Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Florida Wetlands Supreme Court Case & Hiaasen's Native Tongue

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a major case involving environmental protection in Florida, Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District. I'll leave it to the Tampa Bay Times article "Environmental protection at stake in high court case" to break down what's at stake:
...The case asks whether it is constitutional for an environmental permit to require that the owner restore wetlands on land miles away to mitigate the damage of his project. If the court rules for the landowner, Florida could be hamstrung in its wetland mitigation efforts and in its attempts to get developers to pay for the public impact of their development. 
The case began in 1994 when Coy Koontz Sr., who died in 2000 (the case has been carried on by his son), sought a permit from the St. Johns River Water Management District to develop 3.7 acres of his land near Orlando. Koontz's project called for dredging 3.25 acres of wetlands. To secure a permit, Koontz agreed to give the district a conservation easement on 11.5 acres. But water management officials told Koontz he would have to pay to restore wetlands on other district property miles away as well, or he would have to reduce his development plans to 1 acre. Koontz rejected these conditions, and the permit was denied. 
Koontz sued, claiming the permit rejection constituted a taking of his property by the government without just compensation in violation of the federal and state constitutions. He said he shouldn't be forced to pay for environmental repairs that have little relationship to his property or project. He won before a trial judge... But that victory was reversed by the Florida Supreme Court... 
The high stakes are evident. Conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court could use this case to curb the power of government, expand property rights and weaken environmental regulations. That's why more than a dozen amicus or "friend of the court" briefs have been filed. The Obama administration and 19 states (not including Florida) are supporting the water management district.
For a novel about the conflict between developers and environmental protection in Florida, try Carl Hiaasen's Native Tongue:
Imagine you're driving a rented Chrysler LeBaron convertible to the perfect family vacation at the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills when a rat is tossed into your car by a passing pickup. The rodent in question is not a rat, but a rare blue-tongued mango vole just liberated from the Kingdom by the militant Wildlife Rescue Corps. Welcome to the world of Native Tongue , where dedicated (if somewhat demented) environmentalists battle sleazy real estate developers in the Florida Keys.

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