FAQ about the resistance to Scripps Biotech in Florida
Starting on February 14, 2011, the Everglades Earth First! group, affiliated with the international Earth First! movement, declared intent to maintain an occupation of the Briger Forest to assist in its defense from the Scripps Phase II proposal. After 6 weeks the tree sits were torn down along with the trees tied to them. Below are responses to some Frequently Asked Questions about what’s going on out there. Please contact us with any updates, corrections or new questions at evergladesearthfirst [at] gmail.com
1. Why was there a tree sit in Briger Forest?
We were sending a clear message to the developers that if the bulldozers came to build Phase II of Scripps Florida’s proposed “Biotech City” they would be met with resistance, on-the-ground and in-the-trees. Everglades Earth First! stands ready for another occupation at any time.
3. What are the legal hurdles remaining for Scripps Phase II?
In 2010 the Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) from the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD); and the Comprehensive Plan change needed from the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) were challenged by members of Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition in front of a Administrative Law Judge. Both disregarded State law in order to issue approvals. [Details from the cases can be found by clicking on the links above.]
This signaled to us that the threat is imminent, but the legal fight is far from over. There are still several permits needed for final approval. These include Gopher Tortoise Relocation permits from Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Construction & Operation Permit from the SFWMD (this permit includes a production of the Hazardous Waste Management Plan.) We are planning to challenge these and looking to gather more legal support for this effort. Please contact us if you can help.
4. Can the development be stopped? Is it too late already?
Yes, it can be stopped. No, its far from “too late”. We must remember that they had already began pouring concrete foundations when Scripps was finally defeated at Mecca Farms in 2006, for failing to assess environmental impacts.
Scripps already has its Phase I on the FAU campus (unfortunately), and they haven’t got much to show for it. They haven’t demonstrated any urgent need to expand their facilities. They simply want to spend the half-a-billion dollars in public subsidies (ie. “corporate welfare”) they received. And in a time of financial crisis, with austerity measures proposed across Florida, that’s not a very fiscally conservative thing to do. Yes, we’re talking to you, Governor Scott.
As for the “ancillary development” in the plan, the real estate secret is out: there is no market for the development plan (or any development plans in Palm Beach County). The market is still glutted from the short-sighted development scams five years ago. In short, there’s not much wind in their sails. The plan is a very expensive house of cards, and more so than ever.
5. Did Scripps really raise taxes?
Yes. The Palm Beach County Comptroller produced a report stating that the #1 increase to taxes in 2008 (33% of the increase) was the cost of subsidizing Scripps’s failure on Mecca Farms.
In Checks & Balances: Your Guide to County Finances (FY2009) Popular Annual Financial Report , produced by the Comptroller’s office answers the question, “Why did certain expenses increase?” with this on page 14: “…an almost $38 million loss from Mecca Farms, the original Scripps site.”
6. What about Scripps creating jobs?
Scripps only committed to 500 jobs in exchange for their massive subsidies. At over $580 million in public money spent that’s more than $1 million per job created.
According to a report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA): “A particularly important statutory and contractual requirement for Scripps Florida is related to job creation. Specifically, by law and contract, Scripps must have created at least 280 new jobs by the end of its fifth contract year”. Scripps claims that as of December 31, 2008, they had “282.80 jobs on a full-time equivalent basis”, whatever that means. Of the 116 employees that Scripps Florida hired in Fiscal Year 2008-09, only 45 were Florida residents. This is nothing short of fraud.
The Scripps Florida scam is the prime example of a corporate welfare that is driving the austerity measures cutting public services across the state, and the entire country (and world for that matter) .
7. How/when did Earth First! get involved?
Earth First! is an international movement of biocentric, no-compromise, direct action in defense of the wild. A local group of Earth First! (EF!) activists formed initially in 2004 around joining with residents of the Acreage and Loxahatchee who wanted to fight the Scripps plan from being built in their community, on Mecca Farms, neighboring the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area. Other environmental groups came on board as well. EF! joined with the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC) hosting dozens of protests, some of which resulted in dozens of high-profile civil disobedience arrests and even a public trial represented by ACLU attorney Jim Green. Groups such as the Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation, 1000 Friends of Florida and Everglades Law Center filed multiple lawsuits, the Mecca project was sunk. Judge Middlebrooks found the federal permits in violation of NEPA.
Unfortunately, this broad alliance did not stay intact. The victory left some groups feeling their hands were tied to oppose future Scripps plans, although there was no formal settlement or agreement. As a result, the destruction of this endangered species habitat in a native forest ecosystem on Briger has not captured the same support from other compromise-oriented groups… yet. But the tree sit seems to have re-inspired some already, namely the Loxahatchee Sierra Club group, which has recently stated that they did not intend their negotiation to require their silence on impacts to endangered species and would support a renewed legal battle to defend these species.
Over the past year, a joint effort between the PBCEC and EEF! refuted the applicant’s reports regarding Threatened/Endangered Species by sending teams of daring citizens surveyors to bushwhack through the forest to photograph and document this evidence. Their report can be found here.
8. Should Scripps Phase II be moved to another location?
No. When members of our group opposed the proposal for Scripps Florida to be built on Mecca Farms in 2004, we were clear that we would not welcome Scripps anywhere in the County, due to their unethical history and reputation as well as the massive corporate welfare that they plundered from the public.
9. Is there an alternate proposal for protecting the Briger Forest?
The Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resource Management (ERM) had previously recognized Briger as a property worthy of protection and listed it as a priority for acquisition into the County’s Natural Areas program. The County is now partial owner of 70 acres on the property, directly across from the FAU Jupiter Honors College campus. A small portion of this area could be used as a public pedestrian entrance to the forest as an educational area for environmental study of the this endangered species habitat, allowing the partnership with FAU and the County to continue where the Scripps plan is left off. The private land, which may likely be beyond the County’s budget to purchase, could be offered Conservation Easements to ensure its protection in perpetuity. This would also allow the horse stalls on the south end to continue using the existing trails and providing a source of revenue for the landowners. This is one version of a possible, workable alternative. There may be others, but first we must take Scripps off the table to move forward.
10. Are there better Biotech companies that could help Florida’s economy?
No. We feel that biotechnology must be attacked as a matter of principle, as it poses a threat that could radically transform fundamental human values which have existed for thousands of years. It threatens to pollute the very DNA fabric of life. And it puts far too much power in the hands of the economic/social system that is destroying the planet and subjugating people around the world.
This system is dependent on the instrumental role it expects the biotech industry to play in its future. It is for this reason also that we are committed to stopping the expansion of Scripps. We intend to defend Briger forest, and we also seek to strike a blow at the biotech industry and the entire civilization that is killing us for profit and control.
Any other questions?
Please send them our way: evergladesearthfirst [at] gmail.com
Some more Scripps/Briger details
From the Palm Beach Post, 3/30/2010:
-Except for 70 acres owned by Palm Beach County, the 683-acre Briger property is under four owners. They are Paul Briger, David Minkin, Richard Thall and the Lester Family Trust. The families have owned parts of the property since 1990, according to county records.
-The county’s 70 acres are designated for Scripps expansion. Thirty of those acres were given to Palm Beach County by the Lester Family Trust. The other 40 acres were bought by the county for $400,000 an acre.
-The site plans must be approved for individual projects. The soonest construction could begin is early next year [meaning now], according to city planning officials. The Comprehensive Plan Approval changed the city’s comprehensive plan to alter the mixed-use zoning to allow biotech development.
“A delay or thumbs down on Briger would create more hurdles to attract biotech”, said Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO of the county’s business development board. “Florida is already battling an image of being too regulatory.”
Briger by the numbers
Total number of acres
Acres designated for Scripps spinoffs
Square feet planned for Scripps office and biotech research
Square feet planned for spinoff office and biotech research
Square feet planned for commercial/retail/office