Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Environmental Cost of Corruption

The recent exposure of the energy industry's crooked dealing: hiring former public employees to circumvent public protections, evading public records requirements for communications, wining and dining environmental lobbyists in private jets, increasing top-level salaries, paying off non-governmental organizations for their 'support', (just to name a few) has been very helpful in discrediting the proposed rate-payer extortion.

It's becoming crystal clear that this is how FPL, Progress Energy and other industrial interests work. Perhaps it is possible that some of these situations are the result of decent people who get pulled into the 'if you can't beat them join them' mentality, but what these recent investigative endeavors are revealing is getting at the heart of the systemic problems we face.

The challenge is not whether we can figure out the right engineering for Everglades waterflow or the appropriate Parts Per Billion (PPB) of carbon in the atmosphere.. the challenge is weather we can expose and confront the deeply-rooted greed and corruption that corporations have poisoned our society with.

Clearly there is not only a financial aspect to the rate hike scandal. There are also massive environmental costs of corruption. Recent reports are only beginning to skim the surface of understanding this phenomenon, but they are certainly on to something. Although it's not very far-fetched to imagine these sorts of corruption taking place, their impacts could be devastating beyond imagination: falsified 'need' assessments, fabricated growth projections, unwarranted zoning and land use changes and variances, rigged permits for air and water quality.. Getting the picture?

The last Everglades Coalition conference was sponsored in large part by FPL, while groups like ours, the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition, were rejected from membership in the group. At this point, it's still hard to tell if groups who take large sums of money from FPL, such as Florida Audubon and the Marshall Foundation are just bad apples, or if the whole basket is tainted to the core. The rate hike stories are turning out to show that Florida's career environmentalists are not far off from the ethics records a career politicians.

Isn't there an old saying: "environmental lobbyists are, at best, a necessary evil, at worst an intolerable one".. I think it was Thomas Jefferson or Samuel Clemens, Tom Paine or something. Whichever it was, he is rolling in the grave, next to Arthur Marshall and John James Audubon.

It seems apparent that corruption is a primary factor in how we got to where we are now- the largest wetland ecosystem in North America all but destroyed, the chemical make-up of the entire atmosphere altered-it is very feasible to say that political corruption is the leading factor in this reality.

While it'd be a damn shame to have to give these companies even a penny more in rates. The Public Service Commission decision on the table is about a lot more than utility bills. I don't think its hyperbole to say that we are now talking about the future of life on this planet (according to widely accepted global climate science).. not to mention the erosion of freedom and democracy in the meantime that comes with increasing corporate control in the age of what author Naomi Klein refers to as disaster capitalism .

The Energy Empire's planetary pillage makes the corruption that early immigrants in the U.S. faced under British imperialism look like a sunday pancake breakfast. Is anyone else out there feeling like another revolution yet?!

-panagioti tsolkas

FPL critics suggest hires were made to blunt criticism

"McLean and Kelliher are among 18 former regulators and government officials the Sun Sentinel has identified who have been hired as FPL employees, consultants or lobbyists."

By Chan Lowe

FPL critics question the utility's motives

By Julie Patel
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
September 23, 2009

As a state-appointed consumer advocate for utility customers, Harold McLean was one of Florida Power & Light's staunchest critics from 2003 to 2007, helping to negotiate a base rate freeze in 2005.

As a former federal utility regulator, Joseph T. Kelliher helped lead an investigation into whether FPL violated standards during a 2008 blackout that left 600,000 homes and businesses dark.

Today, both work for FPL or its affiliates -- McLean as a utility consultant and Kelliher as an executive vice president for regulatory affairs.

Some critics have suggested the hirings allowed utility officials to blunt criticism of the company as it seeks to boost its base rate by $1.3 billion and to gain state and federal approval of new nuclear generators. FPL also has proposed a natural gas line that connects to another proposed pipeline requiring approval from Kelliher's former agency.

Brad Ashwell, a consumer advocate with the Florida Public Interest Research Group, criticized the hiring of McLean and Kelliher. "It's definitely disconcerting to see a strong consumer advocate switch sides," he said. "And there's always a chance the next advocate may not be as vigilant."

FPL spokesman Mark Bubriski said FPL Group, the utility's parent company, approached Kelliher about the job after he stepped down from the regulatory commission. He said the utility does not attempt to exert undue influence on the regulatory process. He added that federal law bars Kelliher from talking to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the agency he once headed, on issues of interest to FPL Group.

"He was also hired because FPL Group recognized that federal regulation of [the utility and its alternative energy arm] is growing, especially with carbon regulation," Bubriski said. He added that Kelliher was hired to help work toward building a cleaner and more reliable federal power system.

Bubriski did not respond to questions about what McLean does as an FPL consultant. Kelliher did not return a phone call and e-mail. McLean declined to comment.

McLean and Kelliher are among 18 former regulators and government officials the Sun Sentinel has identified who have been hired as FPL employees, consultants or lobbyists. Bubriski said FPL hires individuals for their expertise.

Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, added: "One would hope they wouldn't waste that much ratepayer money just hiring a guy so the opponents wouldn't have him on their team. But with the millions at stake, Harold McLean's salary might not seem that big."

McLean, an independent attorney who works as a consultant for FPL, led the fight for an FPL base rate freeze in 2005. He also pushed the Public Service Commission to reduce FPL's request for a $650 million storm reserve to $200 million in 2006 after Hurricane Wilma. He worked for the Office of Public Counsel – which represents utility customers for the state – for about 12 years, heading the agency from 2003 to 2007.

Kelliher announced the FERC investigation weeks after the Feb. 26, 2008, blackout. A FERC spokeswoman said the agency has not completed its investigation. But FPL could face fines of up to $1 billion, according to the utility's Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

FPL has blamed the power outage on a human error at a substation in Miami-Dade County. FPL officials said the outage lasted an hour on average for affected customers.

Julie Patel can be reached at and 954-356-4667..,0,5138270.story

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lake Worth Candidates Environmental Forum

The forum will be held on October 1st, 2009 from 6:30 - 8:00 PM at the Organic Music Café on the SE corner of 4th Ave North and Dixie Hwy in Lake Worth.

The city's election will take place on November 3rd.

As many know, Lake Worth has become known across the State, and even around the Country, for its stance on the environment, social responsibility and quality of life issues. This city has become a battleground over issues of both local and global significance, including:

-Coastal development and beach access
-Protecting public parks
-Preserving near-shore reefs
-Democratic participation in comprehensive planning
-Local control and of services (water, power, police, etc)
-Accountability and ethics from pubic officials
-Rights of immigrant residents
-Addressing climate change

We expect these topics, as well as others, to be discussed on Oct 1.
Please spread this invitation to your friends, family and supporters.

The forum will be hosted by the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC). PBCEC is a coalition of local environmental groups and activists that meet locally every month in Lake Worth to network and organize around improving the planet we share.

We are inviting all the candidates running for the upcoming Lake Worth city elections. All candidates will have the opportunity to address important issues and answer questions from the public.

For a Greener Lake Worth,
Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition


Mayoral Candidates (yes, 6 of them):
Loretta Sharpe
Javier Del Sol
Rene Varela
Lawrence Mcnamara
Bill Coakley
Jump Jordon

Commissioner, District 3:
Jo-ann Golden
Wes Blackman

Commissioner, District 1:
Ron Exline
Scott Maxwell

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Protect Highlands County and Fisheating Creek, Save Rural South Florida

[photo of Fisheating Creek by Leonard Bryant]

SPEAK OUT at Highlands County Commission Meeting
at the Highlands County Government Center, 600 S. Commerce Ave, Sebring

The community of Venus in one of the most rural and wild places remaining in South Florida. The Eagle National Security Training Center is a proposal for a privatized military facility that would add 7,700 acres of military, industrial and residential development to southwest Highlands County.

Specifically, this includes:
6,000 foot airstrip, helipad, 2,000 acre free-fire zone, 5 story building, 25 single family homes, a dormitory for 1,000 trainees, 100 multi family residences, 250 foot training towers and 950,000 square feet of up-to-three story buildings

This land is part of the last open space in the State that serves as critical habitat for endangered Florida Panther and Black Bear. It is in the watershed of Fisheating Creek, which is one of the most pristine natural places in South Florida; it is the last wild free-flowing waterway that runs into Lake Okeechobee.

For more info on Fisheating Creek, check out:

"By 2010, if Seth Ellis [who represents the project] gets his way, Venus will become known as a live-fire training center for the military, homeland security, local police, even foreign governments. Ellis appeared … at the Highlands County Commission meeting, requesting expedited permitting for Eagle National Security Training Center, a 7,700-acre expanse near the Glades County border."


“Greg Eagle [who is behind the proposal] is a Fort Myers commercial real estate broker who gave $750,000 … to Floridians for a Better and Brighter Future, which helped elect Charlie Crist in 2008.”

– Quotes from Highlands Today

If you cannot attend meetings, please…
Send letters, emails and phone calls:
County Commissioners

Barbara Stewart:

Don Bates:

Jeff Carlson : 863-382-4141

Guy Maxcy:
863-385-7755(W) 863-385-1484(H)

Ed Stokes:
863-655-0079 or 863-402-6515

Development Services Director
Mark J. Hill:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Backers of FPL often have ties to utility

Speakers at rate hike forums usually didn't disclose relationships

By Julie Patel
Sun Sentinel
10:01 p.m. EDT, September 12, 2009

More than a third of the customers, politicians and business leaders who praised Florida Power & Light at three South Florida forums on a proposed $1.3 billion rate hike have financial or family ties to the company and its employees, a Sun Sentinel analysis found.

Nearly another third who backed the utility have connections to FPL through business and civic organizations.

On Wednesday, state regulators -- the Public Service Commission -- will hold a final hearing on the utility's request for its largest rate hike. In 10 days of hearings in Tallahassee, FPL officials said several times that most speakers at the nine public forums held around the state this summer had spoken favorably about the utility.

After the forums, Florida Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano complained that FPL lined up speakers in its favor.

"Accepting the irrelevant testimony has the potential for poisoning the fact-finding purpose of the hearing and, in fact, debases and diminishes the value of the input," she wrote in a letter to the commission chairman.

She also asked if customers' payments cover charitable donations. "We cannot take from Grandma Jones, by way of rate extraction, to give to the Boys and Girls Club," the letter said.

Three of the forums were held in June in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Plantation. The Sun Sentinel analysis found 16 of the 79 individuals who voiced support for FPL or the rate hike are employed by nonprofits or a town that received donations from the utility or its affiliates.

Two elected officials who spoke in favor of FPL got campaign contributions from an FPL lobbyist.

Two speakers are related to FPL employees, and 12 more volunteer for groups that received donations from FPL. Among the volunteers are people who organize fundraisers to which FPL donated.

Eleven of the FPL backers told the Sun Sentinel they were personally invited by utility staffers to testify. Most of those who spoke for FPL did not reveal their ties when testifying.

During one of the Tallahassee hearings last month, Senior Assistant Attorney General Cecilia Bradley asked FPL President Armando Olivera if his employees pressed people to testify on the company's behalf.

"I'm not aware of specific instances," Olivera said. "I'm sure that people that we have on the ground in the local communities notified personally some of the constituents that we have to attend."

Utility spokesman Mark Bubriski defended FPL's practices and said the utility has not attempted to improperly influence testimony to the Public Service Commission. FPL invited its 4.5 million customers, as required by law, through advertisements and notices in newsletters mailed to customers, he said.

When evaluating major rate hikes, the regulators hold forums around the state so the five commissioners can hear what the public thinks.

Three employees of Junior Achievement of South Florida -- Melissa Aiello, Cindy Burkett and Sennetha Desroches -- were among the 16 FPL supporters who work for nonprofits or a town that receive donations from the utility.

All three complimented FPL's service at the hearing in Fort Lauderdale. Only Aiello disclosed her employer. None of the employees mentioned that the FPL Group Foundation, the charitable arm of FPL's parent company, donated $250,000 to Junior Achievement from 2004 to 2008, according to federal tax records.

"I have always, always been pleased by the service that FPL has provided to me and to my family," Burkett said at the hearing. She is chief program officer for Junior Achievement and her brother works for FPL. She gave none of this information when she spoke at the hearing.

Burkett this month acknowledged that some have concerns about praise coming from people with ties to FPL.

"I can understand," she said. "It's kind of like a vested interest."

The Sun Sentinel analysis also found that 11 speakers have less direct ties to FPL through business and civic-group associations, such as chamber of commerce boards.

Shane Le Mar, a Fort Lauderdale business owner, didn't mention at the hearing in Plantation that he served for about a year on the Pompano Beach Chamber of Commerce board of directors with Tony Newbold, another FPL community relations manager.

"They're a good company. When the power goes out, blip, it comes back on," Le Mar said later. "That's why I felt I had to be there. I don't want to see them gut this company."

A dozen other speakers rely on FPL to keep their businesses operating. For example, several are developers who need FPL to submit design plans on time so they can meet construction schedules.

At the public hearing in West Palm Beach, Seabron Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Technology, Enterprise & Development in Delray Beach, complimented FPL. So did a business associate who used the center to start his architecture firm.

Neither mentioned the center or that an FPL company contributed to it: $425 for a recent golf tournament and $1,000 for a fundraiser.

"During a hurricane, we were one of the first communities that got our power back," Smith said later. "I know how difficult that is, so I will support them as far as what they are asking for."

Howard Berger, a Lauderhill city commissioner, and Don Maines, a former Southwest Ranches city council member, spoke about the cooperation they had received from FPL when they were city leaders.

They did not tell the Public Service Commission at the Plantation hearing that Ronald Book, one of FPL's 28 registered state lobbyists, had donated $500 to each of their political campaigns last year. Neither Berger nor Maines said they knew of Book's ties to the utility. FPL paid Book $100,000 this year and last, according to state records.

Other influences

Some who showed up to speak up for FPL did so because they were asked, not because they receive any personal benefit.

Peg Buchan, assistant to the director for Port Everglades, said at the Fort Lauderdale hearing that her employer often needs FPL's cooperation.

She didn't mention that Lynn Shatas, a community relations manager for FPL, asked her to speak. Shatas was giving her information to complete the port's application for a federal grant, Buchan said.

"I was commenting on the extraordinary cooperation that FPL was giving to the port ... Lynn asked me how I would feel about repeating that to the [Public Service Commission]. I said 'sure.'

"So yes, I guess I was asked, but I sort of set myself up for it," Buchan said in an e-mail. At least two who spoke are related to FPL employees.

Willie Dublin endorsed FPL's service at the West Palm Beach hearing. What he didn't say was that Newbold is his son-in-law.

"He needed to get someone to talk," Dublin said in a phone interview shortly after the hearing.

There's nothing illegal about lining up speakers. Katrina McMurrian, a public service commissioner, said she doesn't mind if FPL encouraged supporters to attend because "we use our judgment listening to who comes to us."

But Beth Rosenson, an associate professor of political science professor at the University of Florida, said the practice can undermine the process.

"The point of a public hearing should be for citizens to voice their concerns," Rosenson said. "If one side of an issue stacks the audience, that does seem to violate the spirit and purpose."

At the least, speakers should disclose their affiliations, she said.

Jennifer O'Flannery Anderson, president and CEO of United Way of Broward County, was one of the few FPL backers who did.

She testified in Fort Lauderdale that FPL employees donate more than $250,000 to her organization each year. "I represent so many people who can't pay more," she said. "But I know that this is a good company, and I know that the need is great" for a rate increase.

Julie Patel can be reached at or 954-356-4667,0,1860460,full.story

A powerful message of HIV awareness from a PBCEC activist

[Some of you will certainly remember Robby Astrove from his attendance at PBC Environmental Coalition meetings and his environmental educational work with youth through the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation. Robby was committed to teaching and taking action on behalf of the Everglades while he was in Palm Beach County and he has taken his passion and commitment with him to Atlanta, advocating for health and the environment there as well. Below is a powerful message from Robby regarding his effort to raise awareness surrounding HIV/AIDS...]

"Hey Everyone, I have some personal news to share with you….

Last year Danielle and I walked in the Atlanta AIDS Walk and this year we will walk again, but from a different perspective; as the spokespeople for AIDS Walk 2009. This year I’m celebrating 31 years of living with HIV, and at the beginning of 2010, it will be 9 amazing years with Danielle. We are a serodiscordant couple, Danielle remains negative.

We have made a commitment to be the faces and voices of the event, to share our story, and educate the community about how this disease impacts all of our lives. We will raise awareness, provide prevention education, promote positive behavior changes, and give you a personal connection to HIV. One of our key messages is HIV can be prevented and we are a living example.

We are realizing more and more that our story is powerful and can really make a difference in someone’s life.

Our call to action: get tested everyone, educate yourself, practice safe sex, and sponsor me for the walk!

Join our team, raise funds, and walk with us in Atlanta on Sunday, October 18, 2009. If you can’t join us, I would love your support by checking out my webpage, sponsoring me, and spreading the word to your networks. Every bit of support counts!

My webpage is From there you can read my story, sponsor me, and access the team page--Team Robby and Danielle. From the team page you can click on team members’ links, like Danielle’s, to see their pages and stories as well.

Everyone has a story to share and this is part of ours. Every life deserves hope! You are welcome to forward this email to your friends and families so that we can reach as many people as possible.

Thanks for the support, it means a lot to us and the community! I’ll be following up again closer to the walk and I hope to hear from you much sooner."



— Gov. Crist Nixes Joining RGGI or Pursuing State Emission Curbs; Will Defer to Feds

For Immediate Release: September 2, 2009
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Tallahassee — Florida Governor Charlie Crist has decided that his state will not join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or pursue further major efforts to combat climate change, according to a notice released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Florida, once a leader among states in addressing climate issues, instead will sit on the sidelines and await the outcome of federal cap-and-trade legislation.

Rather than issue a public announcement, Florida’s decision was communicated to other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic state members of RGGI that the Sunshine State would not participate in the upcoming September 9, 2009 auction of greenhouse gas emission allowances. In addition, Gov. Crist “will not be presenting a proposed cap-and-trade rule to the 2010 Legislature,” stated the notice quoting Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokeswoman Amy Graham.

The move will limit the potential impact of the 10-state RGGI market. Florida’s participation would have increased the program by more than 75% with Florida accounting for more than twice the emissions of the biggest RGGI state, New York. RGGI allowances have been dropping in price due to over-allocation of emission credits, a problem that has plagued other cap-and-trade systems.

Gov. Crist’s decision culminates a steady rightward shift since he began pursuing a now vacant U.S. Senate seat. In August, he canceled a third annual session of his highly regarded Climate Change Summit, citing meeting costs. His support of action on climate change has become a rallying point for opponents within the state Republican Party. His Senate primary opponent, House Speaker Mike Rubio, recently crowed, “I guarantee you he will not be touting the work he did with Sheryl Crow as part of his primary platform,” referring to the popular singer identified with green causes.
“Gov. Crist’s retreat signifies that it is becoming increasing difficult for environmentally concerned citizens to advance in today’s Republican Party – and that is a real shame,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “Of all the states, Florida arguably has the most to lose from rising sea levels, bigger, nastier storms and the other side effects associated with climate change.”

Florida’s rate of greenhouse emissions has soared in recent years, rising by more than a third above 1990 levels. The state’s rate of growth may be finally slowing only because its population boom is now becoming a bust, with Florida now losing population for the first time in decades.

“Gov. Crist used to proclaim that Florida’s future will turn on the quality of our environment so it is unfortunate that these values must take a back seat to political advancement,” Phillips added, noting that a huge purchase of sugar lands for the purpose of benefiting the Everglades had been a signature issue for Gov. Crist in which he had invested substantial political as well as fiscal capital. “What good does it do to ‘save’ the Everglades only to have it to sink back into Florida Bay?”


Read the notice of Florida’s decision to opt out of RGGI

View the now moribund Florida “Governor's Action Team on Energy and Climate Change”

Learn about RGGI

Look at the problems with cap-and-trade systems

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Public Service Commission aide fired... admits to sharing codes with a FPL executive.

Public Service Commission aide fired over codes
A state utility regulator fired her aide after the aide admits to sharing BlackBerry codes with a Florida Power & Light executive.


TALLAHASSEE -- Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, who has criticized her agency for being too close to the utilities it regulates, fired her top aide Sunday after he admitted to giving the private messaging code for his BlackBerry to a Florida Power & Light executive.

Larry Harris, 40, who has been at the PSC since 2001, volunteered to resign and seek a job elsewhere in the PSC after Argenziano read a Miami Herald story online late Saturday revealing that at least three PSC aides had given the messaging codes to an FPL executive. Harris worked as a senior attorney at the PSC before joining Argenziano's staff in 2007. He said he has no guarantee that he will find a new PSC job.

The Herald/Times has reported that the messaging codes -- called Personal Identification Numbers, or PINS -- had been given to FPL attorney Natalie Smith, potentially allowing the utility to communicate directly with commissioners outside public view and without leaving a paper trail.

Documents obtained by the Herald/Times also showed that at least one staff aide, Roberta Bass, who works with Commissioner Lisa Edgar, gave FPL the message code to Edgar's BlackBerry. The PSC is currently being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for possible ethics violations.

Harris said he told Argenziano that Smith had contacted the top advisors to all five PSC commissioners in 2008 to ask for their PINS. He gave it to the FPL attorney, he said, because he believed the PIN "was a public record, just as with any other state-issued device.''

He said he also told Smith that Argenziano had a strict policy forbidding him from communicating in any fashion with utility representatives. "I told Natalie, Commissioner Argenziano's position was very clear -- I was not to talk to anyone who is regulated,'' Harris told the Herald/Times.

State law prohibits PSC commissioners from discussing a pending rate case with utility officials but it specifically excludes PSC staff from the ban. PSC officials told the Herald/Times that it does not save PIN messages.

Miami media law expert Tom Julin said that the PSC's failure to keep a record of the PIN messages sent via staff BlackBerrys could be a violation of the state's public records law.

Harris said Smith was the only utility representative who asked for his PIN number and he said he doesn't recall ever receiving a message from her.

Argenziano said she was disappointed in Harris but thought he understood the guidelines. "He's not a bad person,'' she said. "But why would you let a utility person do that?''

Another PSC commissioner, Nathan Skop, told the Herald/Times Sunday that he had a standing policy in his office not to give out PIN numbers to regulated utilities. "To the best of my knowledge, neither my aide nor I have every given it out to a regulated entity,'' he said.

Documents given to the Herald/Times showed that Commission Chairman Matthew Carter's aide, William Garner, had given out Garner's PIN and Edgar's aide had given out the aide's PIN as well. Carter told the Herald/Times that he was not aware that his aide's PIN had been shared with FPL. Edgar said she was not aware of receiving any PIN messages from Smith. Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, nor her aide, Lorena Holley, could be reached for comment.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at

Similar Stories:
[click links below for full story]
Public Service Commission lobbyist steps down
In the last two weeks:
-The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began investigating the PSC for potential ethics violations.

-The Herald/Times revealed that an FPL executive had asked for and received private BlackBerry messaging codes for one commissioner and two staff members, a communication method that avoids a paper trail.

- FPL executives defied a PSC order to reveal how much the company pays its top executives.

-FPL chief Armando Olivera told the PSC that his company wanted to use part of its rate increase to buy a $31 million executive jet.

Public Service Commission lobbyist flagged for 'poor judgment'
"As state police investigate the Public Service Commission for possible ethics violations, an inspector general found Wednesday that the agency's lobbyist used "poor judgment'' and may have violated rules by attending a party at the home of a Florida Power & Light executive during a pending rate case.

Although the PSC inspector general could not prove whether lobbyist Ryder Rudd broke PSC rules on gifts and communication by attending the Kentucky Derby party, a state senator and a PSC commissioner immediately called for his ouster.

"The inexcusable conduct of this employee undermines the public trust and confidence in the regulatory process and impugns the integrity of this commission,'' Commissioner Nathan Skop wrote in a statement. "This is a clear cut ethics problem and perception issue.''

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Training Center Similar to Venus Proposal Idea Shot Down In Ocala" and other articles on the Eagle privatized 'National Security' proposal


Highlands Today

Published: July 30, 2008

SEBRING - A week after Seth Ellis proposed a live-fire training center near Venus, the Marion County Commission turned down a combined law enforcement and search-and-rescue facility near Ocala.

More than 200 residents packed the auditorium for the commissioner's meeting, according to a July 16 story in the Star-Banner.

Ocala Lumber President Henry J.G. Moxon tried to withdraw his application for a special use permit, but the commissioners refused his request and voted to turn down the facility, which would have a mile-long airstrip, rifle ranges, explosive storage, a vehicle track and an indoor shooting range on 2,500 acres currently zoned for agriculture use.
Moxon did not provide Marion County with details on which agencies would train there, or why aircraft would be operating there.

"That won't be very similar to what we have planned," Ellis said. "We don't have a mile-long airstrip."

His plans do include a 5,500-foot runway.

"But it may not be blacktopped," Ellis said. "It may be shell or something."

On July 15, Ellis proposed to build the Eagle National Security Training Center on 7,700 acres, near the Highlands-Glades county line.

In a written statement, Eagle proposed to locate a "first responder" facility on Southern Farms, and requested the Highlands County staff to expedite the permitting.

"Expedited permitting allows a development to speed up the state of Florida, DEP, Water Management District, etc. review process, and perhaps the county review process, said the agenda item, signed by Highlands County's chief planner, Jim Polatty, and County Administrator Michael Wright.

The resolution the county commissioners adopted said the Eagle Center would provide at least 100 full-time jobs after year three of operations, and up to 240 jobs after year five. Ellis told the commissioners the jobs could start with 250, and total 1,000.

Ellis is a CPA and the former president and CEO of ICx Digital Infrared Imaging, sensors which detect chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive weapons. He sold the company to ICx Technologies Inc. of Arlington, Va. Ellis is also a partner with GatorMezz, a fund that loans money to medium-sized, Florida-based companies.

Ellis said he was back in Highlands County last week to look over Southern Farms. Ron Eagle hired Sunshine Management, a company co-owned by Ellis, Gen. Paul Serjan and others, to plan, develop and operate the Venus project.

"We toured the property," said Ellis, speaking from a Washington airport. "We stayed at Inn on the Lakes, and had a little strategy session."

They also sketched plans for the 7,700 acres. Next, Ellis said, he must conclude financing for the project.

How much will it cost?

"A lot of zeros," Ellis said. $10 million? $100 million?

Ellis wouldn't be pinned down. "But you were a lot closer on the second figure."

Each of the five county commissioners was also contacted by the generals, said Don Bates and Edgar Stokes.

Both commissioners said they favor facility.

"So far, I'm for it," Stokes said. "It's a good thing for the county. They'll do a lot of business with the county. They'll create a lot of jobs. It's a pretty big thing. And it's way out there in the corner of the county, so it shouldn't bother anybody."

Gary Pinnell can be reached at or 863 386-5828

The links to other articles about this topic:

Training Center project grounded, but expected to fly
County tries to resolve Eagle Center snafu
Venus neighbors to protest war games facility
Commissioners suspend Eagle training discussion

County OKs expediting permit process for Eagle National July 16 2008
Commissioners direct staff to work out training center plan
Possible zoning issues for Eagle Training Center
Training center foes speak to commission