Friday, November 18, 2016

Reflections on Beating Back Biotech in the Northeast Everglades

An inside look at how Earth First! has helped keep a burgeoning biotech economy at bay for more than ten years in the venture capitalist mecca of Palm Beach County

by Panagioti Tsolkas / Earth First! Newswire

“…I guess it’s sort of an anti-technology backlash, anti-globalization. I don’t think that’s a prevalent attitude in this county.”  –Bevin Beaudet, Scripps Program Manager for Palm Beach County, USA Today, January 2005

Twelve years ago, when I joined the effort to stop the planned biotech city in the county where I lived, I didn’t anticipate that we could outlast—in some cases even outlive—our opponents. But that may be the case for our rag-tag group of grassroots activists in a decade-plus fight against the industry’s plans in South Florida.

In 2004, then-Governor Jeb Bush called biotech an “unstoppable train” while unveiling his plans to plow through 6,000 acres of swamp, forest and farm for a biotech city. Two years, several lawsuits and a couple dozen headline-making protests later, his plan lay near-dead in the swamp water of the Northeast Everglades. Scripps, the primary company associated with the plan, did finally drag itself up and open the doors on “Phase I” of their laboratories on a local university campus with a mere 10, 000 square feet of lab space; a minuscule fraction of their initial plan.

Within the last several years, Scripps, the state’s model for the speculated biotech boom, has shown deep internal cracks in its bureaucratic operations and financial stability. With the operation in disarray and opposition still on the move, the next few years could spell the end for what I viewed over ten years ago as a biocentrist’s wildest nightmare...

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