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:

131216-7_DrftStaffRpt(2)

131119-5_DrftStaffRpt(2)

contact person: Rachel Kijewski (707) 902-3262

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