Mine Expansion in PB could Kill rare Snakes

The expansion of a rock mine in southwestern Palm Beach County could kill up to a dozen federally protected eastern indigo snakes, the longest native snake in North America, according to a wildlife agency report.

The Star Ranch is seeking permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand its limestone mine by 1.4 square miles to produce construction materials for roads, Everglades restoration and other projects. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the work could “crush indigo snakes, their nests and eggs,” killing up to 12 of the 23 that may live there.

None of the snakes, which can reach a length of up to eight and a half feet, have been seen on the property, the wildlife service said. But the service said the site is the type of land they use, they have been seen around it and they’re difficult to find because they live primarily underground.

Noel Shapiro, a sugar cane farmer who owns the property, could not be reached for comment, despite a phone call to his office. Broward contractor Ron Bergeron, whose company has long had an agreement to mine the land, said he hadn’t seen the report. He noted the service admits not finding any snakes on the site.

“They’re just making an assumption that there’s 23, but nobody’s seen one,” said Bergeron, who is one of seven volunteer commissioners who run the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Bergeron said 90 percent of the mine’s materials will go toward public road-building and Everglades restoration projects – the reservoirs, levees and other structures that will conserve and clean water for the Everglades. Without a nearby mine, he said, the rock would have to be brought at much higher cost from western Miami-Dade County.

Indigo snakes, which have the rich black color of a grand piano, live in parts of Georgia and Florida, mostly from Central Florida down through the Keys. Non-venomous – and popular for that reason for wildlife shows – the snakes eat fish, snakes, frogs, young gopher tortoises, small mammals and small alligators.
Protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the snakes have declined mainly from loss of habitat to development, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Other causes include capture for the pet trade and rattlesnake roundups, in which participants spray gasoline into gopher tortoise burrows, where indigo snakes and other animals live, to flush out rattlesnakes.

Environmentalists have long opposed the expansion of mining in western Palm Beach County, saying it ruins the landscape and leaves behind deep holes that drain water that should flow through the Everglades.

Drew Martin, conservation chair of the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group, said other projects, such as the proposed development of the Briger tract in northern Palm Beach County, would kill indigo snakes.

“We have the snakes being threatened in a lot of places,” he said. “The more we reduce the number of indigo snakes, the more we run the risk that the snake could become extinct.”

The opinion letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not say the work should not go forward. Although it said the work would “adversely affect” the species, the letter said the mine would not “jeopardize” its existence, the trigger that could hold up a project. The letter said the mining work would have to comply with standard procedures published by the wildlife service for avoiding harm to indigo snakes.

dfleshler@tribune.com, 954-356-4535

For the Love of the Everlgades! Benefit for EF! Winter OC and Rondy

For the Love of the Everlgades! Benefit for EF! Winter OC and Rondy

Join us for another Full-Moon cafe benefit to help raise money for the Earth First! Winter Organizer’s Conference and Rendezvous happening Feb 19th-24th in Fisheating Creek, FL. At the Full Moon Cafe we will be serving dinner from 6-9PM, have open mic night for music and performances and also have a special date auction! Contact evergladesearthfirst@riseup.net for more info.

When: Friday Feb 14th
What time: Doors open at 5. Food served from 6-9PM. Sign up for performances till 7pm.
Where: 701 S. F St., Lake Worth, FL.

South FL Enviro-groups File Federal Challenge Over the Scripps/Briger Phase II Project

To help with the lawsuit, please  DONATE 

In the ongoing fight to save the Briger Forest, the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC), The South Florida Wildlands Association, The Sierra Club of Florida led by its Loxahatchee Group, and the Palm Beach County Green Party have submitted a letter today notifying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of violations of the Endangered Species Act in connection with the consultation process that the two agencies engaged in over the Scripps Briger Development of Regional Impact (DRI) Project in Palm Beach County, Florida.  The letter has been submitted by William S. Eubanks II of the Washington, D.C. public interest environmental law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein and Crystal.

As one of the last remaining sizable tracts of contiguous forested land in Palm Beach County, the project site is critical for various wildlife species including the federally protected eastern indigo snake.  With major highways and heavy development on all sides, the site plays a key role in providing habitat for numerous species which, simply put, have nowhere else to go.

However, in their Biological Opinion written for the project, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to account for the parcel’s value as habitat or refuge for wildlife.  In authorizing construction and operation of a massive facility that will eliminate habitat for snakes and other wildlife on the parcel – leading to the eventual elimination of all remaining eastern indigo snakes, a federally listed threatened species, from the property – alternative ways of conserving the project site were not even considered.  Indeed, by failing to minimize deaths and injuries of eastern indigo snakes at all – let alone analyzing various ways that the agency could have minimized such deaths and injuries – the Service has failed to comply with its duties under the Endangered Species Act.

Christian Minaya of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition said his group has had longstanding opposition to the development of this tract.  “Our vision for the future of the Briger Tract is one of preservation. A vital link to old Florida, a preserved Briger Tract will undoubtedly prove to be a precious resource for the continuation of biological diversity in the area, as well as a great boon for education and recreation for local residents.”

Suki DeJong of the Palm Beach County Green Party echoed those remarks. “In the future we see the land being acquired through private and public funds, invasive species removed, the ecosystem restored to a natural state, and ultimately the whole area managed and kept for passive recreation. A living laboratory, the Briger Tract holds unfathomable potential as a teaching tool for the community as well as being a treasure trove for diverse science disciplines.  We believe it is time that Palm Beach County treasure and preserve its natural resources – not facilitate their destruction.”

“As growth continues unabated in south Florida, the habitat available for wildlife shrinks at a steady rate”, said Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association.  “This puts our biodiversity at extreme risk.  For many species, rigorous enforcement of the Endangered Species Act is the only lifeline they have.  The Fish and Wildlife Service had many options here – including requiring changes to the development plan.  It’s unfortunate that they gave a green light to complete destruction of habitat in this locale.”

If you want to support this fight, please donate now.

Full text of the notice letter.

Exibits ABCD.

Scripps should not make money on county-owned land, PBC commissioner says

Cross posted from Post on Politics

by Jennifer Sorentrue | August 27th, 2013

The Scripps Research Institute should not be allowed to make money on land it leases from Palm Beach County without approval from the county’s seven-member commission, Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said Tuesday.

The Palm Beach Post reported in April that Scripps Florida could collect as much as $170 million by subleasing the county-owned site to Tenet Healthcare, which has proposed an 80-bed research hospital on the property.

Scripps pays Palm Beach County $1 a year to lease vacant land at the southeast corner of Interstate 95 and Donald Ross Road in Palm Beach Gardens.

During a presentation on Scripps’ 2012 annual report on Tuesday, Taylor said that taxpayers footed the bill to purchase the property. The commission should have a say before Scripps is allowed to make money off the land, she said.

“We own land,” Taylor said. “Our taxpayers are paying for this land. Scripps is a business. We have taxpayers who are paying their dollars. How do we let them realize an income from land which the taxpayers have paid for?”

County administrators said the lease agreement with Scripps, which was approved before Taylor was elected to the commission, allows the biotech giant to sublease the property for biotech uses.

“The ground lease envisioned that Scripps would enter into third-party collaborations,” Assistant County Administrator Shannon LaRocque said. “They are allowed to sub lease that property if it fits into a confined use.”

In June, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration denied Scripps and Tenet Healthcare Corp.’s bid to build the hospital.

LaRocque said the sublease agreement was never drafted, but would have been placed on the commission’s agenda and discussed at a public meeting.

Direct Action Training this Saturday!

Direct Action Training Flyer 2013 EEF! Some of the things we will review:

  • What is direct action and what you need to pull off your own.

  • Overview about occupations-blockades-lockdowns-treesits etc.

  • Practicing useful tactics in direct action scenarios

  • Your rights in various scenarios presented by the National Lawyers Guild

  • Consensus decision making

  • Puppet show on security culture by the Autonomous Playhouse

Please RSVP at evergladesearthfirst@gmail.com


Major Setback for Those Hoping to Develop Briger Forest!

A major component of the Scripps biotech plan, the research hospital backed by Tenet Healthcare, may not be feasible after a recent ruling by a Florida State Judge.

In an article released yesterday from the Palm Beach Post, Staff Writer Stacy Singer reported that State Administrative Judge James H. Peterson, III strongly recommended the denial of the hospital’s application with Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (FAHCA) based on legal grounds. The Document in question is the Certificate of Need (CON) which is intended to justify that the new hospital is needed. Based on the judge’s decision, the construction of the new hospital is not necessary.

The appeal against the CON of the Tenet hospital was filed by Jupiter Medical Center and West Palm Hospital who made claims that they would suffer severe economic loss with the construction of this new facility. As justification for the appeal, Jupiter Medical Center claimed to expect over $11 million in losses in the first year if the new hospital were built. The two hospitals in opposition to the project are within a few miles of the proposed Tenet hospital, and they can’t even keep hospital beds full. In fact, South Florida Business Journal reported that only 54% percent of the beds are occupied and about 657 beds are empty every day. Furthermore, Tenet, one of the largest for profit hospital organizations in the country, already owns 60% of the hospitals in the northern Palm Beach County area and the addition of this new hospital would essentially provide them a monopoly over Palm Beach County’s healthcare prices. It was the judge’s opinion that this would likely increase insurance rates for customers in the area.

The judge also claimed that the Tenet hospital offered little to Scripps in its research and clinical trials beyond what other hospitals could provide. The CON claimed one of the hospital’s primary functions would be to facilitate research from the Scripps lab being used in clinical trials. However, the Tenet hospital had prepared to have only one staff position dedicated to this task. According to the judges report, this was not the only claim made by Tenet Healthcare that was highly inflated. Although it was stated in the CON that this facility would become a world class medical research facility, the judge found that there was no evidence of this being the case. It is for these reasons that the judge issued the order that essentially denies the construction of the hospital.

Florida’s Health Care Administration has 45 days from issuance of the recommendation to come to a decision on whether they will challenge the judge’s official order. Though there is precedent for such action, it is unlikely. Especially since FAHCA’s Secretary Liz Dudek didn’t officially recommend the project’s approval the first time around. Normally when a project is proposed it is recommended for approval or denial, but this one wasn’t. In Dudek’s own written words:

“There is no need for an additional small community hospital that offers basic services.”

Tenet, Scripps, and the PBG government will likely have to appeal the judge’s ruling in a Florida State Court of Appeals if they hope to see this decision overturned.

So, what does this mean for the Scripps Phase II project? Scripps wanted Tenet bad. A previous PBP article reported that the land that Tenet would be building on is owned by the county, but Scripps leases it from the county for $1 a year. A letter of Intent signed in 2011 between Tenet and Scripps would have Tenet lease the land from Scripps for $5 million dollars a year, profiting big off the benevolence of the county. Over the course of a 34 year lease, Scripps would have profited nearly $170 million from the proposed hospital. Scripps would also have had Tenet employees count towards their employee total, which is important for Scripps when demonstrating their job creation ability.  With the $310 million state grant for the Scripps Phase II/Briger project expiring this year, Scripps is likely to run into financial difficulties and the loss of revenue from this hospital could be disastrous for them. The CEO of Scripps, Michael Marletta, is quite disappointed in the decision, but says they will still try to get a hospital built on the county property.

Even Shannon Laroque, the Assistant County Administrator and Scripps Program Manager, is pretty upset about this. She pushed hard for this hospital to get approved and found it an integral part of Scripps Phase II. In a 2011 article she made it clear by saying,

“Every other successful biotech/biomedical industry cluster is ‘anchored’ with large non-profit research facilities, a major university, and a teaching/research hospital. We cannot realize a return on the very large investment made by the Board of County Commissioners and the State of Florida without it.”

Additionally, The Kolter Group, the development firm looking to buy the portions of the Briger Forest not zoned for biotech, may not be as interested in becoming involved in light of the project’s recent difficulties.

As upset as all these profiteers are, we in the fight to protect the Briger are thrilled! Councilman David Levy said this decision could set back development of the Briger property two or three years. If we have anything to say about it, those few years will turn into the permanent preservation of the land. We’re still here to make sure they never break ground on this project. Keep it wild!

Voice your opinion. Tell Secretary Liz Dudek to respect the judicial order of Judge James H. Peterson, III and deny the Certificate of Need for the Tenet Healthcare Hospital by contacting her Chief of Staff:

Jenn Ungru, Chief of Staff- FAHCA
(850) 412-3606

Reference CON Application No. 10130

Extra sources:

The Sun Sentinel, Jupiter Medical Center, HCA Oppose Tenet/Scripps Medical Hospital

Palm Beach Post Blog, http://blogs.palmbeachpost.com/npbc/2013/05/03/gardens-council-react-to-tenet-hospital-rejection/

Sunshin State News, http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/story/scripps-jupiter-facility-falling-short-job-creation, Rockwell, L.

JMC Tenet Judge Order

Full Moon Performance Night and Monkey Wrench Cafe to Benefit EEF! for the Briger Forest!

 EEF MWC April 2013 (click on the flier for a larger version)

When: Thursday April 25th from 5 – 11 pm

                                           Where: South 7th and F Street, Lake Worth

 Why: A benefit for Everglades Earth First!

Join us for April’s Full Moon Performance night and Monkey Wrench Cafe!

The night will begin with a delicious dinner and drinks being served starting at 5 pm and running until 9 pm or till we run out of food. At 7 pm we will move into the Full Moon Performances and as the full moon rises in the sky we will reclaim the true spirit of a traditional Monkey Wrench Cafe by sharing inspiring stories of direct action around a camp fire.

  This event will benefit Everglades Earth First – your local no compromise environmental group that is working to defend the Briger Forest in Palm Beach Gardens from being “developed” into a biotech facility with accompanying suburban sprawl. EFF! is determined not to let this happen to the largest undeveloped tract of land from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade and east of I-95.

 The cafe menu will include vegan lasagna, Matt’s famous quinoa dish, vegan cheesecake, and more + Earth First! themed drinks! (Want to make a dish for the event? Contact us!)

Meals: – $5 – $10
Drinks: $1 – $5 suggested donation
Performances of all kinds are welcome!