Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Victory For Venus and Fisheating Creek.. Private Military Training Facility Stopped!

"Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius--and a lot of courage--to move in the opposite direction."
---Albert Einstein

Local Residents, Environmentalists, Human Rights Activists, and Farmers Defeat the Eagle Military Training Center

October 6th--Sebring, FL--For no less than twelve hours locals, lawyers, developers, the air force, a former secret service agent, environmentalists, human rights activists, farmers, ranchers, anarchists, liberals, conservatives, land speculators, and politicians squared off at a quasi-judicial hearing at the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners. It was a marathon protest of strange bedfellows with all the hooting and hollering, jeering, sign waving and firebrand speeches calling for bird sanctuaries, armed defense, the dissolution of the government, peace and quiet, rural autonomy and eco-tourism.

Burt Harris, the silver tongued lawyer hired by the Eagle Training Center (ETC) applicant argued that the concerns voiced by the citizens of Venus, population est. 600, and other groups, had no merit. The business plan for the privately run for-profit ETC called for live firing ranges, MOUT (military operations on urban terrains)facilities, a runway, helipad, two towers, improvised explosive device (IED) training facilities, mobile firing ranges, classroom facilities, and barracks. It also stated that the company would seek to provide its services to the International Market causing many to label the proposed training center a mercenary camp. Harris argued that the ETC would be nothing more than a first responder training center for EMTs and as the night wore on, altered the site propasal piece by piece, first dropping all night flights to and from the site and banning 50 caliber bullets, then dropping the runway and one tower. The military facility he argued, would in no way impact panther, bear or swallow tailed kite habitat, nor would it pollute the Fisheating Creek watershed. Those in attendance were not buying it.

Jim Labozzo, the lawyer representing the interests of several citizens of Venus and other local environmentalists, blew holes in Harris' argument, pointing out that the facility was for special ops training, that it would adversely impact both the human and natural communities of Venus and surrounding areas. He also showed how little work the Highlands County Planning and Zoning Board had carried out. They had conducted no studies to conclude environmental impact, utility or infrastructure needs, growth projections, health concerns, and fire and medical needs.

At the end of the night, the Board voted unanimously (though a bit reluctantly) to oppose the project, which means that Venus can sleep a little easier for the next six months, at which time Eagle can reapply for the rezoning permit. But more was won that night than just the safety and integrity of one rural town. A coalition of hitherto opposing forces came together to fight the development which threatened all our ways of life, proving the power of collaboration. Together we raised our voices and drowned out a corrupt business deal in the making. Together we have the strength to turn the tide of development in rural Florida, and everywhere.

We are going to need that strength. Developers and politicians have no problem crossing political and social lines to push their fast money projects, most of them poisonous, into our communities and wildlands. Neither Venus nor the Eagle Project are off the radar. Those old orange orchards proposed for the Eagle site will go back on the chopping block for some other project of sprawl (how about a mall) and we can't rely on commissioners to stand by the people of Venus forever. Likewise, the Eagle Project will seek out another spot in another rural area to develop its mercenary center. One commissioner noted at the hearing that he had recieved word from an official in adjoining Desoto County that if Highland's didn't want Eagle, Desoto would take a shot at it.

Lets stand together and keep it wild!

-Russ McSpadden
Everglades Earth First!
[reprinted from]

1 comment:

friendofmarx said...

Each victory is an important and decisive rebuttal to those who are skeptical of the efficacy of grass-roots organizing.