- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

Hundreds of Floridians, mostly poor Cuban immigrants, will be displaced from their homes in the Everglades because of a little-noticed rider to the 2003 federal spending bills that passed last week.
Residents of an 8.5-square-mile area, which abuts the Everglades National Park in Dade County, Fla., said they feel betrayed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and the president they thought would protect them.
"Everyone down in this community voted for President Bush and his brother, and they're being sold out," said Madeleine Fortin, who has lived in the area since 1994.
As part of the effort to restore the Everglades National Park by flowing fresh water back in, Congress directed the Army Corps of Engineers in 1989 to build flood controls to protect the area.
Much of that is unusable property, but Miss Fortin said her examination of local land records showed that around 138 parcels have land-use codes showing legal residences, and 152 are defined as having "major economic activity" on the property mostly farms, ranches and nurseries.
Despite the no-flood instruction, the Corps also developed a new plan, called Alternative 6D, which would protect only about two-thirds of the land flooding hundreds of people out of their homes.
Deidre Duncan of the 8.5-Square-Mile Area Legal Defense Fund said this option is actually more expensive the government has to buy all the land it floods than the original plan that would have saved all the homes.
"The Corps has available to it alternatives that cost up to $58 million less and are just as ecologically effective," Miss Duncan said. "And they do not require the condemnation or flooding in the community and could be implemented much faster."
Miss Fortin, who moved to the area from a suburban Miami apartment for the solitary life on the swamp, said many of the displaced people are poor Cuban immigrants who are trying to scratch out a living in their new country.
"For these folks, it's frightening," Miss Fortin said. "They left Cuba under great hardship, thinking they'd be safe here. The people they voted for and put their trust in are betraying them. These people have lost all trust and respect in the government. It's a tragedy."
But environmentalists see it differently.
Groups such as the Audubon Society of Florida and the National Parks Conservation Association launched a letter-writing campaign last year to urge passage of Alternative 6D. The NPCA decried the "very small minority of homeowners" who have "pulled political strings to avoid restoring this important flow of wetland."
Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, made Alternative 6D law by adding a rider to the long-delayed 2003 omnibus spending bill. The amendment, which was never debated on the Senate floor, instructed the Corps to move forward with the flooding plan.
"By including this language in the omnibus bill, the logjam is broken," Mr. Graham said. "Allowing the Modified Waters Delivery Project to move forward will end further delay in the implementation of the Everglades Restoration Plan."
The amendment reversed a short-lived court victory by the residents of the 8.5 square-mile area. On July 5, a federal district court ruled that Congress never intended to allow the flooding, and ordered the Corps to stop moving forward with Alternative 6D.
Brad Sewell, a senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, which supports Alternative 6D, didn't return a call for comment last week. But he told the Naples Daily News last month that his organization is pleased with Mr. Graham's amendment.
"The [delay of the] 6D project was serving as a cork on Everglades restoration," he said. "This amendment really allows us to pull out the cork and let the water flow."
Brian Bishop, director of Rhode Island Wise Use, a property-rights group that has monitored the Everglades case closely, said he received tear-filled phone calls from Florida in recent days.
"I had people crying on the phone to me thinking they were going to lose their homes," Mr. Bishop said. "I can't tell them anything. They've been fighting for a decade and will have to continue to fight for a year or two with uncertain chances of victory."

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