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(US FL) Protect environment, or help ultra-rich? August 15, 2005 9:21 AM

 
Having moved from Florida I was an observer to this. It was heart-breaking.
 
 
Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted August 14, 2005
 
 
Years ago I spend months traipsing through south Lake County doing research on the environmentally sensitive Green Swamp.

The state then was in the process of trying to decide whether to continue giving its dubious protection of the 322,000-acre swamp.

For 30 years state officials have claimed they were protecting the swamp that is headwaters to five major rivers, maintains pressure for underground drinking-water supplies throughout Central Florida, serves to protect west coast residents from serious flooding and provides habitat for a wide range of wildlife.

But developers often see only the great potential to exploit the area for profit and don't fully consider the greater environmental damage they will leave behind.

Development interests continue to eat away at the swamp's edges in spite of all the safeguards, and the state periodically debates whether to even pretend to stop the developers.

For almost as long, the state has talked about protecting the equally sensitive Wekiva Basin in north Lake County from overdevelopment.

The results, unfortunately, are mixed as well.

The Clermont Chain of Lakes was granted Outstanding Florida Water program designation years ago to prevent its pristine waters from being spoiled.

But that hasn't stopped some homeowners from clearing out the healthful natural vegetation around the shoreline and installing white sandy beaches that will lead to the degradation of the water quality in the chain.

Protecting the environment shouldn't be all that difficult. If authorities don't want development around an environmentally sensitive area, they can stop it.

But it just never seems to happen.

Which is why I was so surprised when I spotted a story in the Moscow Times about masked and camouflaged environmental police storming a gated community of summer homes that had been built too close to an environmentally sensitive reservoir.

After a little arm-twisting, the offending dacha owners agreed to have their summer homes torn down.

That may be a little heavy-handed, but it would be refreshing to see authorities here be so protective of our natural resources.

Unfortunately, there may be more to the story than meets the eye.

At least one dacha owner claimed the raid was planned by Russian developers who want to build a golf course and yacht club at the site.

If that is the case, then the storming of the dachas near Moscow had nothing to do with environmental protection at all. It was merely an assault on the middle class by the ultra-rich.

Could the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, permitting local governments to seize homes and turn private property over to developers, encourage similar assaults here sometime in the future?

As with Russia, I suspect authorities here may be more aggressive protecting the interests of the well-to-do than preserving the environment for the good of the general public.

Of course, I hope I'm wrong.

Ramsey Campbell can be reached at 352-742-5923 or rcampbell@orlandosentinel.com.
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