Development in Florida is like one of those mythic monsters: the Hydra of Lerna, perhaps. Hercules lopped off one of its heads only to see two grow back. You think you've killed some big-money monster of an ecosystem-wrecking condo megalopolis only to find that it's merely changed its name and grown weird new appendages.
Such is the case with "Magnolia Bay" on Taylor County's Gulf Coast. A couple of years ago, prominent St. Petersburg surgeon J. Crayton Pruitt planned to build a huge resort near the tiny community of Dekle Beach. It was to be an upscale playpen with 624 condominiums, 874 hotel rooms, 280,000 square feet of commercial space, miles of asphalt and a marina.
But Florida's departments of Community Affairs and Environmental Protection pointed out that paving 100 acres of wetlands would make flood-prone Taylor County even more flood-prone, since wetlands filter and mitigate storm waters. Even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who rarely meet a dredge-and-drain project they don't love, took a dim view of the way marshes, sea grasses and other critical habitat would be destroyed. Just about everybody - except certain members of the Taylor County Commission - objected to the 2-mile-long channel "Magnolia Bay" would have scraped through our largest aquatic preserve.
Chastened by state regulators' disapproval, Dr. Pruitt's Secret Promise, Ltd. ditched "Magnolia Bay" and submitted a new permit application. Spot the difference. The new project will have 624 condominiums, 874 hotel rooms, 280,000 square feet of commercial space, miles of asphalt and a kayak launch facility. This time they'll only wreck 70 acres of wetlands. Oh, and the name has been changed to "The Reserve at Sweetwater Estuary."
Damn, it just smells green, doesn't it?
Now, it's great that Secret Promise has given up on digging a channel through some of Florida's most pristine waters. Nonetheless, the Reserve would damage the environment along the Nature Coast just as badly as Magnolia Bay would have. Big buildings, parking lots, and seawalls will still hurt the marshes and the creatures that live there.
Once again, the state of Florida has expressed strong doubts. DCA calls the Reserve "inconsistent" with the state's obligation to protect wetlands and wildlife. DEP says it could harm the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve.
What part of no don't they understand?
The Governing Board of the Suwannee River Water Management District takes up "The Reserve" at its meeting on Feb. 12. With mounting criticism from environmentalists, locals, DEP and DCA, this pointless pile of condos, hotels, shops and parking lots looks like it's in trouble. I should hope so. Florida doesn't need another Godzilla footprint on its fragile ecosystem. Boggy Bay - the real name of the place - is one of the last remaining undefiled stretches of Gulf Coast. If you canoe its green shallows, you will see Florida almost as it once was - Florida as Cabeza de Vaca saw it in 1528; as William Bartram saw it in 1774; as John Muir saw it in 1867.
Dr. Pruitt is a celebrated philanthropist, a distinguished doctor who has saved countless lives and who obviously cares deeply about Florida. Perhaps he should stop trying to turn a profit from Boggy Bay and recognize it as one of our last beautiful, wild places, a jewel too precious to exploit. "The Reserve" is branded as a "green community." It's not, of course. But Dr. Pruitt can go green: sell the land to the state - cheap. Turn the Reserve into a preserve for all of us now and in the future. I'll head the campaign to name it after J. Crayton Pruitt and write the thank-you note myself.
Diane Roberts is author of Dream State, a book about Florida.