Rural America Under Siege - 

by Madeleine Fortin

from OC3 newsletter
Posted 5/9/02

Excerpts; Letter to the Paragon Foundation, NM; from East Everglades Legal Defense Foundation, FL; 3-2-02

The community I live in is called the "8.5 Square Mile Area" by government agencies. I call my community Pariah, Florida. It lies along the eastern edge of Everglades Nat'l Park. Several thousand people live here. For the most part they're Cuban. They came here because they believed that they would be treated with fairness and honesty by our democratic government. Little did they know what was going to happen to them.

The community is made up of small, family-owned farms and ranches. Most farms are five to ten acres. Over half the land in the area is used for some form of commercial agricultural production. We produce tropical fruit, winter vegetables, herbs, cut flowers and honey. People have plant nurseries. They raise pigs, goats, horses and chickens.

The area has been granted flood protection by Congress on three separate occasions, but because of radical environmentalists hiding in state and federal government agencies my community has been flooded unmercifully since 1994 in an effort to force people to become "willing sellers." In the process of flooding us the government agencies involved in "restoring" the Everglades have managed to flood the entire Miami-Dade County area twice in a one year period. So far there has been at least $1 billion in flood related losses and 14 flood related deaths throughout the urban and agricultural areas of the county. The agricultural community in the southern part of the County is literally on it's knees. Fifty year old avocado and mango groves are dead. To the government they're just more "willing sellers."

Flooding has destroyed my community's way of life. Over half of the 55 miles of unpaved roads in the community are no longer passable to regular vehicles. Year after year, people have lost crops, orchards and livestock. The flooding is not a natural event - it has been engineered by government agencies that are "restoring the Everglades." As one man who was forced by the flooding to become a "willing seller" said at a public meeting, "You use water as a weapon!" Another man told me just before he sold his home to the government, "They've killed the American Dream."

In 1989, Congress passed the Everglades Natíl Park Protection and Expansion Act. This Act told the park it could buy up all the vacant land in Northeast Shark River Slough. It also told the Corps of Engineers to do two things: provide the park with a more natural hydrologic regime, and to protect the communities that would be impacted by this. The exact legislative language reads, "The Secretary of the Army is authorized and directed to construct a flood protection system to protect the developed land within such area." (PL 101-229, Sec 104)  The Corps developed the Modified Water Delivery Project to do what Congress ordered. This project was Congressionally approved and fully funded in 1992. How could they screw this up?

In 1994, all forward movement on our little flood protection canal stopped. It seemed the park wanted a "buffer zone." In the years since then the Corps has developed a "compromise alternative" which puts a canal up the most populated street in the community. This leaves half of the community unprotected and costs over three times as much as the original project. The Corps doesn't even have Congressional authority to condemn land outside the foot print of the original project and funding for the project is uncertain. In the process of choosing this "compromise" solution the Corps, along with it's allies, the Natíl Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Corps local sponsor, the South Florida Water Management District, has committed fraud, violated NEPA, abused the Endangered Species Act, committed numerous violations of it's own administrative procedures and wasted over $15 million in tax money - all in an effort to take our homes and farms away from us!

It's bad enough for the government to do this to us, but in the process of holding up completion of the Modified Water Delivery Project, the involved agencies are unable to release water into the park in the volumes necessary for ecosystem functioning. Rather than let the excess water out to tide, the water is being stockpiled in the state owned Everglades north of the park. This has turned the area into an inland sea. More than half the tree islands are dead and endangered species are being impacted. Because of the hydrology of the area, water stockpiled above the surface in one place will soak into the ground and raise the ground water throughout the County. When there is a heavy rainstorm the water has nowhere to go and the entire County floods. The agricultural area just south of my community has been devastated by the flooding.

It seems that all over the US rural communities are under siege. Excess regulation in the name of "preserving the environment" prevents reasonable use of our land while unfair trade treaties flood our markets with cheap foreign produce. Small rural communities are often poor, sparsely populated and politically powerless. How can we protect ourselves from the actions of our own government? Perhaps if other communities like mine band together we can make our voices heard in Washington [DC].

Thank you for your interest in my community's problems. I hope we can work together.

 [signed] Madeleine Fortin, President; EELDF, 21801 SW 152 Street, Miami, FL 33187; phone 305-255-7098;  e-mail: mfortin@bellsouth.net

Excerpts; Letter to the Paragon Foundation, NM; from East Everglades Legal Defense Foundation, FL; 3-2-02

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