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All in for the fight against FPL

Flight06BIG CYPRESS — Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger is hoping to fire up all Tribal communities into a united stand against a massive power plant that Florida Power & Light (FPL) wants to build right next door to the Big Cypress Reservation.

“We’re going to Naples to tell them about the invasion and then we’ll hit Hollywood, Tampa, Trail and Brighton,” he said. “We need them to join up with us in the fight.”

Armed with facts and a video featuring the West County Energy Center in Palm Beach County, a near replica of what FPL plans to build on 3,200 acres just north of the Big Cypress line, Councilman Tiger wants Tribal members to see what is at risk with their own eyes.

The proposed site, just 1 mile from the future Ahfachkee High School along Josie Billie Highway (County Road 833), is a proven habitat for the endangered panther, wood stork, eastern indigo snake and crested caracara.

Several archaeologically sensitive areas and some medicinal plants are also located on or near the site.

The plant, about three city blocks long and two blocks wide with towers 15 stories high, will be visible like a steel mammoth from the two-lane road, which is the only paved thoroughfare in and out of the reservation.

“People need to talk about the changes that already happened and hear about the changes that could happen next,” Councilman Tiger said.

Frank Billie Jr., of Big Cypress Council Compliance and Vincent Jimmie, of the Culture Department, are working with Councilman Tiger to emphasize the magnitude of potential loss to wildlife, culture, history and the Tribe’s rural tourist industry.

“It’s very scary,” Billie said.

The steam that would discharge from the towers will be seen far and wide across the rural horizon, he said. The towers will be visible from nearly every bucolic view, including the Tribe’s cultural tourism attractions Billie Swamp Safari and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. More than 22 million gallons of water per day, pumped from the underground Tamiami Aquifer, which is the main water source for all Hendry County, will be required to cool the plant.

At a meeting with Big Cypress residents in October, Andrew Bauman, a lawyer with Lewis, Longman & Walker who is representing the Tribe in an ongoing lawsuit to stop the project from moving forward, said the plant would be “the largest natural gas plant in Florida and one of the largest in the United States.”

Formerly a cattle ranch owned by the McDaniel family of Clewiston, the land was purchased by developer Eddie Garcia, of Virginia Beach, who was granted a zoning change from agriculture to Planned Use Development (PUD) by the Hendry County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). PUD allows for mixed compatible uses such as homes, businesses, recreation and industry.

Later, Garcia sold the land to FPL which proceeded to plan the plant. The Tribe went to court against the county to reverse the rezoning on grounds that the FPL plant will go against the county’s own land use guidelines.

But the battle was lost on claims that FPL’s plans were consistent with the Florida Electrical Power Plant Siting Act.

The ruling was overturned on appeal in June because an application for the plant had not been submitted. The court date has been rescheduled from January to April.

“We feel like we’ve been violated, raped and left on the side of the road to die,” Councilman Tiger said. “If we let this happen, our historical sites will be lost forever, the water will become contaminated and everything will go down from there.”