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St. Joe dealt a blow, wetlands protected

Discussion in 'Real Estate' started by SoWalSally, Nov 12, 2005.

  1. SoWalSally

    SoWalSally Beach Fanatic

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    http://www.sptimes.com/2005/11/11/State/Wetlands_win_reprieve.shtml

    A federal judge Thursday put a halt to development that would destroy up to 2,000 acres of wetlands in the Florida Panhandle.

    A special permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers makes it too easy for the St. Joe Co. to build houses, apartments, offices, stores, warehouses and other projects likely to damage the environment, ruled U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan.

    The decision marks the third time this year a federal judge has ruled that the corps was too lenient in allowing the destruction of Florida wetlands.

    The decision could affect a plan by the state's home builders to get the corps to issue similar special permits for other regions of Florida.

    "People all over Florida are digging in and saying, "Enough!' " said Linda Young of the Clean Water Network, one of the environmental groups that opposed the Panhandle permit.

    Corrigan ordered St. Joe to stop work on a 1,300-home golf course development that environmental activists warned would destroy a lake in Walton County.

    The special permit covers more than 48,000 acres of the Panhandle, three-fourths of which belongs to St. Joe, the state's largest private landowner.

    Corps officials did not respond to a request for comment.

    St. Joe spokesman Jerry Ray said the ruling was "an unfortunate step toward reversing the permanent protection status of these wetlands and other conservation land."

    The corps approves more permits to destroy wetlands in Florida than any other state, and allows a higher percentage of destruction in Florida than nationally. Between 1999 and 2003, it approved more than 12,000 wetland permits in Florida and rejected one. So far this year it has denied five permits.

    Although federal policy since 1990 has called for no net loss of wetlands, a satellite imagery analysis by the St. Petersburg Times has found that about 84,000 acres of Florida's wetlands have been wiped out by homes, schools, stores and roads.

    The Panhandle permit, issued by the corps last year, was designed to speed up building on land that until now has been used for growing pine trees.

    For 60 years St. Joe was the state's biggest paper company. But starting in the mid 1990s, the company transformed itself into Florida's most ambitious developer, building homes and hotels, hospitals and schools, golf courses and shopping centers, theaters and restaurants, offices and industrial parks. A proposed 4,000-acre airport north of Panama City, which would wipe out about 2,000 acres of wetlands, is part of a separate application the corps is still considering.

    Normally St. Joe's many projects would require scores of federal permits for wiping out wetlands.

    Processing all those permits could take years, since each one would require posting a public notice that would invite comments from federal and state agencies, environmental groups, civic activists and potential neighbors.

    So, after three years of closed-door meetings with St. Joe executives, the corps issued a single regional permit setting guidelines for filling in wetlands. Between 1,500 and 2,000 acres of wetlands could be destroyed.

    Instead of a permit for each project, "the landowner designates where they'll have an impact and we issue a letter of approval," explained corps special projects manager Bob Barron in an interview last year. There would be no public notice.

    Judge Corrigan agreed with the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups that such regional permits are supposed to be issued only when they cover activities "similar in nature" and have only minimal effect on the environment.

    The corps argued that all the diverse St. Joe projects were "suburban development" and thus similar in nature. Corrigan said that made sense only if the phrase were "robbed of all its meaning." And he said so many projects would clearly have more than just a minimal effect on the environment.

    By granting the preliminary injunction, the judge found that the environmental groups would probably win their suit to overturn the permit. He has scheduled final arguments for February.

    In September a judge ruled that a corps permit for the controversial Scripps Research Institute in Palm Beach County failed to take into account the impact of the other development it is intended to spawn.

    In April another federal judge overturned a corps permit allowing Florida Rock to mine in wetlands in panther habitat because the corps failed to consider the cumulative impacts on panthers from all the other permits it issued in the area.
     
  2. Franny

    Franny Beach Fanatic

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    Good info SWS..could this be Watersound North and the lake they are referring to would be Lake Powell?
     
  3. Smiling JOe

    Smiling JOe SoWal Expert

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    I believe you are correct.
     
  4. Miss Kitty

    Miss Kitty Meow

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    Can anyone explain exactly what a wetland is?
     
  5. bsmart

    bsmart brain

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  6. DBOldford

    DBOldford Beach Fanatic

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    It's about time someone reined in that khakied band of beavers. All too often these projects are piece-mealed without benefit of any consideration of the cumulative impacts. Not just to biological ecosystems, but also to human life and property. Louisianna comes to mind this year... :bang: :rofl:
     
  7. Miss Kitty

    Miss Kitty Meow

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    Thanks bsmart.
     
  8. Rita

    Rita margarita brocolia

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    :clap_1: We need more judges like this.

    Filling in this much wetland could really mess up the ecosystems of the area, even if they were to mitigate it with wetlands elsewhere.
     
  9. ecopal

    ecopal Beach Fanatic

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    Now we need a judge to stop the armoring of South Walton beaches!
     
  10. TooFarTampa

    TooFarTampa SoWal Insider

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    Native of Tampa now in Boston 'burbs. Left my hear
    Good for that judge.

    Wonder whether this will have any bearing on the airport plan too? I still want to know more about wetlands affects of developing the airport property.
     
  11. kurt

    kurt Admin Staff Member

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    If true, what astounding evidence that development and population increases are changing the landscape and environment of Florida.
     
  12. SoWalSally

    SoWalSally Beach Fanatic

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    From Walton Sun

    JACKSONVILLE ? U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan on Nov. 10 approved the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council?s motion for an injunction to halt work at WaterSound North and other projects in Walton and Bay counties pending a review of the development order.
    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a regional general permit, on June 30, 2004 allowing St. Joe and other developers to develop 48,150 acres in Northwest Florida in the Lake Powell, Choctawhatchee Bay and West Bay watersheds along the U.S. Highway 98 corridor.
    The permit allowed development on 30 percent of the area and limited wetland destruction to no more than 1,500 acres.
    In his ruling Corrigan wrote, under the Clean Water Act, the Corps must issue an individual permit to discharge dredged or fill materials into navigable waters unless the various developments are subject to a general permit and ?similar in nature.?
    ?Nothing in this Order prohibits any party from seeking an individual permit for any specific project within the affected area,? wrote Corrigan.
    ?We are working to understand the court?s ruling,? St. Joe spokesman Jerry Ray said.
    ?This lawsuit is not about WaterSound North,? he said. ?This court ruling is not about environmental impacts at WaterSound North project or any of the others mentioned. Rather it is about the permitting process and paperwork to implement a broad scale, long-term ecosystem-based plan.?
    Following requests from environmental organizations that landowners, regulatory agencies, developers and lawmakers adopt a wide-scale ecosystem management style approach to environmental regulation and conservation, St. Joe began working with the Corps, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a largescale, long-term approach to permitting.
    ?St. Joe believes environmental protection and long-term planning are essential if we are to protect the quality of life in Northwest Florida,? said Ray. ?Approximately 1,200 people move to Florida each day, a trend that is predicted to increase over time. We can?t stop this migration, we can?t wish it away, but we can plan for it.?
    The parties were directed to attempt to mediate this case, and must provide information on a date and mediator by Dec. 1.
     
  13. SoWalSally

    SoWalSally Beach Fanatic

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    Protecting Wetlands Forever Through Ecosystem Planning

    By Peter S. Rummell

    Do you know the Gulf Coast's largest city south of Tampa? Is it Sarasota, Ft. Myers or Naples?

    The answer is Cape Coral, a city that was not even a cross roads on maps in 1950 -- just two generations ago.

    So, what about Northwest Florida? We are on the map already for sure, but what will our map look like two generations from now? While it might surprise some people, that is something we think about a great deal.

    The St. Joe Company is one of Florida's largest private landowners. In a few counties, JOE owns more than fifty percent of the land. We view this as a tremendous responsibility, one we take very seriously.

    As a business, our goal is to increase the value of our land. As a public company, we have a responsibility to our shareholders to do just that. But as a business -- and more importantly as a neighbor - we recognize that the best way to increase the value of our land is to protect its environmentally special qualities, and plan thoughtfully and carefully for the long term.

    A few in this community may question how well we do these things - but no one should question our commitment.

    During the past seven years, St. Joe has worked with responsible national environmental groups such as The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, as well as local environmental experts, such as the Bay Environmental Study Team (BEST), to protect more than 160,000 acres (250 square miles) of environmentally special land forever.

    St. Joe believes environmental protection and long-term planning are essential if we are to protect the quality of life in Northwest Florida. Approximately 1,200 people move to Florida each day, a trend that is predicted to increase over time. We can't stop this migration, we can't wish it away, but we can plan for it.

    Four years ago, St. Joe began working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a large-scale, long-term approach to development permitting that would incorporate what has been long-sought by environmental experts: broad ecosystem conservation which would vastly improve efforts to protect water resources and wildlife habitats.

    The first result of this effort was a Regional General Permit for approximately 48,000 acres in Walton and Bay counties. The purpose of the permit was three-fold: 1) To protect the 19 sub-basins in the watershed near the boundary between Bay and Walton Counties, 2) To protect approximately 33,000 acres, or 50 square miles, of wetlands forever, and 3) To identify, in advance, the approximately 15,000 acres within the area suitable for development.

    This approach was developed with multiple opportunities for public input. There were 60 days of public notice and everyone identified as an interested party was notified by mail. There were two public meetings, one in September 2003 and another in January 2004. A briefing was held in August 2003 with eight representatives from local citizen groups. Individual briefings were conducted with Bay and Walton county commissioners, the state legislative delegation, and staff from the offices of U.S Representative Allen Boyd and U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Bob Graham.

    Think about it. This is a very forward-looking approach to managing growth and achieving broad-range environmental protection. First, you identify what you want to protect, then you decide which areas are appropriate for development. Contrast this with the more typical piecemeal approach to development that has plagued so many other parts of Florida.

    So why did several groups, including the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club, go to federal court to get a temporary injunction to stop the use of this Regional General Permit? We don't know the answer to that question. However, a federal judge did issue a temporary injunction, and the community may lose the benefits that would result from the long-term planning that went into the Regional General Permit.

    Unfortunately, this challenge by NRDC and the Sierra Club focuses solely on the federal permitting process and paperwork, and completely loses sight of the environment.

    Their efforts certainly do not stop development. In fact, the court, in its ruling, specifically makes the older piecemeal approach, called Individual Permits, available for St. Joe and others.

    It is this same piecemeal approach to permitting and environmental protection that has resulted in the small isolated man-made ponds and wetlands dotting much of Florida's landscape, particularly in south Florida. Many of these ponds and wetlands are treated as hazards, surrounded by chain-link fences and create blight where there should be beauty. Is this truly the plaintiff's intended result?

    There are broader issues here that go far beyond a single court case, a single permit and a single landowner. There are important questions that must be considered: Do we want to plan and protect the environment for the long term, or do we want to see uncoordinated, piecemeal development? Does the lawsuit send a message to large landowners that there are penalties for comprehensive planning for the protection of the environment?

    If the plaintiffs win this case, they will block implementation of long-range, broad-scale ecosystem conservation in Northwest Florida. We have a great opportunity to achieve much better ecosystem conservation results than in the past; results that environmental advocates have sought for years; results that should not be overlooked in favor of piecemeal conservation and compromised planning.

    In St. Joe's view, the priority should be to protect the wetlands that are the key contributors to the overall environmental health of the region. That can only be assured through thoughtful, long-term comprehensive planning - the kind of planning that positions environmental protection in advance of development. The kind of planning that has gone into the conservation framework which is the basis for this Regional General Permit.

    Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We simply cannot repeat what was done in other parts of Florida and expect a better outcome.

    Peter S. Rummell is chairman and CEO of The St. Joe Company (NYSE: JOE).
     
  14. SHELLY

    SHELLY SoWal Insider

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    This must really have caused some irritation to make old Pete Rummell take time out from cashing out his monthly quota of a million-plu$ in JOE stock.

    So the government finally fired one across his bow. Damn those pesky wetlands and migratory birds...Pete's money-grab is at stake!
     

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