About Me

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He started his career in the family real estate and hotel business in Florida from which his concern for the environment steered him in public life. He has served six Florida governors and two presidents in many positions, including terms as chairman of the Florida Department of Air and Water Pollution Control, and Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Beyond his government service, he helped found 1000 Friends of Florida and has served as both president and chairman of the board of the organization. He currently or has served on the boards of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic Society, Yellowstone National Park, Everglades Foundation and Hope Rural School.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Friends of the Fakahatchee remarks given by Nathaniel Reed on December 3, 2011

1970—that seems like a long time ago—a great deal of water has gone through the everglades since then!

What do I remember? Age steals memories but 1970 was a “special year”. My loving wife kept a large book that contains newspaper clippings, overly long speeches, comments on critical state environmental issues and a flow of memorandums on a vast variety of environmental issues. I reviewed them in preparation for this evening. 1970 was a “full year” for Florida and me!

Governor Claude Kirk was in his final year. He continued to support my efforts to clean up our ocean, bays, our rivers and lakes from years of pollution. Every sewer from Palm Beach to Homestead on the east coast delivered millions of gallons of raw sewage to the ocean daily. The St. John’s River was the recipient of raw sewage, industrial wastes, Navy shipyard caustic chemicals and tons of nutrients. The only sewage plants on Florida’s west coast were primary treatment plants at Tampa and Pensacola. The Tampa plants discharge was so toxic that it totally killed hundreds of acres of grass flats.

The Pensacola plant had a long record of “failing 40% of the time” so that it released raw sewage into the once highly productive bays.

The bays were also polluted by massive discharges of chemicals mixed with paper mill wastes – a rich toxic diversity of man’s indifference.

I was the chairman of a tiny department that the legislature approved and began to fund. I seized control from the inept Board of Health. That pathetic group stated that they had no state laws that could control even the worst examples of human wastes.

I needed help and the governor gave me permission to invite the experts from the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration stationed in Atlanta to join me in enforcement actions in Jacksonville, Miami-Dade and Pensacola. Florida was a very conservative state and the “Old Guard” was furious that a young whippersnapper dared to work with the enemy—“agents of the federal government”.

We made progress. Thanks to a series of huge federal monetary investments in sewage plants and enforcement against companies that discharged their untreated chemical wastes into the Great Lakes, the Hudson River, San Francisco Bay, Pensacola and Escambia Bays, Biscayne Bay— name a body of water and I promise you that companies had managed to persuade their state health departments that the cure of their pollution was dilution.

Simultaneously, the jetport - Big Cypress proposal began to hit the front pages of the American newspapers and evening television news. It’s an interesting fact that the plight of the everglades had become a “national issue”.

We have Margery Stoneman Douglas, Joe Browder, Alice Wainwright, Charles Lee and a cast of fascinating concerned citizens to thank. Years of being deprived of adequate amounts of clean water, the ‘Glades became a symbol of gross mismanagement by the state of Florida and what is now the South Florida Water Management District. Big Ag ran the water management agency without a blush!

My friend and colleague, Joe Browder, National Audubon’s youthful, energetic, indomitable Florida director, joined with Margery Stoneman Douglas and a cast of caring Floridians to protest the threat that a jetport in the Big Cypress posed to the future of Everglades National Park and the Ten Thousand Islands. One of Florida's greatest fisheries and breeding grounds for thousands of “water birds” and millions of fish was threatened by the unwanted development that would surely follow a “Futuristic Jetport”.

The developers ached to acquire land from a variety of people who had camps in the Big Cypress for hunting or just getting away from the bustle of a frantic growing south Florida.

Joe brilliantly “worked the issue”. It became obvious that the Dade County Commissioners and the federal DOT had made an investment in a runway - a long expensive runway in the midst of the Big Cypress without really thinking about how passengers were to be transported to the site or returned to Miami. They failed to understand that a road through Conservation #3, the last best example of the River of Grass would be destructive and would be subject to every known environmental legal assault.

Alan Stewart, Dade’s Port Authority boss had an extraordinary short temper and was the project’s worst enemy.

At Governor Kirk’s insistence a committee of environmental experts prepared 102 questions for the Port Authority to answer with their consultants before any more commitments by the state or federal government should be made.

Months later we met at a Miami hotel’s ballroom, that I later learned was owned by a Miami Mafia family to receive Stewart’s and the then ridiculous Mayor’s responses to the very valid carefully considered questions.

Stewart in a monotone: read the first question and replied: “This question is under study.” Questions 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 were answered identically to the first question: it became abundantly clear that all questions were “under study”.

I stood in the front row and stated calmly and clearly that the meeting was a “ruse” that was inexplicable and showed distain for the very valid questions that needed to be carefully analyzed prior to any further discussion of the merits of a “Futuristic Jetport” in the Big Cypress.

Joe Browder who was sitting next to me and who had spent long hours working with Art Marshall, the dean of Florida’s environmental experts and a cast of experts from federal and state agencies who prepared the questions bellowed: “You have blown it! You have ignored a legitimate process. Do you think we are fools?”

Mayor Hall and Stewart went “bananas” accusing us of being “White Radicals” who opposed anything and everything. Stewart stated that “he would build me a glass house filled with butterflies for me to spend useful time chasing”. The room filled with serious environmental experts went berserk. It was inconceivable - incredible that so called Dade County Aviation Department “experts” who had supposedly prepared and planned the proposed project could not answer a single legitimate question! The fiasco became a lightning rod, very news worthy crisis of confidence.

The Nixon White House became interested, as the Secretary of Transportation had made a significant grant to build the runway.

Secretary of Interior Hickel, still smarting from an uncomfortable highly controversial confirmation hearing where the growing environmental non-governmental organizations really took him to task as an “Alaskan Boomer” who had no environmental credentials, seized the opportunity to gain “green spurs” by joining with the governor to oppose the jetport.

Governor Kirk and I were summoned to Washington. We met with Russell Train, the then Under Secretary of Interior and the leader of the Nixon Administration’s environmental team, in his Washington living room. I unfolded maps and aerial photographs and explained the long-term threat that the proposed airport would open the Big Cypress to unwanted development in the last major natural flow-way into the western reaches of Everglades National Park. Train agreed, but couldn’t help wonder what the future of the Big Cypress would be. Acquisition seemed unlikely. Land use restrictions or easements seemed far-fetched. We left the meeting deeply concerned but without affirmative action other than to force the abandonment of the one runway.

We met at the White House the next day. We were informed that President Nixon had decided that the “jetport would be canceled—he was confident that it was a dream crafted by the speculators and developers all connected to the incumbent Democrat majority in Dade County”. Nixon may not have canceled the jetport plan on environmental grounds, but in 1971 he sent to Congress a bill with an Environmental Impact Statement written by Art Marshall, members of my staff and experts on the hydrology of south Florida. The proposal was overseen by Dr. Luna Leopold, the head of the United States Geological Service, urging Congress to acquire the Big Cypress. Dr. Leopold’s fame was needed, as Dr. Marshall although revered in Florida was not well known on the Hill or nationally. The Congress created the Big Cypress National Preserve, an extraordinary victory. In later years, 147,000 additional acres were added to the preserve.

Now to the subject at hand. I had been invited by Franklin Adams repetitively to join a curious man named Mel Finn and him to explore a “swamp of unusual characteristics - a wild, untamed swamp filled with unique plants and trees”. Franklin maintained it was a swamp that was “world class” and as important as all the other subjects that were on my list.

At the time, Secretary Udall, head of the Interior Department, was making commitments to Lloyd Miller and his indomitable group to spare Biscayne Bay and create a National Monument that would doom forever the hoax of the “Mythical City of Islandia”.

I was at loggerheads with Mr. Macgregor Smith, Florida Power and Light’s chairman over the problem of cooling one million gallons of heated water per minute that would come from the Turkey Point Nuclear plant. He wanted to pump it back into Biscayne Bay even though the heated water would destroy thousands of acres of rich, aquatic grasses. I refused to grant the company the needed state permit.

Although the state was receiving federal Land and Water Conservation Funds and Environmental Land Bond Funds it seemed improbable that we could add the mysterious Fakahatchee Swamp to the list of “must buys” and the full plate of issues that the governor and I faced.

This was my “excuse” for dodging Franklin’s repetitive requests to join Mel and him and visit the Fakahatchee Swamp.

His persistence paid off.

I had met Franklin Adams and recognized that he was a truly significant environmentalist. He had incredible knowledge of the Big Cypress, having camped and hunted within its boundaries since childhood. Further, he was highly respected among the nascent south western Florida environmental community as a man who kept his word and could not be swayed by the omni present developers who traded in mangrove and swamp lands.

Franklin kept urging me to find time in my schedule to tramp - a wade through a portion of the Fakahatchee Swamp with the mysterious Mel Finn and him. I delayed and delayed, as there was always another priority; another crisis.

I finally confirmed a date May 1, 1970. I was accompanied by Ney Landrum, the Director of our state’s park system, Joel Kupperberg who had vast knowledge and experience in southwest Florida’s environmental issues and George Gardner, my newly appointed assistant, a recent graduate of the University of Florida.

The Governor assigned us a twin engine state plane and we landed at the Everglades City grass airfield.

Franklin’s mother had passed away the evening before our trip. We missed him as he is, in fact, the reason for our visit and subsequent efforts made to protect this unique swamp.

I cannot over emphasize the importance of Franklin Adams to this story of a great experience.

The “mysterious Mel Finn” met the two state trooper vehicles that brought us to the starting site. He no longer remained a “mysterious swamp man”. In a matter of minutes we all recognized Mel as a fascinating fellow, a Miami attorney who hated practicing the law and lived for the weekends to explore the last great wildernesses of the Big Cypress and his find - his glorious find - The Fakahatchee Swamp.

We were briefed by Mel. Despite the dry time of the year, there was knee deep water; even waist deep water on the route that Mel led us into the swamp. We were outfitted with 5 foot long forked sticks that were useful in persuading water snakes and water moccasins to move quietly out of our way. George Gardner had brought along a machete. I had urged him to leave it with the state patrol officer. He was last in line and he could not resist the temptation of having a machete hanging from his hip.

You know what we saw! We gaped at wonder. The cypress leaves had turned the wonderful light green that signals their spring. The cypress trees, many growing from stumps of trees cut for lumber 80 years in the past, had regrown into leafy towers. The Royal palms reached through the cypress trees – 60 - 75 feet - even 100 feet high. Orchids and bromeliads were everywhere, growing with rare abandon, undiscovered and untouched by man.

We stopped frequently and Mel briefed us on some oddity, something special, and something that he and we found uniquely exciting.

There were long periods of silence as the majesty of the excursion dawned on all of us.

As we began to return to the starting site, suddenly, there was a cry from the rear of the troop. George had taken out his machete and swung it against a vine hanging from a cypress tree. The machete bounced off and cut his leg very seriously.

I helped apply a tight tourniquet. I said: “George, you are too big to carry. You are simply going to have to be very brave and we will move as quickly as possible back to the road where we can get you tied up better than what we have tied around your leg.” We mushed our way back to the waiting trooper’s car. I sent George back to the airport in one of the trooper’s cars with a note for the pilot to take him to the nearest hospital. For reasons never fully explained, the pilot flew him to Marathon where an ambulance took him to their tiny hospital. George survived despite the fact that he had to do battle with all kinds of interesting bacteria.

The rest of us huddled together, overcome by the sights of the Fakahatchee and as one we held our right hands high in the air and swore we would not rest until the Fakahatchee was preserved. I maintained it was as important as the Roman “Oath of the Horatii”.

As we waited for the return of the vehicle that had rushed George to the plane, an obvious rental car drove up and paused next to me. Two delightful ladies in their mid-fifties inquired where they were. I answered they were in the middle of the Fakahatchee Swamp. “No, no”, snapped one of them, “Our ranch which we bought from the Gulf American Company is right around here.” I had the unpleasant assignment of informing her that the Rosen Brothers were facing both state and federal governmental legal actions as peddlers of “swamp land” all across southwest Florida.

That’s another story in itself. Sufficient to report that it took many of my remaining months in Tallahassee working with a superb group of young men from every cabinet member’s staff to force the Rosen’s and their land schemes out of Florida.

I became Assistant Secretary of Interior on May 12th, 1971, and working with Joel who Governor Askew wisely appointed to head the state’s land board and Ney Landrum, my great friend and coworker who made the Florida State Park system the envy of the nation, Ney set about acquiring hundreds of properties, mostly 1.25 acres each that the Rosen’s had sold to unsuspecting suckers. It took years to identify the owners of ranchettes and quote “Gulf side properties” deep inside the swamp. The majority sold out for $100 an acre. Ney used funds from the Endangered Lands State Bonds and acquired the major portion of the swamp from GAC (General Acceptance Corporation), bought the canal system to prevent them for ever being used for drainage and slowly but surely identified and bought out the vast majority of the swamp’s 57,297 acres paying the various owners a total of $12, 223,000. It was exhausting, time consuming work requiring total dedication to the task. Friends of the Fakahatchee and the citizens of Florida have much to be grateful for during Ney Landrum’s incredible leadership of the state’s park system, but one of the greatest jewels of his extraordinary land acquisitions is “our Fakahatchee Swamp”!

In time the Fakahatchee’s headwaters, the 13,000 acre Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest and surrounding high ground were preserved insuring a continuous natural water supply.

Finally, the swamp was “ours”, “ours” - for the people of Florida, “ours”- for the American people – “ours” to be shared with tourists from around the world – one visit and the Fakahatchee is theirs too.

Mel Finn’s spirit is still there - he lived a life that is embodied by this Native American statement: “We pray for the world, that the people of the world will embrace harmony, that they will show respect, tolerance, and acceptance for each other and for all living things. This is what my people have taught me and it is my responsibility to continue living this way of life. In doing so, I am telling my ancestors that: “I’m still here practicing your teaching so that my children and all other generations will continue to practice this way of life---life will go on and on, even after I am gone.”

We have lost Joel and the indomitable Mel, but the rest of us who gave our oaths are still living: never forgetting our mutual pledge to save this precious gem.

I think Clyde Butcher’s April 24, 1999, photograph of us sums up what I cannot adequately express: the quiet satisfaction of success, the fellowship and the incredible leadership of Mel and Franklin who would not give up and finally got the right players to the field of action.

What can I say to you in the way of thanks - genuine thanks for your devotion in patrolling the swamp, for leading tours, for sharing an experience of excitement and wonder with hundreds of visitors?

It took time, energy, foresight, determination, lots of our money and love of our land to have saved the Fakahatchee Swamp forever!

Volunteerism is a great American tradition. It is one of our national “hallmarks”. You are Fakahatchee Stands loving stewards. Continue to take care of this unique, irreplaceable part of untamed, um-trampled Florida.

I am reminded of Margaret Mead’s famous quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has!”

Thank you for the pleasure of inviting me over to join you at this wonderful part of the Florida that I love!