Will FPL Run Power Lines Through the Everglades?

Florida Power & Light could soon be allowed to run power lines through Everglades National Park. They would deliver power from Turkey Point nuclear power plant to points north. The National Park Service is accepting public input on the matter until March 18.
The Park Service never followed through on its threat, leaving us in a conundrum today.

Here's the backstory, as explained by Matt Schwartz, director of the South Florida Wildlands Association: A long time ago, FPL bought up tracts of private land that ran north and south, expecting that one day it might need to add more power lines. Twenty-five years ago, with the Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act of 1989, park boundaries were expanded. Suddenly, FPL's land was now inside the park.

Congress authorized the National Park Service to buy the land from FPL. In 1996, the Park Service moved to buy it for $110,000. The Park Service warned that if FPL didn't agree, the agency would move to seize the land through eminent domain.

Moni3 via Wikimedia Commons

For whatever reason, the Park Service never followed through on its threat, leaving us in a conundrum today.

In 2009, a federal omnibus public lands bill authorized another plan: The Park Service could, rather than buy or seize FPL's land, trade it for a north-south tract on the eastern side of the Everglades — still inside park boundaries.

Problem is, now FPL has the leverage.

One way or another, the Park Service needs to get FPL out of the way, Schwartz explains. "You know the new bridge they just built at Tamiami Trail? This corridor is directly below the new bridge. We don't have flowage — water is not flowing under it — and one of the reasons is that FPL's old utility corridor is underneath it." So the park needs that land for Everglades restoration.

But instead of passively owning the land, FPL intends to erect utility poles, part of its plan to add two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point. (That's a whole separate bad idea, Schwartz says. "Climate scientists say we're going under [water because of sea level rise], and they want to put two new nuclear reactors right next to the one that got hit full-force during Hurricane Andrew and lost communication and outside power?")

"It's a shame," Schwartz says. "In 1996, the price was $100,000. Now, FPL is going to jack it up." He says he's heard whispers that FPL will ask for $100 million.

Still, he says, buying out the power company is the best option. Then FPL will be forced to buy private land and put its corridor outside the park. Schwartz explains a draft environmental impact statement has been created. It specifically states buying out FPL and forcing the utility to go elsewhere is the "environmentally preferred alternative." He says FPL is "already working on alternative corridors."

He doubts FPL would try to erect utility poles in the corridor it owns now. "They could try, but it's highly unlikely to get permitted by the Army Corps."

However, he's afraid the Park Service will opt for the land swap because that way "they don't even have to come up with money" to buy out FPL.

Submit comments to parkplanning.nps.gov. The Park Service will make its decision in the coming months.

 
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