Washington, DC -- A coalition of national and Florida-based groups is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to veto ten wetlands development permits in Southwest Florida, arguing that the permits would violate the Clean Water Act. The ten projects are located in Lee and Collier Counties and represent the leading wave of plans to pave over a significant portion of the remaining undeveloped lands in the area outside of Naples known as the Western Everglades.
The ten projects would destroy nearly 2,000 acres of wetlands and impact thousands more acres of undeveloped uplands. The projects include five golf course developments, as well as new commercial and residential centers and a six-lane highway. A number of other mega-projects on the drawing board, including a new law school and associated city, are expected to follow if these ten projects are approved.
The coalition's "veto letters" cite how these projects violate the Clean Water Act and ask EPA to exercise its authority to veto any such permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Should the EPA allow the permits to proceed, the issues would become the basis for citizen suits under the Clean Water Act. In addition to the Clean Water Act concerns --
- Extensive development of the Western Everglades will eventually require the same type of multi-billion dollar restoration now occurring in the Eastern Everglades;
- The Corps has already permitted the destruction of 3,800 acres of wetlands since 1998. These ten projects will greatly accelerate the loss of wetlands in Southwest Florida; and
- Presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT) has already raised questions about these developments in letters to the EPA, Corps and Fish & Wildlife Service. The senator has also included questions about these projects to EPA Administrator-designate Mike Leavitt, whose nomination is now pending in the Senate.
"We are drawing a line in the sand with these projects," stated Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Executive director Jeff Ruch. "If these projects proceed in their current form then you can flush the rest of the region down a sinkhole."
The letters are based upon previous objections lodged by EPA staff and assembled by PEER. Two national organizations joining the PEER letters are the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club. In addition, a number of Florida-based groups are signatories, led by Council of Civic Associations, Inc. and including the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Responsible Growth Management Coalition, Florida Biodiversity Project, the Florida Chapter and the Calusa Sierra Club
Read Road to Ruin, the NWF/CCA report about how the government is permitting the destruction of the Western Everglades.