announces land buy for Everglades
By JOHN PACENTI
Associated Press Writer
NATIONAL PARK -- Land once destined to become the world's
largest subdivision instead will play a critical role in
restoring the Everglades.
Vice President Al Gore on Tuesday braved hungry mosquitos
and 90-degree heat to announce a $50 million purchase of
31,000 acres of private land in southwest Florida that
includes the failed development called South Golden Gate
He later attended a Democratic National Committee
fundraiser hosted by Dade County mayor Alex Penelas.
"Today, we recognize that the Everglades stretch to
the Gulf Coast," Gore said. "This area we are
going to be able to acquire ... has the highest level of
diversity of life in the entire state of Florida."
The land -- which will also include the Fakahatchee
Strand and Belle Meade areas -- is home to the endangered
Florida panther, black bear and orchids found no where
else in the world. It includes the largest Florida Royal
"Thirty years ago when we didn't know as much about
the environment, South Golden Gate Estates was intended
to be part of the largest subdivision in the world,"
Gore said. "They brought the people from the North
in the wintertime to show them the plots -- in the dry
The 173-square-mile subdivision, planned in the 1950s
about 10 miles east of Naples, never came to fruition.
Still, developers carved up the area with roads and
canals that diverted much-needed water from the western
edges of Everglades National Park.
It also became the best example of the land scams that
became infamous in Florida: selling swampland to
unsuspecting northerners craving sun. In 1967, developer
Gulf American Land Corp. pleaded guilty to selling
fraudulent plots at Golden Gate.
That it would help restore the Everglades, polluted for
decades by agriculture, business and
development, was fitting, some conservationists attending
Gore's announcement said.
"It's a symbolic remedy for some horrendous zoning
and development decisions made in Florida's past without
realizing the consequences," said Ed Davidson,
chairman for the Florida Audubon Society. "Well,
everybody knows now and this is historically significant
for that reason alone."
The land will be purchased with $25 million from the
federal government and equal matching funds from the
state. The federal portion comes from $200 million that
Congress allocated for Everglades restoration. So far $40
million has been spent to buy farmland in southeast
"I said we were going to go all out to put this
restoration plan together," Gore said.
"President Clinton and I insisted with the
Congressional leadership that whatever else was done in
this budget agreement the Everglades restoration had to
be apart of it."
The new land purchases will be turned into Picayune State
Forest in Collier County and link Everglades National
Park, Big Cypress Preserve and Florida Panther and Ten
Thousand Islands National Wildlife refuges.
It provides about half of the water that flows into
Everglades National Park. A good part of Everglades
restoration focuses on partially restoring the natural
flow of the so-called River of Grass, which provides
drinking water to all of South Florida.
"This is the first big domino to fall,"
Davidson said. "It is a major gap that we can plug.
... It sends a message that we are serious. We are going
to spend big money and buy big chunks of land."
With the buy-back of the failed development, Gore said it
shows that environment and economy go hand-in-hand. He
says the Everglades is part of South Florida's
infrastructure, providing drinking water and bringing in
billions of dollars in tourism.
"The environment is the economy and the economy is
the environment," Gore said. "This notion that
they are separated and you can pursue one at the expense
of another is absolute nonsense."
Gore finished his brief visit to South Florida with a
$5,000-a-plate luncheon for the Democratic National
Committee that was expected to net $250,000. The DNC is
$16 million in debt from the election last year.
Gore drew applause when he said the Clinton
administration is committed to opposing Cuban President
Fidel Castro. He also criticized Republicans' support for
cutting benefits to legal immigrants.
"Why they would come after legal immigrants in that
way is really a mystery to me," the vice president
said. "These people are hard-working, legitimate
members of our society. We ought to thank God they are
here and have a respect for them and welcome them and not
try topunish them in the way the majority of Congress has
tried to do."
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