The hardcore environmentalists at Everglades Earth First sure know how to push FPL's buttons. All year, they've been waging a court battle against construction of a new power plant in Palm Beach County (right across the street from a wildlife refuge!). Today, they picked another fight with the energy giant, suggesting that FPL is killing thousand-year-old cypress trees and trying to hide it.
About 30 years ago, FPL bought the 455-acre Barley Barber swamp area -- a pristine swath of land home to ancient cypress trees and abundant wildlife -- and offered to voluntarily preserve it because it was adjacent to land where the company wanted to build its Martin County power plant. For years, the utility offered tours of the pristine area, but closed off access to the swamp after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, citing security concerns. (Yes, said FPL spokesperson Sarah Marmion, a terrorist could be hiding in the muck and scoping out the plant.) The area never re-opened.
Earth Firsters allege that FPL has more sinister motives for keeping the area closed. Russ McSpadden, an activist from Everglades Earth First!, paraphrased hydroecologist Sydney Bacchus, saying the plant uses so much water that trees in the area are dying of thirst. "The FPL power plant sucks up water so fast from the aquifer that it is pulling the soil down below, leaving the roots of these ancient trees exposed. The whole place is collapsing."
The environmentalists held a protest/picnic in the area of the swamp today -- and they were well aware they might be greeted as "ecoterrorists" by some men in uniform.
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"Local landowners told us they have gotten a request by [the sheriff's] emergency field force to use their land [to intercept us," said activist Panagioti Tsolkas. "They said, 'We hate the sheriff, so we said no.' The officers are probably out there sweating their asses off in riot gear. We hope they get bitten by fire ants, and let us have our picnic."
FPL's Marmion told New Times that the group's claims have "no merit" and that FPL plans to reopen the site in 2010, in conjunction with an opening ceremony for its 75-megawatt Next Generation Solar Energy Center.
-- Deirdra Funcheon