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Time To Slay Another Dragon At Fisheating Creek

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18 October 2012, 2:02 PM
Earthjustice sues to protect a 15-year-old victory in Florida
Fisheating Creek

As everyone involved in the environmental movement knows, we’ve got to stay vigilant with each passing year to make sure that that our victories don’t get undone.

So, on Oct. 2, the Florida office of Earthjustice filed suit to protect a landmark citizen’s victory that we won in a jury trial 15 years ago. Once again, we find ourselves sharpening swords to slay a dragon that we thought we’d already vanquished. And the newest move by the state has an Alice-in-Wonderland quality—the upside-down world.

In a nutshell, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is ordering a plan to build roads through wetlands—which, of course, it is supposed to be protecting—then using several hundred dump trucks full of sand provided by a giant agribusiness corporation to block a waterway which unquestionably belongs to the public. The corporation—the Lykes Brothers—owns most of the land along the waterway in question, a wild and scenic subtropical jewel called Fisheating Creek. The creek is in the southwest part of the state near the Everglades, and it is a tributary of Lake Okeechobee.

To add insult to injury, the state plans to fund this scheme with $3 million of taxpayer money to wreck wetlands and block us from boating and fishing on our own creek.

The fight to maintain the public’s right to use Fisheating Creek began in 1989, when Lykes felled cypress trees across the creek’s navigation channel and posted “No Trespassing” signs, claiming that the creek was not navigable. After several rounds of litigation, a jury concluded that Fisheating Creek is navigable, effectively ordering Lykes to stop blocking boaters from using the creek. Much of the dispute concerned whether there was an historic, navigable channel in the cypress swamps and marshes formerly used by boaters.

The state of Florida was with us in the battle to keep public access to Fisheating Creek. But the current administration under Gov. Rick Scott is hell-bent on reversing course on behalf of the Lykes Brothers corporation.

In our Oct. 2 filing in the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, we are representing Save Our Creeks and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida. Those two groups were plaintiffs in the lengthy legal battle with Lykes that ended with the landmark 1997 victory for boaters’ rights in Florida.

The current controversy started several years ago when Lykes claimed that the state was improperly handling a marsh channel restoration project. After intense lobbying by Lykes, the Florida DEP reversed itself and announced the crackpot plan build roads and “staging areas” across the marsh so that several hundred dump trucks can transport sand—supplied by Lykes—into the creek bed.

“The state’s plan is an outrage,” said our client, Rhonda Roff of Save Our Creeks. “Are they seriously thinking that the public will buy their argument that the best way to protect this wild and scenic waterway is to fill it in with 65 million pounds of sand?”

We’ll likely go to trial in this case early next year. If you’d like to see what Fisheating Creek looks like, click here to see a video we took in August 2012.

Fisheating Creek is gorgeous, I've visited & paddled it.It's well worth keeping as pristeen as possible. Big thanks to EJ for staying on top of this problem!

I have explored a good part of our unique state discovering the beautiful wilderness and the wild and natural world within. Hands down, Fisheating Creek ranks in the very top of my favorite areas for it's density and diversity of wildlife, scenic beauty and peace. There is a spirituality to the woods and the creek that cannot be denied. Over the years I have obtained several tshirts from the various concessionaires at the campground and no matter where I am, even in other states, people come up to me to talk about their memories of the creek. Stories of generations of family memories that are as much a part of the culture as is the creek. We need to join forces to fight this disgusting plan and it's administers. Please help any way you can to stop the rape of this special public legacy. It's that important

I grew up going on weekend camping trips here. Some of our neighbors work come with and we would have multi-family weekends there. We would flatten pennies on the railroad tracks, canoe, fish, and romp around in the swamp! I remember it being so beautiful all the time! Thanks EJ for fighting the fight! This place is one of the places that inspired me to become a conservationist - biologist - naturalist! It still inspires today and with your work- wll into the future!

I have canoed Fisheating Creek countless times over the past 20 years. It is a vital part of south Florida's natural beauty. Very few natural creeks remain in Florida that don't boarder developments. Keep natural Florida natural.

Can anyone confirm to me that this issue is unrelated to the Wetland Reserve Program restoration project that will be funded by the largest single WRP project ever? Lykes and 4 other adjoining landowners agreed a year or two ago to pursue the restoration, under guidance of The Nature Conservancy, to restore 24,000 acres of wetland in the Fisheating Creek watershed. Such a massive restoration project will doubtless require A LOT of fill to mend areas that were channelized and drained many years ago to convert 24,000 acres of wetland into pastureland. The restored wetlands would be conserved in perpetuity through conservation easements. On balance, the restoration would be hugely positive, for both the Fisheating Creek system and the Everglades, by restoring habitat and storing water to feed the Everglades in support of CERP.

Fisheating Creek is a beautiful stream well-worth preserving. I had a wonderful trip there while visiting from North Georgia.

For a state that struggles constantly with water shortages, to even think of building a road through wetlands is insane. Florida has already destroyed many wetlands and essential aquifers. Anything for the almighty dollar with no regard for people, animals, or even the beauty of the earth!

"When it's Lykes, it's gone"

While living in Florida many years ago and paddling every weekend with much time in Fisheating Creek Im saddened to read of whats
on the agenda with Lykes Brothers and the creek

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