Friday, October 14, 2011

Ellen Peterson: Florida Audubon off mission and something must change

Below is an editorial Ellen submitted regarding Eric Draper and the Florida Audobon Society:

Florida Audubon is so far from its core mission under the leadership of Executive Director Eric Draper, that either he or the organization should go.

Mr. Draper's letter supporting Lykes Brothers' plan for the conversion of Nicodemus Slough into a shallow holding tank for industrial-strength polluted water from Lake Okeechobee shows his true colors. He will sacrifice the migratory roosting site of the rare swallow-tail kites, caracara nesting sites and other habitat in the Everglades to support his power base, Lykes Brothers and other developers.

Supporting development projects regardless of the environmental cost has been a strong pattern of Mr. Draper. He and Lykes Brothers are the authors of the placement of dams in Fisheating Creek, formerly the last unimpeded waterway in South Florida. Local environmental advocates fighting development are often faced with this question from their commissioners: "Why doesn't Florida Audubon object to this?"

One can speculate: Why does Mr. Draper curry favor from large wealthy landowners? Is he going to want their continued support to make another run for agriculture commissioner? Is the Lykes Brothers-connected member of the Florida Audubon board of directors paying his salary?

What is clear is that under Draper's leadership, Florida Audubon has moved its mission from preserving and restoring natural habitats to industrializing them and calling it a victory. Draper boldly stated to the newspaper that the Nicodemus Slough project represents a "very sound investment in storing and cleaning water."

In fact, it is a step backwards for water quality, quantity and the environment.

The amount of water to be stored is so small that neither Lake Okeechobee nor the Caloosahatchee will benefit, but the loss of over 16,000 acres of wildlife habitat will be forever. The 11 billion gallons of projected storage are equal to only one day of high flow on the Caloosahatchee River during peak discharge. A new downstream point source of pollution will be created for receiving Lee County waters!
As for Lake Okeechobee, there is no plan to clean the water or return it to the lake. The amount taken from this 730 square mile lake is insignificant. Between drought and over-allocation, will there ever be enough water to store at Nicodemus Slough?

As for benefiting Fisheating Creek, there is no connection to Fisheating Creek since the Herbert Hoover Dike severed this arm of the creek from its natural flow.

Nicodemus Slough was once so important to the state of Florida that it was part of a public "Save Our Rivers" purchase from Lykes. It is currently identified as a top priority for Florida Forever funds and was a park open to the public. It was later horse-traded back to Lykes in a deal without meaningful public input.

Now the public will pay three times for this ill-advised project: first for the loss of the environment, second for initial and ongoing costs, and third, when Lykes gets the infrastructure back at the end of the 10-year lease.

Decades of ditching, diking and damming have only led us to the need for more. SFWMD should have learned from its dismal track record of failed environmental interventions. If state efforts and resources were put toward cleaning up water pollution at its source rather than sacrificing downstream environments, then real solutions to these problems could be found.

Creating unnatural impoundments got us here in the first place. Let's send SFWMD back to the drawing board and save Nicodemus Slough.


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