The National Park Service has come up with five different ways they can acquire Everglades land currently owned by the Florida Power and Light Company.
NPS held a forum this week to get public opinion on possible acquisition plans. Currently, FPL owns an 8.5-square-mile area of land within Everglades National Park.
The agency laid out its five alternatives in a draft environmental impact statement. The most notable were Alternative 2, in which NPS would acquire the land in fee, and Alternative 3, exchanging the FPL-owned land for other land.
Dan Kimball is the superintendent of the Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Park. He says it is important for NPS to acquire the land to add clean water back into the Everglades.
"The very northeast corner of the park is dying of thirst, and that's having a lot of adverse impacts on wildlife," Kimball says. "What we're trying to do is ... preserve and protect the park for the enjoyment of future generations."
Steve Scroggs is FPL's senior director. He says the company is willing to agree on an exchange. He spoke in favor of Alternative 3, a fee -or-fee land exchange. According to the NPS project summary, under that alternative FPL would get fee title ownership of an adjacent corridor. This would potentially allow FPL to develop the area for utilities or even power lines, if they can secure permits.
According to Scroggs, "that alternative provides the park with a net 60-acre gain, moves FPL out of the park, and does so at little or no cost, leaving money available for other environmental projects. We think that is a good deal, in a practical world where you do have to appreciate the realities of landownership and landowner's rights.”
But activists are more concerned about the possibility that FPL could build power lines in the area if it remains in the company's possession.
Activist Staci-lee Sherwood spoke in favor of Alternative 2.
"It is the best resolution for this while doing the least amount of damage to the park’s fragile ecosystem, which is highly stressed," Sherwood says. "The land swap is not under equal value because the pristine land FPL would get would be forever polluted and would further encroach on an already stressed ecosystem while adding to their profit margin and including three massive power lines that go through the park."
Dozens of community members attended the forum held on the main FIU campus. Almost everyone who spoke did so in favor of Alternative 2, like Cara Capp. She works for the National Parks Conservation Association and says public landownership is key to future park success.
"All of the lands in National Park boundaries have to remain in public ownership," Capp says. "That's our legacy and our responsibility as Americans."
NPS won't make a decision on which Alternative to follow until December of this year. It is accepting public comments through March 18. To make a comment or for more information, visit the NPS project planning website.