by Julius Whigham II / Palm Beach Post
Holding signs urging others to “Stop The Cutting” and “Protect Our Forest,” dozens gathered Friday afternoon to voice their opposition to construction at a 681-acre forest that is one of the last undeveloped stretches along Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County.
About 35 people gathered at the Briger tract site, at the corner of Donald Ross Road and Central Boulevard, for a protest organized by the activist environmental group Everglades Earth First! The group contends that the Briger tract is home several endangered and threatened species, including the gopher tortoise and the Eastern Indigo snake. The land should be kept wild, protesters said Friday.
“Briger Forest is just a drop in the bucket compared to the overall destruction that we’re wreaking on this planet,” said Lake Park resident John Pope. “But it happens to be a destruction that’s happening in our back yards.”
Lake Worth resident Ryan Hartman, a volunteer with Everglades Earth First!, said the group hoped Friday’s protest would raise awareness about the forest, across Donald Ross Road from the Scripps Florida campus.
Palm Beach County assembled the tract several years ago to meet the residential and commercial needs created by Scripps’ arrival, including new biomedical companies or spinoffs the institute attracted. Palm Beach Gardens officials already have approved a Kolter Group plan to build 360 houses and townhomes there, and a development arm of the Florida Crystals sugar company has proposed building 361 luxury apartments and townhomes at the site.
“There’s a lot of endangered species that are living in that forest and there hasn’t been a satisfactory plan about what’s going to happen to them,” Hartman said. “Florida has enough mini-malls and houses and complexes.”
West Palm Beach resident Carmen Enze, 48, and her daughter, Iris, were among those joining the protest.
“I’ve lived in this area my whole life and I’ve seen the over-development and how it’s changed everything,” Enze said said. “This is one of the last wild areas that I can remember that’s been being developed.”
As the group held signs, waved flags and waved as drivers of some passing cars honked their horns, Palm Beach Gardens police officers kept close watch nearby. But the protest was held mostly without incident.
Hartman said that Everglades Earth First! group will hold another protest near the construction site next week, and may hold others later this month.
“The more people that see us and go to our website or come out and join us, then the more people we have sign petitions, go to City Council meetings or to protest,” he said.