Clearing of Rare South Florida Forest Begins for Development of “Biotech City”

Activists Find Flaws in Permits and Plans for Land Clearing and Relocation of Endangered Plants and Animals

by an Earth First! Newswire office overrun by Everglades Earth First!ers

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After ten years of opposition to state- and county-backed efforts to construct a biotech hub in Palm Beach County, Florida—where the rare Briger Forest currently stands—developers are now clearing land under suspicious circumstances. Since 2010, opponents of the “Scripps Phase II” project have cited the presence of gopher tortoises, rare native ferns, and other threatened and endangered species as reasons to stop the proposed development of the Briger Forest.

Despite these concerns, The Scripps Research Institute—a California-based biomedical company with a campus across the road from the threatened forest—are moving forward on their plans of expansion. Last week, members of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC) and Everglades Earth First! (EEF!) discovered that Ranger Construction Industries had begun clearing a large segment of the southeastern portion of the Briger Forest.

The clearing of forest marks an unofficial groundbreaking for the construction of a proposed biotech city revolving around “Phase II” of the Scripps Florida laboratories. As with much of the planning surrounding Scripps, activists say that it appears plans for this access road were made behind closed doors.

As of November 9, an area approximately half a mile long and over 100 feet wide had been cleared out of the Briger Forest.

Before construction began only weeks ago, the dense forest of pine flatwoods and saw palmetto rarely saw any traffic aside from the occasional horse riders out of the Wandering Trails stable next door. The forest is home to bobcats, armadillos, raccoons, and ground likens, as well as threatened and endangered animal and plant species, including the gopher tortoise, hand fern, royal fern, and native species of bromeliad. It is also suitable habitat for the Eastern indigo snake—an endangered species at serious risk due to habitat loss.

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On November 7, 2014, members of Everglades Earth First! responded to news of the work being done by locking themselves to a disabled van blocking the entrance to the construction zone. The blockade successfully kept out workers and excavation machinery for over four hours, while alerting local residents and the media to the destruction being carried out in the Briger.

The same day, PBCEC members visited Palm Beach Gardens City Hall to request permits for the clearing of the forest, but city staff were unable to locate a land clearing permit for the construction taking place. The following business day, when PBCEC members returned to City Hall, city staff were suddenly able to locate the permits, which—though dated 10/22/2014—seemed to have been hastily filled out the night before. Information missing from the permits included: Project Name, Project Address, APN, Subdivision, and Development. Not to mention that the “Total Square Footage” of the land clearing permit is listed as 0, despite the fact that hundreds of feet of forest have already been cleared.

missing info briger permit

Read the full permit here.

The weekend after the blockade, a clandestine monitoring team surveyed and documented the impacts of work in preparation for ongoing legal challenges to the clearing operations. PBCEC has been engaged in a legal battle over the destruction of the Briger Forest for the past four years, and the group believes the current work is being conducted in violation of state, federal and local laws intended to protect threatened and endangered species.

In past months, activists have used game cameras to document gopher tortoise activity in the Briger Forest. The gopher tortoise is classified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) as a threatened species. The permit map from EW Consultants, Inc.—a natural resource management, wetland, and environmental permitting services group—lists 75 known gopher tortoise burrows in an area that constitutes approximately 25% of the land slated for construction (Map A). Additionally, PBCEC and EEF! have documented gopher tortoise locations in the area that has already been cleared by Ranger Construction Industries (Map B). Each burrow that is removed is a nail in the coffin of the federally endangered Eastern indigo snakes that are expected to be living on the property. Eastern indigo snakes are known to cohabitate with gopher tortoises, and FWS has documented that they expect there to be six such snakes living on the property. The future of threatened species on the property seems to have been disregarded by Scripps and the city of Palm Beach Gardens, who are moving forward with their plans to build strip malls and biotech labs in this critical and rare habitat—with inadequate and questionable permits backing them up.

 

Map A—EW Consultants, Inc., lists 75 known gopher tortoise burrows in an area that constitutes approximately 25% of the Briger Forest.

Map B: Volunteer surveyors have documented hand fern and gopher tortoise burrow locations in the area of the Briger that was recently cleared for development.

Members of PBCEC and EEF! have also joined together to conduct an extensive study of the resident population of endangered hand ferns in the Briger (Map B). Where the developers’ consultants only located two ferns on the entire site, volunteer surveyors located and documented the presence of over 50 cabbage palms hosting hand fern colonies. This research revealed the Briger to contain one of the largest concentrations of hand ferns in the entire continental United States.

EEF! and PBCEC have been fighting to protect the Briger Forest since 2009. The campaign has included legal challenges, petitions, public outreach, public comments, protests, and civil disobedience—including treesits and last week’s blockade. The groups will continue to challenge the destruction of the Briger Forest, which has only just begun. But time is running out.

Get involved:

– Call Palm Beach Gardens Code Compliance and tell them to stop clearing the forest: (561) 799-4245

– Email Palm Beach Gardens City Officials:

Mayor Bert Premuroso <rpremuroso@pbgfl.com>
Vice Mayor Eric Jablin <ejablin@pbgfl.com>
Council Member Joe Russo <jrusso@pbgfl.com>
Council Member Marcie Tinsley <mtinsley@pbgfl.com>
Council Member David Levy <dlevy@pbgfl.com>
City Manager Ron Ferris <rferris@pbgfl.com>

Join Everglades Earth First! in protest this December

Donate to Everglades Earth First!’s action and legal fund

PROTEST AT SCRIPPS LABS HIGHLIGHTS ANIMAL TESTING, FOREST DESTRUCTION AND AETA

 

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL—The Scripps Research Institute, a biomedical company based in La Jolla, CA, with joint operations in Jupiter, FL, was the target of a protest on Saturday, September 6, at 10:00 AM. Everglades Earth First!, a local environmental group, protested the company’s plan to expand their Jupiter campus into the Briger Forest—a 681-acre area in Palm Beach Gardens that is one of the last remaining unprotected forests of its size in the southern region of the state. The protest also called for opposition to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a law that labels animal rights and environmental activists as terrorists.

Everglades Earth First! and the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition have been fighting to protect the Briger Forest since 2009, and their campaign against Scripps has included legal challenges at the state, county and federal levels; hundreds of signatures in support of protecting the forest; speaking events all over the state; countless rallies; and three treesits in the Briger itself. The group is concerned about the lack of adequate conservation plans for the threatened gopher tortoise and the endangered Eastern indigo snakes in the area, as well as the 11 other state and federally listed animal and plant species for whom the Briger Forest is suitable habitat.

John Waters, an atmospheric scientist and research ecologist who has been tracking global climate change since the 1970s, believes the expansion will have severe impacts on the climate: “Ecosystem destruction of any kind anywhere is and always has been a climate issue. Destruction of the Briger Forest for yet more corporate commercial development in Florida serves no purpose whatsoever other than to make a relative handful of the very rich even richer. There is no sensible reason for anybody else in Florida to stand for it.”

Saturday’s protest was also a part of the National Weekend of Action Against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, three days of protests and events educating the public about the AETA and its implications on first amendment rights and the politically-motivated targeting of animal rights and environmental activists by corporations and law enforcement. Scripps’ plans for expansion include the construction of more animal testing laboratories, meaning that any opposition to the plan could fall under the label of terrorism under the AETA. Everglades Earth First! held the protest during this weekend to express their opposition to the law, and to demonstrate solidarity with Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff, two activists currently being charged under the AETA for allegedly freeing animals from fur farms in Illinois. Because the AETA could label them as “terrorists,” the two activists could serve up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

March against the AETA and Expanding Biotech Infrastructure

palmbeachscripps:

Join us in the heat to put the heat on Scripps!!!

Originally posted on :

On Saturday, September 6, Everglades Earth First! will be gathering to protest the destruction of the Briger Forest and the creation of animal testing laboratories.

This protest is being held during the National Weekend of Action Against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) [https://www.facebook.com/events/803468656341400], a nationwide weekend of workshops, protests and educational events intended to bring attention to the AETA. The AETA is a piece of corrupt legislation that essentially redefines all action and speech in defense of animals “terrorism.” The AETA threatens the free speech rights of every US citizen, and the ability for activists to create real change in defense of animals and the earth.

The Briger Forest is a 681-acre mix of freshwater marshes, hardwood forest and prairie that’s slated to become a commercial/residential offshoot of the Scripps biomedical research campus. It is home to the gopher tortoise, wood stork, the snowy egret and…

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Bobby C. Billie speaks for nature, against projects like Briger

By Tony Doris – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

PALM BEACH GARDENS —

Bobby C. Billie, 69, an independent Seminole, visited Palm Beach Gardens on June 5 to speak against developing the Briger property, a 681-acre forest slated as a commercial and residential offshoot of the Scripps biomedical research campus.

Ruddy cheeks, gray ponytail down his back and heart on his sleeve, he used his allotted three minutes to urge the City Council to scrap the development and save the forest. They voted 5-0 to approve the initial 360 houses and townhomes.

What about the Briger site troubled you?

It’s not only that particular area but all the natural environment is disappearing. We have to acknowledge the creator’s gift to the survival of the future generations. We can’t pass it on as concrete. We’re not going to survive.

I’m trying to make them acknowledge the importance of nature. That’s what our ancestors have been doing from the beginning of creation. Nature is important. Water is important. The air is important. Especially that some of those sacred sites, archaeology, digging up all those things. It’s important to acknowledge that. That’s why I go different places to speak.

After Palm Beach Gardens, you traveled to Naples?

It was a similar situation. It took us all day to wait to speak just for two minutes. But it’s important to us to make them understand what’s important besides dollars.

Troubling that no one seems to listen?

We’ve been dealing with that almost 500 years. So it doesn’t bother us. But we have great concern what’s going to happen, the end of that life. That’s why we never give up our teaching in the right way to people.

Who is ‘we’?

Animals, trees, the winds and rains, the rivers and all of those things. It’s all connected with the gift of life. That’s why, connected with that, we say ‘we’ all the time. A lot of other indigenous people have no voice.

What tribe or clan are you part of?

We’re not enrolled in a recognized tribe. The reason we’re not enrolled is because it doesn’t make any difference. It doesn’t make the value of the life we have. What we have is who we are. When we enrolled in government, it changed the value of our way of life. We lose the land, the food, the natural way. It’s not like that anymore. We are who we are.

Where are you from?

We grew up in the woods, the one they call Everglades, the one they call Big Cypress. But now the people give them names, phrases, Big Cypress and Everglades. It didn’t used to be like that. I was born in the swamp, not in a hospital.

Do you have children and do they live your natural way?

I have six kids. They don’t live like me. Technology’s got a hold of them. I feel sad. But we have to try to be the best we can to survive.

Scripps Project at Briger Forest: Enviros File Second Legal Challenge

Reposted from the Fire Ant

Palm Beach Gardens city leaders greenlighted the bulldozers early this month, cheering on the clearing of Briger Forest, the last major tract of undeveloped land along I-95 in Palm Beach County. Jobs! Progress! Townhomes!

But as night follows day, local environmental activists soon replied with a renewed assault on the developers’ plans, pressing on with a challenge to the South Florida Water Management District’s permits for the project.

See also: Scripps Florida Expansion Faces New Legal Roadblock, Environmental Challenge

Briger Forest, while not virgin, is relatively unspoiled. Straddling I-95 north of Palm Beach Gardens, covering almost 700 acres of land, it is a mix of hardwood forest, freshwater marshes, and prairie, an important locale for migrating birds. In addition to the Eastern Indigo Snake, an endangered species, it is home to the gopher tortoise, wood stork, snowy egret, and hand fern.

The developers’ plans are tied to the local establishment’s Ahab-like quest for the White Whale of bioscience dollars, the idea that public investment in projects like the Scripps Research Institute will ultimately bring a flood of money and jobs to the area. (Meh.) Instead of wildlife, the suits see about 5 million square feet of biotech and office space on part of the Briger Tract, thousands of homes, a 300-room hotel, and assorted retail space.

The petition to the SFWMD, brought by three representatives of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition, charges that the district has failed to assure (1) adequate measures to protect the Eastern Indigo Snake and other Briger species and (2) a hazardous waste management plan sufficient to protect residents of the proposed housing, as well as to prevent pollution of the Intracoastal Waterway. The petition charges:

the current permits applied for cannot be approved without the submission of a hazardous waste plan at this part of the application process. The Scripps Research Institute of Florida across from the Briger Tract already tests on dangerous viruses and bacterias, uses radioactive substances, tests on countless mice and flies, and will be testing on dogs, cats, and even primates if Phase II opens its doors. With families within the planned development and families/individuals already living around the development, it is irresponsible to not provide this as public information and require it before approval of your permit.

The SFWMD’s position — as stated in an order of May 20 in which the enviros’ original petition was denied, with leave to amend — is that the petitioners lack standing to challenge the permits and that the objections to the permits have already been adjudicated.

The enviros’ latest filing mirrors charges brought in a notice of violation filed last fall with the Army Corps of Engineers and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. While neither agency has filed a formal response, FWS spokesman Ken Warren emailed this to New Times:

We’re standing by the decision outlined in our biological opinion issued on this project on March 23, 2011. We have no plans to amend or update that opinion. The bottom line: We don’t believe this individual, specific project jeopardizes the continued existence of the federally listed eastern indigo snake.

Do we really need more housing in Palm Beach County, so much so that Briger Forest must go? In the grandiose imaginations of local and state officials, the Scripps Briger project is part of a global war for economic primacy in which the “So-Flo mega-region” is up against high-tech mega regions in China, India, and Brazil. Briger Forest may simply end up as collateral damage.
Fire Ant — an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting — covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

PBCEC Challenges SFWMD’s Approval of a Construction Permit for Development in Briger Forest

On June 9, 2014 the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC) filed a Petition for an Administrative Hearing with South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) challenging the construction permit approved on April 9, 2014. After nearly five years of fighting the proposed Scripps Development of the Briger Forest, the Coalition continues move forward in their efforts to save the 682+ acre forest in Palm Beach Gardens. Rachel Kijewski states:

We have attended Palm Beach Gardens commission meetings, filed an initial administrative petition in 2010, held several rallies against the project, done extensive research into the wildlife impacts to the Briger Forest, and filed a letter of intent to sue the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers. We are seeking a denial of permit modifications and refusal of construction/operation activities.

The Briger forest is one of the last remaining sizable tracts of unprotected forested land in the eastern corridor of 1-95 as far south as Miami. It is a mixed public and privately owned site currently used for horse-riding and recreation. In its current state it is an uncommonly large and valuable piece of habitat in the eastern corridor of sprawling south Florida. The proposed project site is critical for various wildlife species including the federally protected eastern indigo snake. 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.

Starting on February 14, 2011, Everglades Earth First!, 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 by staging a six-week tree sit.

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.

Suki DeJong of the Sierra Club of Florida, Loxahatchee Group explains what the group is fighting for:

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.

SFWMD amended request for administrative hearing 6-9-14

below is the letter of intent to sue addressed to Fish and Wildlife Protection and the Army Corp of Engineers) 

9.18.13 Scripps Briger Notice Letter

Exhibit A – March 23, 2011 BiOp 

Exhibit B – January 19, 2010 Email

Exhibit C – February 8, 2010 Email

Exhibit D – February 15, 2011 Draft BiOp

SFWMD Draft aproval notices:

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contact person: Rachel Kijewski (707) 902-3262

TONIGHT! Palm Beach Gardens decides on Briger Housing Development!!

Where:     Palm Beach Gardens City Hall-Council Chambers 10500 N. Military Trail
When:      June 5th 7pm
What:       Palm Beach Gardens decides on Briger Housing Development!!

Please join us tonight to oppose the first phase in developing the Briger
Forest. Palm Beach Gardens city council will be holding quasi-judicial
hearings regarding the first phases of development which regards the
approval of 360 new dwellings set to be in the heart of the eastern portion
of Briger.

Please come out and show your support to save the forest! We are asking
people not just to come out, but be prepared to speak to the city council.
Public comment on this usually is 2-3 minutes unless special provisions
allow.

Come out and say NO to resolution 30!

For ride info or more information contact us at:
(707) 902-3262
or pbcecoalition@gmail.com

Click the link below for more info:
https://egov.pbgfl.com/weblink8/ElectronicFile.aspx?dbid=4&docid=1218054&openpdf=%E2%80%9Dtrue%E2%80%9D

Here is the link to the pic of the site:
http://pbgfl.com/filestorage/74/118/2180/Town_Center_Location_Map.pdf

Announcing: Fight or Flight Tour

Originally posted on :

Please make time to attend this tour coming to  Florida July 22nd~24th. Reposted from  fightorflighttour.org 

This summer, The Bunny Alliance, Resistance Ecology, and the Earth First! Journal present the Fight or Flight Tour, a collaborative nationwide tour with three distinct objectives: 1) to intensify The Bunny Alliance’s campaign against Delta Air Lines and the broader Gateway to Hell campaign to end the transport of animals to labs, 2) to share skills and build connections within the grassroots animal and ecological activist movements, and 3) to promote coalition building and solidarity with a diversity of movements and communities.

To increase the mounting pressure on Delta concerning the airline’s intimate relationship with Air France and the transport of animals to labs, the Fight or Flight Tour will hold protests at Delta airports, cargo offices, laboratories, and the houses of board members and executives. We will bring the campaign home to…

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