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Transgender Athletes Bill, Bats Caught In A Development Controversy, New River New History

Birds fly through the rookery in the Calusa Country Club
Courtesy of the Save Calusa Neighbors Group
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A group of residents are protesting the proposed development of the Calusa Country Club in the West Kendall area. A rookery like this one in an area as heavily developed as Kendall/West Kendall is very rare.

Florida joins states across the country targeting trans athletes. An abandoned golf course, a housing project and a protected bat — it's a development controversy only fit for Florida. Plus, the Fort Lauderdale New River and its fascinating history.

On this Wednesday, May 5, episode of Sundial,

Transgender Athletes Bill

Dozens of states across the country have bills preventing transgender high school and collegiate athletes from participating in women’s sports. Last week, Florida became the latest — now the bill awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature.

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“The transgender community is absolutely horrified. I've talked to dozens of advocates and parents of transgender children. They're absolutely beside themselves with grief and with frustration because it's so much more than kids playing sports. This is about the latest wave of attacks on transgender people. It was bathroom bills a couple of years ago. Now it's these athletic bills,” said reporter Daylina Miller with WUSF in Tampa.

The Florida High School Athletic Association and National Collegiate Athletic Association already have established policies to accommodate transgender athletes — that have been in place for more than a decade — with no recorded problems with transgender athletes in Florida.

“Several groups, the ACLU and the Southern Legal Counsel, have told me that they are going to be challenging this. That it's unconstitutional and that it goes against Title IX and there are definitely going to be legal challenges down the line,” Miller said.

We invited the sponsor of the bill, Republican State Sen. Kelli Stargel, to join us on the program. She declined but provided a written statement:

“I have tremendous respect and empathy for children and families who are struggling with issues related to gender identity, which are particularly difficult in childhood. I commend my colleagues for sharing some of those stories with us as the bill was debated on the Senate floor. These are serious, sensitive, and emotional issues for everyone involved. The legislation we passed ensures Florida protects the ability of girls and women to safely participate in athletics. In my view, we achieved that goal in a manner that respects the inherent dignity of each person, but also acknowledges the fact that the biological differences between men and women can be significant.”

Transgender Athletes Bill
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Bats Caught In A Development Controversy

Development and the environment — sometimes it’s a tough balance to make in South Florida.

One of the latest controversies is at the Calusa Country Club in West Kendall. The club has been closed down since 2011. The land has become an open space and many people living around it love it that way.

There was a covenant that required it to remain a golf course until 2067. But the real estate development company GL Homes, along with Bacardí, won the right to build 33 homes on the property last October. They’ve petitioned to build a gated community with 550 single-family homes.

“It's 168 acres of beautiful, tranquil green space. And the rest of the homes and community are really built around it,” said Amanda Prieto, a leader with the Save Calusa Neighbors group, which is protesting the proposed development.

Residents aren’t the only ones who have embraced the open space, it seems endangered bonneted bats have too.

“They're losing their roost availability. And this is coming for two main reasons. One is we see an increase in frequency and severity of storms. So each year we have more hurricanes and those hurricanes are destroying these pine forests,” said Melquisedec Gamba-Rios, who is a research fellow with Bat Conservation International and worked on the research that found evidence of the endangered species in the area.

“The other issue is we have an increase in development trend. We're losing a lot of habitats due to this kind of development push that we have in the region,” Gamba-Rios said.

He added that the organization is not against development, the issue is finding the balance to help the community and the wildlife in these areas.

The conservation group and the county's Department of Environmental Resources Management have recommended the county do a thorough environmental study. If it’s a space that’s significant for the endangered bat species it could be protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sundial received a statement from Dick Norwalk, who is a vice president with GL Homes:

"We have worked with homeowners surrounding the former Calusa Golf Course to conceive a community that will meet residential market demand, while taking into account factors that include good environmental stewardship. We are excited for the opportunity to create a great community of homes in Kendall.

The bonneted bat is present over South Miami-Dade County as well as parts of six other Florida Counties. Our focus is on how to manage development and operate the site with protocols in place to sustain the native bat population. That includes consultations both with the County and US Fish and Wildlife. GL Homes is a responsible steward that will operate the site in accordance with those protocols."

Bats Caught In A Development Controversy
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New River, New History

Fort Lauderdale has been nicknamed the "Venice of America," with endless waterways and canals connecting throughout the city. They all stem from the New River, which generates billions of dollars for Broward County through the annual boat show, Port Everglades, recreation and more.

“Very interestingly, the marine industry here is multifaceted. When we think of the marine industries, most of us think of huge, beautiful marine facilities that are up and down the waterway, the big yachts behind people's homes. But there is a very active boat building boat maintenance construction facility out at the Southfork of New River, right about the I-95 past overpass. It’s world renowned, one of the top marine repair facilities,” said author and former broadcaster Donn Colee.

The history of the New River and how it played an essential role in the development of South Florida is told in a new book “Legends and Lore of Fort Lauderdale’s New River.”

“I’m a storyteller, not a historian. My goal was to refresh those stories for modern audiences and introduce today’s readers to the strong-willed people, native and not, who first settled here,” said Colee.

New River New History
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Suria is Sundial's fall 2020 high school intern and a production assistant.
Leslie Ovalle produces WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.