Swamp standoff between environmental activists and law enforcement
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01/07/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

Since Monday morning, a group of environmentalists has been engaged in a peaceful standoff with law enforcement outside a swamp in east central Florida. The Barley Barber Swamp is on the property of a huge Florida Power and Light (FPL) fossil fuel plant in Martin County.

An activist with Everglades Earth First!, who goes by the name Milo, is one of four activists holding vigil outside the swamp Wednesday afternoon. “[The ancient cypress trees are] literally dying of thirst due to the massive water consumption of FPL’s Martin County plant,” she said.

Milo said the environmental activists have had an amicable relationship with the law enforcement during the standoff that began after 30 to 40 people rallied a few miles away on Monday morning. Taylor Sanderson, a media liaison with Everglades Earth First!, said 30 of the protesters marched to a back entrance of the swamp following the rally.

“So folks marched five miles down this access road. And my understanding of the situation is that basically they got to the swamp entrance and there were members of several different law enforcement agencies, Martin County Sheriff, FBI, Homeland Security, just kind of like popped out of the swamp and said ‘Hey, you can’t come in here, this is trespassing, we’re going to arrest you if you cross this line.’ And so since then, a set number of protesters has been keeping constant vigil at the swamp, as have the law enforcement agencies.”

The Martin County Sheriff’s Office declined to be interviewed on tape but spokesperson Rhonda Irons wrote in an email: “The Martin County Sheriff’s Office continues to monitor four individuals that remained in the area following a peaceful protest in Indiantown. No disturbances have been reported and no arrests have been made. The individuals are currently in an area under the control of the South Florida Water Management District and have been warned against trespass onto FPL property. I am unable to provide you with the exact number of agency personnel assigned to the area. It is not the policy of this agency to reveal operational plans.”

Everglades Earth First!’s Taylor Sanderson called FPL’s Martin County power plant “the largest fossil fuel plant in the country.” She said the small section of old growth cypress swamp on FPL property adjacent to the plant was supposed to be preserved.

“The plant was originally permitted in the 1970s as a much lower wattage type power plant, I think around 400 megawatts it was supposed to be. So when the plant was built, there’s the plant and then there’s this 17-mile long cooling pond. And jutting out into the pond is this little tiny preserve of swamp; it’s only about 400 acres. And the original proposal was that the people who were building the plant were going to preserve this swamp that’s like the heritage of the people in Indiantown. Basically the oldest trees in Florida are in this swamp.”

The power plant and swamp are east of Lake Okeechobee and north of Palm Beach County. Sanderson said Earth First! has evidence that rather than being preserved, the swamp is being degraded because of the power plant, and they want FPL to reopen the swamp to scientists and the public.

“We basically want FPL to take accountability for what we see as damages being done to the swamp. The swamp was closed to the public in 2001 after September 11th attacks, I guess alleging security concerns. But we also have been working with scientists. We’ve been back in the swamp and we’ve noticed that the ground level is being lowered underneath these trees. And they’re very very old trees, very delicate trees, also very beautiful. We want FPL to take accountability for that -- reopen the swamp to the public.”

FPL declined to be interviewed but an email from FPL’s Sarah Marmion about the Barley Barber Swamp read, in part: “This unique ecosystem continues to thrive just as it has since FPL voluntarily preserved it more than 30 years ago. The swamp was closed to the public as a security measure in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Last year, we voluntarily started the process of reopening the swamp and will be working with local and state officials to devise an appropriate plan to do so. … We anticipate opening the swamp concurrently with the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center in 2010.”

The Everglades Earth First! activist at the site, Milo, said that as part of the greater Everglades, the Barley Barber Swamp should be better preserved.

Milo blames FPL for the destruction of natural systems in the swamp and other places throughout the state and is demanding accountability of what she called the “reckless” energy company.

WMNF asked Milo about the ultimate intent of the activists – whether she and the others would risk arrest and cross the line into the swamp. “We intend to reopen the swamp, yes.”

Everglades Earth First!

Martin County Sheriff’s Office

FPL

Indiantown, FL on MapQuest

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