Thursday, November 13, 2014



Nearly seven hundred acres of pine flatwood forest are set to be destroyed to make way for a “Biotech City."  The Briger Forest in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida boasts an ecosystem that is the last of its kind in the area.  It is the home to several species under threat of extinction.  

Christian Minaya of PBC Environmental Coalition has another dream for the Forest, 

Our vision for the future of the Briger Tract is one of preservation. The Briger is a vital link to old Florida. A preserved Briger Tract will undoubtedly prove to be a precious resource for the continuation of biological diversity in the area, as well as a great boon for education and recreation for local residents.

The Briger Forest is a  mix of freshwater marshes, hardwood forest and prairie that’s slated to become part of a commercial/residential offshoot of the Scripps Research Institute, a biomedical research company.

Save the Briger Forest writes:

The Scripps Phase II development plan makes no mention of protection for the endangered and threatened species. Despite this, 100 acres of the Briger Forest have been designated for the Scripps Phase II Biocity:
  • 1.6 million square feet for Scripps office and biotech research space.

  • 2.4 million square feet for spinoff office and biotech research space.
  • 500,000 square feet for commercial/retail/office development space.
  • 2,700 residential units.
A whole lot of people aren't one bit thrilled with all this and have been fighting against it for a long time.

Last week folks  associated with Everglades Earth First! halted (well, for a few hours anyway) what they call Kolter Development’s “illegal” construction in Palm Beach Gardens’ Briger Forest. They chained themselves up to a disabled vehicle sitting in the road and blocked access to the sites. Ryan Hartman said,

We’re here stopping a crime; the illegal destruction of the Briger Forest. Kolter Group Co. is violating the Endangered Species Act and operating without all the proper permits fully approved,. The time for compromise is over. If we don’t take direct action and put our bodies on the line to protect what we have left, developers will pave over and pollute every last inch of this place.

Ashley Lyons added, 

Kolter and Palm Beach County have had a corrupt deal from the beginning. It is a crime against nature for developers to keep bulldozing over wild South Florida in order to perpetuate an animal torturing biotech expansion agenda.

It took a minimum of 22 police cars, an emergency field force vehicle, and a mobile command unit to arrest three people who were participating in the protest.

Say, corporate welfare anyone?  Just in the past few years, Scripps has been the lucky recipient of nearly half a billion dollars in blood money, er, state subsidies for the little scheme.  They also have a nice agreement with the county to lease the part of the property they "own" for a dollar a year.   

And that, my friend, is global capital gone local...

The following is from Earth First! Newswire.

Clearing of Rare South Florida Forest Begins for Development of “Biotech City”

Activists Find Flaws in Permits and Plans for Land Clearing and Relocation of Endangered Plants and Animals

In the Briger Forest: November 9, 2014.

After ten years of opposition to state- and county-backed efforts to construct a biotech hub in Palm Beach County, Florida—where the rare Briger Forest currently stands—developers are now clearing land under suspicious circumstances. Since 2010, opponents of the “Scripps Phase II” project have cited the presence of gopher tortoises, rare native ferns, and other threatened and endangered species as reasons to stop the proposed development of the Briger Forest.
Despite these concerns, The Scripps Research Institute—a California-based biomedical company with a campus across the road from the threatened forest—are moving forward on their plans of expansion. Last week, members of the Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition (PBCEC) and Everglades Earth First! (EEF!) discovered that Ranger Construction Industries had begun clearing a large segment of the southeastern portion of the Briger Forest.
The clearing of forest marks an unofficial groundbreaking for the construction of a proposed biotech city revolving around “Phase II” of the Scripps Florida laboratories. As with much of the planning surrounding Scripps, activists say that it appears plans for this access road were made behind closed doors.
As of November 9, an area approximately half a mile long and over 100 feet wide had been cleared out of the Briger Forest.
As of November 9, an area approximately half a mile long and over 100 feet wide had been cleared out of the Briger Forest.
Before construction began only weeks ago, the dense forest of pine flatwoods and saw palmetto rarely saw any traffic aside from the occasional horse riders out of the Wandering Trails stable next door. The forest is home to bobcats, armadillos, raccoons, and ground likens, as well as threatened and endangered animal and plant species, including the gopher tortoise, hand fern, royal fern, and native species of bromeliad. It is also suitable habitat for the Eastern indigo snake—an endangered species at serious risk due to habitat loss.
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November 8, 2014: Two Everglades Earth First! activists locked down to a disabled van block the construction entrance to the Briger Forest.
On November 8, 2014, members of Everglades Earth First! responded to news of the work being done by locking themselves to a disabled van blocking the entrance to the construction zone. The blockade successfully kept out workers and excavation machinery for over four hours, while alerting local residents and the media to the destruction being carried out in the Briger.
The same day, PBCEC members visited Palm Beach Gardens City Hall to request permits for the clearing of the forest, but city staff were unable to locate a land clearing permit for the construction taking place. The following business day, when PBCEC members returned to City Hall, city staff were suddenly able to locate the permits, which—though dated 10/22/2014—seemed to have been hastily filled out the night before. Information missing from the permits included: Project Name, Project Address, APN, Subdivision, and Development. Not to mention that the “Total Square Footage” of the land clearing permit is listed as 0, despite the fact that hundreds of feet of forest have already been cleared.
missing info briger permit
The weekend after the blockade, a clandestine monitoring team surveyed and documented the impacts of work in preparation for ongoing legal challenges to the clearing operations. PBCEC has been engaged in a legal battle over the destruction of the Briger Forest for the past four years, and the group believes the current work is being conducted in violation of state, federal and local laws intended to protect threatened and endangered species.
In past months, activists have used game cameras to document gopher tortoise activity in the Briger Forest. The gopher tortoise is classified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) as a threatened species. The permit map from EW Consultants, Inc.—a natural resource management, wetland, and environmental permitting services group—lists 75 known gopher tortoise burrows in an area that constitutes approximately 25% of the land slated for construction (Map A). Additionally, PBCEC and EEF! have documented gopher tortoise locations in the area that has already been cleared by Ranger Construction Industries (Map B). Each burrow that is removed is a nail in the coffin of the federally endangered Eastern indigo snakes that are expected to be living on the property. Eastern indigo snakes are known to cohabitate with gopher tortoises, and FWS has documented that they expect there to be six such snakes living on the property. The future of threatened species on the property seems to have been disregarded by Scripps and the city of Palm Beach Gardens, who are moving forward with their plans to build strip malls and biotech labs in this critical and rare habitat—with inadequate and questionable permits backing them up.

Map A—EW Consultants, Inc., lists 75 known gopher tortoise burrows in an area that constitutes approximately 25% of the Briger Forest.
Map A: EW Consultants, Inc., lists 75 known gopher tortoise burrows in an area of the Briger Forest slated for construction.
Map B: Volunteer surveyors have documented hand fern and gopher tortoise burrow locations in the area of the Briger that was recently cleared for development.
Map B: Volunteer surveyors have documented hand fern and gopher tortoise burrow locations in the area of the Briger that was recently cleared for development.
Members of PBCEC and EEF! have also joined together to conduct an extensive study of the resident population of endangered hand ferns in the Briger (Map B). Where the developers’ consultants only located two ferns on the entire site, volunteer surveyors located and documented the presence of over 50 cabbage palms hosting hand fern colonies. This research revealed the Briger to contain one of the largest concentrations of hand ferns in the entire continental United States.
EEF! and PBCEC have been fighting to protect the Briger Forest since 2009. The campaign has included legal challenges, petitions, public outreach, public comments, protests, and civil disobedience—including treesits and last week’s blockade. The groups will continue to challenge the destruction of the Briger Forest, which has only just begun. But time is running out.

Get involved:

– Call Palm Beach Gardens Code Compliance and tell them to stop clearing the forest: (561) 799-4245
– Email Palm Beach Gardens City Officials:
Mayor Bert Premuroso
Vice Mayor Eric Jablin
Council Member Joe Russo
Council Member Marcie Tinsley
Council Member David Levy
City Manager Ron Ferris

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