Commentary: Scripps on Briger Another Environmental Boondoggle

by Panagioti Tsolkas

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The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board got a few things right in the Dec. 14 editorial about Scripps and Briger: 1. It’s one of the few remnants of pine flatwoods and scrub left along the interstate …” 2. Yes, the risk of “[l]osing it has a group of environmentalists from Everglades Earth First! understandably upset.” 3. Indeed, we’ve “been documenting the tree-felling and road-building with grief and outrage.”

It would have been helpful if The Post went as far as telling its readers what we’ve been finding. First off, the number of gopher tortoises noted in the initial permits for the site was 12. Now that clearing land has begun on Briger, and the developers know that Everglades Earth First! and the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition have been collecting data (and using motion-detecting cameras which, I might add, are much more reliable for detecting wildlife than supposed “snake-sniffing dogs”), they have admitted to the presence of 75 tortoises in the area where the current work is anticipated to have an impact.

This new information places the actual number of burrows in Briger at likely over a hundred, with each one providing habitat for literally hundreds of other species — including some of Florida’s most endangered critters. It’s also worth noting that gopher tortoises are on the brink of being uplisted from “Threatened” status to “Endangered,” for the exact reason of developments like this.

And then you have the flora. Among the plant species facing extinction on the site are one of largest documented populations of hand fern in the continental U.S. We documented over 55 cabbage palm trees hosting the rare fern, by photo and GPS point. The developer’s permit listed two.

Briger’s location in the eastern corridor places it in an increasingly rare type of habitat. It’s for that reason that the county had previously discussed purchasing the land with bond money. While development has since turned it into an island, it is a large and very biodiverse island, and one that is surrounded by nearly a dozen school facilities in a 2- to 3-mile radius. Students could be using the forest as an educational resource, but they are losing that opportunity as you read.

Since clearing began last month, we have shown that the developers are working off of deeply flawed permits, including cutting a massive access road which never appeared in the construction permit from South Florida Water Management District.

It’s unfortunate that we taxpayers have had to foot the Scripps bill for the greed of politicians in Florida. But development of Briger is destined to bring more of the same. Residents of Palm Beach County should never forget that a majority of their some elected representatives resigned in disgrace for developer-driven corruption, starting the year after Scripps’ Mecca Farms plan bit the dust.

We also should never forget that Scripps and the county did not concede willingly in their plans for building on the Mecca and Vavrus properties. In fact, they were so arrogant as to start laying concrete at Mecca Farms before a judge was able to get around to pulling the plug. Several of us who fought Scripps out there, and ultimately defeated the plan, are the ones who went on to initiate the fight for Briger, after seeing what a rare treasure we all stood to lose.

This project has turned out to be yet another boondoggle, at the expense of animals, the environment and the people who live here.

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