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FPL issue goes beyond Seminole backyard

MIAMI — Environmentalists, at a recent public hearing hosted by the National Park Service (NPS), overwhelmingly supported a plan to purchase property owned by Florida Power & Light (FPL) inside Everglades National Park.

The purchase would add 320 acres to the park and bolster Everglades restoration efforts, enhance protection of the park’s fragile ecosystem and stop FPL’s long-standing plan to build a 6-mile stretch of 10- and 15-story transmission line corridor on property surrounded by protected land.

South Miami mayor Philip Stoddard, a biology professor at Florida International University (FIU), said the mere thought of bringing a string of electric power lines into or next to the park is “bizarre.”

“This is like the theater of the absurd,” Stoddard said.

The transmission lines could impose long-term to moderate impacts on Native American interests.

For example, the view from the Miccosukee Gaming Resort, located due east, would turn from a bucolic tree line to an industrial metal skyline.

Here’s background: Since the 1970s, FPL has owned the roughly 7.4-square-mile property, then located outside of the park. In 1989, Congress expanded the park which then surrounded FPL’s privately owned land.

NPS, in 1996, offered FPL $110,000 to buy the land or take it by eminent domain, but neither idea moved forward. A 2009 federal omnibus bill, which approves an action but does not mandate it, provided that NPS could trade the outside land for FPL’s inside stretch.

Now, after four decades of discussions and no resolution, FPL is closer to building the transmission corridor to support transmission at the nuclear Turkey Point power plant 36 miles south while the NPS, Army Corps of Engineers and other environmental agencies are in the midst of massive Everglades restoration efforts.

At the public hearing, FPL’s chief of Planning and Compliance for the National Park Service Brien Culhane, reviewed five “alternatives” for acquiring the land from FPL – as stated in a nearly 900-page environmental impact statement.

One alternative to the outright purchase of the property includes a land exchange that would decrease FPL land by 60 acres and move it to the park’s east perimeter along SW 187 Ave. where transmission lines would be erected. The company’s current plan would fill about 100 acres in the Everglades at the eastern edge of the Northeast Shark River Slough.

Dan Kimball, superintendent of the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Park, opened the public meeting at FIU in Miami to a group of nearly 100 environmentalists and local residents. He said the acquisition is extremely important.

“It’s about bringing more water into the slough, keeping all interests on Tamiami Trail healthy and continuing the bridge (Tamiami Trail Modifications Project),” Kimball said.

The project, now 75 percent complete, is elevating the Tamiami Trail to allow more water to flow into the Everglades.

FPL senior director of Development Steve Scroggs said the utility company has been working with the NPS to find a solution all along.

“It’s been a long road…and we have been trying patiently to find agreements,” Scroggs said.

FPL is endorsing another option of trading land for land which means transmission lines will eventually border the park.

To read more about the issue, visit www.ParkingPlanning.gov/ever then click on Acquisition of Florida Power & Light Company Lands in the East Everglades Expansion Area.

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