Rick Scott will finish off what's left of Florida's environmental movement

PoliticsRick ScottArmed ForcesUnrest, Conflicts and WarActivism

If Rick Scott could create 1,000 jobs by barbecuing manatees, sea pigs would be roasting on a spit tomorrow.

They apparently taste like elephant.

Just how much outrage would that cause?

I'm beginning to wonder.

The green glory days are coming to an end in Florida.

And now we have a governor who pretty much will finish the job to a rousing round of apathy.

The end of a most amazing era is going out with a whimper.

Florida did things no state had done before. We rejected the massive flood-control projects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We stopped the Cross Florida Barge Canal. We restored the Kissimmee River. Next up was the Everglades. We spent billions of dollars preserving land.

We led the nation in abused kids and cheap jobs, but by God we had the best network of state parks in the country.

The environment was becoming an alpha issue in Florida, elevated to the level of education, taxes and crime. Any politician had to raise his right hand and swear allegiance whether he meant it or not.

The movement was led by the greatest armada of environmentalists ever assembled in a single state — Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Art Marshall and Marjorie Carr, to name a few.

Grass-roots groups like Friends of the Wekiva formed to fight local battles.

It was pave versus save.

We led the nation in both destroying and preserving natural lands.

We bought 2 million acres. We had the Conservation and Recreation Lands Program, Save Our Rivers, Save Our Coast, Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever.

What couldn't be bought was fought over.

The developers were armed with money, lawyers and lobbyists. The greenies countered with an army of intelligent and passionate activists who were well-versed in the intricacies of regulatory battle and usually backed by the media and public-opinion polls.

We had rules and regulations to protect everything from wetlands to beach mice. We had local planners, regional planners and state planners. We had five water-management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection. And behind them lurked even more federal agencies. There were zoning boards and governing boards, administrative hearings and lawsuits.

The forces of green would use each and every one of these assets in lengthy battles of attrition with the forces of concrete.

As one developer groaned: "It's like being attacked by ants."

That forced the inevitable compromises, the bigger retention pond, a few more acres of open space, a few less units per acre.

This is grueling, time-consuming activism.

It requires people with the affluence, passion and time.

Their ranks are thinning fast. The environmentalists I mentioned above are long dead. And I don't see them being replaced.

Nasty globs of algae infest our springs. Lake Butler is turning green. Dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon are dying. Red tide is blooming.

And who is there to care?

Rick Scott plans to abolish the Department of Community Affairs, gut the budgets of the water-management districts, and dispense with all those layers of rules, regulations and agencies. When you do these things, you lessen the need to compromise.

Scott also wants to dump the land-buying programs.

He wants to hand over the land we bought to the Department of Management Services, which traditionally oversees office buildings. I am guessing some will be put up for sale eventually.

There was a time when each of these proposals would warrant full front-page-Sunday treatment.

But there is 12 percent unemployment and a collapsing state budget.

As governor, Bob Graham wanted to turn green into a mainstream issue. This recession has taught us it remains a luxury item.

Florida's massive investment in its environment was funded by its massive growth. Every time a developer flipped property or sold a condo, it was money in the land-buying bank.

The enemy fed the insurrection, and now the enemy is gone.

What I see now are green-group professionals trying to rally masses who have more pressing issues to worry about.

This cannot sustain a movement that always took its strength from grass roots.

Most people here don't even know what the place used to be like. How can you miss what's gone if you never knew it was there?

And those of us who do will be gone soon enough.

mthomas@tribune.com or 407-420-5525

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