Kolter Group CEO Bobby Julien lives in a swanky beachfront mansion, but the animals that are being displaced by his company have no such homes. That's the message environmentalists hoped to convey this past weekend.
Julien's company has begun to develop an area known as the Briger Forest — one of South Florida's largest untouched ecosystems east of I-95. His group started construction of the area, in Palm Beach Gardens, last fall, ruining animal habitat. But last week, an anonymous group of local environmental activists blockaded the CEO's driveway with debris from the deforestation Julien's company caused: a mound of branches and logs.
"Activists... wanted to bring the destruction of the tortoises’ home directly to the front door of Kolter Group," the group elusively posted online below photo evidence, "showing them a little taste of what the inhabitants of the Briger Forest now face on a daily basis."
This comes after a years-long saga among the activists, the development companies, and the county. As one of the last tracts of untouched land in South Florida, the activists want to preserve it for the gopher tortoises, snowy egrets, and wood storks that the forest houses. The Kolter Group, however, envisions biotech office space, a 300-room hotel, and homes on the land.
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From tree sit-ins to arrests and filing legal challenges with the county, the activists have tried almost every maneuver to keep the bulldozers from leveling the 700-acre preserve. But after two petitions were unsuccessful — one alleging that the plans would harm the Eastern Indigo snake, an endangered species, and the other that no hazardous waste plan was submitted — construction began last fall. (The one filed about the hazardous waste plan is being appealed.)
But as of June 18, the activists have filed another petition successfully with the South Florida Waste Management Department (SFWMD). After gathering more than 200 signatures, the activists should be granted a hearing where their concerns will be addressed formally. In the meantime, development is halted.
This would not be the first time environmental concerns brought million-dollar development plans in Palm Beach to a halt. In 2010, protected citrus land kept developers from turning the 1,919-acre Mecca Farms plot into a biotech facility. The mistake cost taxpayers $100 million.