Olustee 2005  
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DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Polk and Sumter counties of Florida


Explore, Enjoy and Protect The Planet


March 2005 Newsletter Articles


Keep Sewage Out

Sierra Club Files Suit After Bush Administrations Fail to Protect Communities

In mid February the Sierra Club filed a federal Safe Drinking Water Act lawsuit to prevent treated sewage from being discharged into and contaminating drinking water supplies in Florida. The suit was filed against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. For over a decade, the state has failed to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act and as a result Miami-Dade County’s daily injections of 112.5 million gallons of treated sewage underground are migrating up into drinking water aquifers.

"Today, the Sierra Club is acting to protect Florida’s drinking water supply from sewage contamination because the Jeb Bush and George W. Bush administrations refuse to enforce basic safe drinking water laws," said John Glenn, Safe Drinking Water Issue Chair of the Sierra Club’s Florida Chapter. "The state and federal governments are allowing more sewage to be pumped underground and are taking insufficient steps to prevent this sewage from leaking into drinking water supplies. "According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the South District Facility is the largest underground injector of municipal sewage in the state. Florida is the only state that injects sewage underground, and it has some of the worst geology for this practice, leaving drinking water supplies – and Florida residents – vulnerable. Raw sewage typically contains bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that can cause a variety of illnesses, from mild gastroenteritis (stomach cramps and diarrhea) to life-threatening illnesses such as cholera, dysentery and infectious hepatitis. From 1999-2000, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that there were 39 disease outbreaks associated with drinking water.

"The Jeb Bush and George W. Bush administrations are failing to protect communities and their water supplies," said Kristin Henry, Sierra Club attorney who was in Tallahassee for a press event recently. "There is a better way. The Bush administrations should support building adequate infrastructure and provide necessary funds to protect Florida’s drinking water and communities." The Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits injecting sewage if that sewage migrates into a drinking water source and could endanger public health. It also requires the state agency to take corrective action as soon as migration of sewage is detected.

The South District facility in Miami-Dade County has a long-history of violations. For more than a decade, monitoring data has revealed that sewage is migrating into sources of drinking water. However, the Jeb Bush administration has never followed up on these violations, which threaten Florida’s drinking water supply. Instead the Jeb Bush administration has allowed the facility to increase the volume of sewage it can inject daily. In 2001, Jeb Bush actually wrote a letter to his brother, President Bush, asking him to relax the Safe Drinking Water Act’s requirements for Florida. The Bush administration is expected to relax those standards in the near future. "Sewage injection is one of the cheapest disposal methods, but the long-term costs to public health are likely to be expensive," said Dan Hendrickson, Legal Chair for the Sierra Club’s Florida Chapter. "If public health and safety are truly top priorities for the government, shouldn’t they enforce the law and provide adequate funding?"

President Bush just last week proposed a budget that cuts the Clean Water State Revolving Loan and Grant Funds, which provide money for water and sewage infrastructure, by more than $360 million. Combined with last year’s cuts, the President has requested more than $500 million less than what Congress enacted in 2003.
...Annie Strickler, Susie Caplowe\Florida Sierra

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A giant cattle ranch in Southwest Florida could soon become one of our state’s largest preserves if negotiations for the purchase of this property are successful. The citizens of Florida are very fortunate that the Babcock family has provided good stewardship of the ranch’s natural resources over the years. Now that the family is no longer interested in retaining ownership of the ranch, its future is uncertain. If preservation efforts are successful, Babcock Ranch could become one of the most important pieces of land ever purchased for conservation in our state. Actions are taking place to make this a reality.

picture by
Richard L Coleman


Babcock Ranch is located in Southeastern Charlotte and Northeastern Lee Counties. Its sheer size of 91,361 acres (143 square miles) makes it a critical habitat for many species, particularly large mammals such as the Florida panther and Florida black bear. There are very few tracts of land this large remaining in Florida to acquire for wilderness conservation which have such a high degree of biodiversity. The citizens of Southwest Florida are acutely aware of what will likely happen to the Babcock Ranch lands if preservation efforts fail. This is an area of our state where run-away growth has pushed the real estate market to extremes. Almost every subdivision in Southwest Florida has a long waiting list of purchasers for building lots at the asking price!

In addition to private fund raising activities, a coalition of federal, state, and county governments has been engaged in an all out effort to preserve this coveted property. What will likely make this acquisition successful is the commitment of the County Commissioners of Charlotte and Lee Counties. The two counties have "ponyed up" eighty million dollars to help assist in this acquisition.

The Babcock Ranch has been appraised at between 400 and 480 million dollars. Back in the fall of 2004, the state made an offer of 400 million dollars which was refused by the Babcock family. Negotiations came to a halt until Charlotte and Lee County Commissioners approached the Babcock Family and asked them what could be done to make a conservation purchase come to pass. The Babcock Family would like to see the ranch preserved and asked the counties for a "friendly condemnation" of their property. This would have offered them some tax benefits. However, it was then learned that the state will not enter into a land preservation deal that involves a "friendly condemnation". Unfazed by this hurdle, in January 2005, citizens representing a coalition of organizations dedicated to preserving the ranch made a trip to Tallahassee to make sure this property stayed on the Florida Forever acquisition list. Now the state is back in negotiations. The state has money that is separate from Florida Forever funds with which to purchase Babcock Ranch. Therefore, if the purchase is successful, it would not result in the drain off of all the money in the Florida Forever program for this year.

Back in July of 2004, the Babcock Preservation Partnership was formed. This is a non-profit corporation established by, but not limited to, the citizens of Charlotte and Lee Counties. Its sole purpose is to help assist in the conservation purchase of the ranch. The Caloosa Group of the Florida Sierra Chapter (from which our current State Chair John Swingle hails) was one of the first contributors to the Babcock Preservation Partnership. At present, this group is putting smaller contributions toward their operation’s expenses. The larger contributions go directly to augment the "cash pot" being put together for purchase.

Contributions range from modest to very large, and all donations are greatly needed and appreciated. If you would like to contribute to this effort, make a check payable to "Southwest Florida Community Foundation" with a note on the memo line of your check saying "Babcock Preservation Fund". Contributions can be mailed to Liz Donley, Charlotte Harbor NEP, 1926 Victoria Avenue, Ft. Myers, Florida 33901. They have a toll free number if you would like more information (866) 835-5785, extension 234. ....Al Greulich

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Cayo Costa State Park, located on a barrier island in the Charlotte Harbor area, has long been one of the favorite camping retreats for Sierrans from the land-locked Polk Group. It has coastal camping, great trails, and an interior rich in oak and pine. For years, however, the rangers have fought an exhausting battle to remove all exotics and restore the island to native vegetation. Unfortunately, the most conspicious tract of Austrailian pine, a seed-bed for the entire area, couldn't be touched. These large old trashy trees provided the only shade for the camping area and public out-cry stopped their eradication. Then came the hurricane season of 2004; the 100+ mph winds and the extensive flooding decimated the trees. The park was closed for four months and in that period of time the reconstruction crew cut and burned the exotics.

It is difficult to recognize the western, Gulf, side of the island now; it is ashy, vegetation is bedraggled, there are no tall shade trees. But give the island a year and it will be a marvel; the palmetto, sea grape, and palms are thriving. The public will have a true barrier island jewel to treasure.
...Frances H. Coleman

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Polk Naturefest 2005 April 9th

Celebrate the natural treasures of Polk County with entertainment, nature walks, environmental exhibits and children's activities on Saturday, April 9th, from 10 am to 2 pm, at Circle B Bar Reserve (between Lakeland and Winter Haven). Meet "Safari Todd" and an authentic 1870's Cow Hunter!

Enjoy Birding & Butterfly Basics, Landscaping for Wildlife, Hiking 101 and Nature Photography. Free admission and fun for the whole family. Circle B Bar Reserve - on State Road 540 (Winter Lake Road), two miles east of US Hwy 98.

Free Admission!

For more information, contact: Kelly Rote 863-534-2507


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Fifteen Candidates Compete for Five Slots

Another potentially contentious Sierra Club election is upon us. This year, not only are 15 candidates running for the board of directors, there are three ballot measures, two of which would alter rules for future elections, and a third about whether the Club should adopt a policy on limiting immigration into the United States.

The Sierra Club is a democratically structured organization that depends on members to make important decisions about its governance. "Democracy works," says Club President Larry Fahn, "but only if everyone participates." Voting in elections at all levels of the Club is both a privilege and a responsibility of membership, he says, and the Club requires a free flow of views on policy and priorities in order to function effectively.

Members will elect five representatives to serve three-year terms on the 15-member board, which oversees staff and volunteer activities, sets conservation priorities, and approves the annual budget.

The Population Ballot Question asks members: "Shall the Sierra Club policy on immigration, adopted by the Board of Directors in 1999 and revised in 2003, be changed to recognize the need to adopt lower limits on migration to the United States?"

The two other ballot measures propose changes to the bylaws that affect the election. Bylaws Change #1 would remove the requirement to provide space for write-in candidates on the ballot. Bylaws Change #2 requires one year of continuous membership in the Sierra Club in order to run for the board. (Currently, members can file a petition to run for office on the same day they become a member.) Last year, shortly after the Club election cycle ended, Fahn created the Sierra Election Reform Task Force, chaired by longtime leader Susan Heitman, and including representatives from various groups within the Club. The task force recommendations led to the proposed bylaws changes.

Seven of the board candidates were selected by the nominating committee, an eight-member body that reviews aspiring candidates every year and puts forward a slate of candidates. Eight candidates are running as petition candidates, which means that they have collected signatures supporting their candidacy from one-twentieth of 1 percent of members. (That’s 381 signatures for this election.) For in depth coverage of the candidates visit http://www.sierraclub.org/bod/2005election/

Overseeing the election to ensure fairness and resolve disputes are three "inspectors of election" appointed by the board. Chief Inspector Marvin Baker, a retired University of Oklahoma geography professor and member since 1968, says that the board acted in response to calls from grassroots leaders to involve the chapters in a more meaningful way in the election. "Our goal is to make the elections as fair and participatory as possible," he says. {Chapters will be allowed to endorse candidates for the first time}
...Inspector of Elections\National Sierra

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The Navy is proposing to use Avon Park Air Force Range (APAFR) for explosive air-to-ground ordnance training. The Navy must deploy combat-ready forces and considers training with live ordnance to be indispensable to achieving and maintaining combat readiness.

An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been prepared which evaluates the environmental effects associated with the Navy’s proposal: airspace; noise; range safety; earth resources; water resources; air quality; biological resources, including threatened and endangered species; land use; socioeconomic resources; infrastructure; and cultural resources. Areas proposed for increased activity are home to some of Florida's most imperiled species including the grasshopper sparrow, scrub jays and several very rare plants.

No decision will be made to implement the proposed action or any alternative until the NEPA process is completed.

Comments are due by March 14th. The EIS is available on the internet for review and comment at http://www.avonpark.ene.com/eis.asp
...Marian Ryan



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Olustee 2005


masthead picture: Olustee 2005 , published with permission
Copyright © 2003, Frances Coleman, All Rights Reserved

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