article from the Post last year which we felt was worth reprinting to remind people of the challenge and urgency we face in stopping FPL's West County Energy Center (WCEC). Our federal lawsuit is still pending, meanwhile FPL construction continues.]
October 7, 2008 Tuesday
BYLINE: By MICHAEL LaFORGIA Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
SECTION: LOCAL; Pg. 1B
LENGTH: 525 words
DATELINE: WEST PALM BEACH
Florida wildlife conservation officials ignored concerns of two state scientists who predicted a new power plant would harm animals in an environmentally sensitive area, the scientists testified Monday in federal court.
The testimony came during a court hearing in which U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks denied an environmental group's emergency request to suspend temporarily, construction of the West County Energy Center, a Florida Power & Light Co. natural gas plant being built on Southern Boulevard across from a national wildlife refuge.
During Monday's hearing, James Schuette and Timothy W. Regan, wildlife biologists for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said they both evaluated plans for the proposed power plant and came away with concerns.
Schuette, a scientist with the commission for the past 17 years, said he anticipated the project might affect populations of gopher tortoises, wading birds and bald eagles, among other animals inhabiting the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas.
Regan, who's worked for the commission for 35 years, said the plant might cause acid rain that would hurt fish and create higher levels of mercury in an already threatened section of the Everglades.
But when the scientists passed along their concerns to superiors, they said, senior commission officials didn't include them in a final report to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Instead, Regan said, they omitted Regan's report, which focused on what he described in court as "a dangerous problem."
"No one ever came back to me," Regan said. "That's the last I heard of it."
In a letter to state environmental protection officials, Mary Ann Poole, director of the wildlife commission's Office of Policy and Stakeholder Coordination, wrote that the power plant would have "no impact" on wildlife in western Palm Beach County. The letter was read in court by Barry Silver, an attorney representing the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition in a lawsuit filed against the state and its Department of Environmental Protection, which seeks to halt the plant's construction.
Schuette and Regan were the only conservation commission scientists to evaluate the plans, Silver said.
A representative of the wildlife commission in Tallahassee couldn't be reached for comment after hours Monday.
In response to questions about the commission's report to the Department of Environmental Protection, department spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller issued a written statement Monday evening.
"We respect the legal process and await the outcome of the hearing," the statement said. "We will evaluate the outcome at that time and examine its implications and available options."
After hearing from both sides Monday, Middlebrooks denied the environmentalists' request to halt construction of the power plant, saying the only portion of the project that fell under his jurisdiction -- a pipeline constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- was already completed and could not be stopped.
"I don't think there is any irreparable harm at this point," Middlebrooks said.