Interviewee: Gary Appelson
Interviewer: Doris Edwards
3 April 1994
E: Today is 3 April 1994. [We are in] Gainesville, Florida. This is Doris Edwards. I am a student
in Dr. Samuel Proctor's class in oral history [at the University of Florida]. Our class project for this
term is on current environmental issues affecting Gainesville at this time. I will be interviewing
What is your full name?
A: Gary STEPHEN Appelson.
E: And when and where were you born?
A: [I was born in] 1950 [in] Brooklyn, New York. I moved to Atlanta, Georgia when I was six years
old (with my family of course) and [I] grew up in Atlanta.
E: Did you go to school in Atlanta?
A: I went through all of the lower grades--public elementary school. And I went off to college and I
actually attended here in Gainesville at the University of Florida.
E: What did you take?
A: I majored in political science. I took a varied set of classes, but my major was political science.
E: And how did you get interested in these environmental [issues] or when did you become aware of
A: I would imagine that my interest in the environment began some time in college. I was pretty
amazed at a lot of the things I was learning in college. It was during the Vietnam era and it was
very easy to be exposed to a lot of very different kinds of ideas. I came from a fairly sheltered
household. When I was a child we never talked politics.
E: Is that why you studied political science?
A: That is not why I studied political science. I actually studied political science because I did not
know what else to study and I wanted to get out of college. So I chose political science [because]
it did not seem too difficult at the time. But Gainesville during the late 1960s, like lots of places
(but especially Gainesville), was extremely politically aware and active. There were lots of things
happening. I was not aware of racism in the country and civil rights and Martin Luther King and
Indian rights and environmental issues, women's issues--just a whole host of things. In high
school I was never introduced to those things and nobody ever talked about them. And all of a
sudden I came to Gainesville during the height of the anti-Vietnam War era and I was just
overwhelmed by all of the things that were going on in the world. Vietnam was of course, the big
issue. But we were always having speakers here on campus. Congressmen and Senators were
coming here. Students were always very irreverent and asking all kinds of piercing questions;
there was no respect for authority. Very dynamic speakers were coming to campus. One month
was Jane Fonda, one month was Rod SERLING, one month was Dan Rather. They spoke to the
campus and people had an opportunity to talk back to them. We had another program on
campus where microphones were set up at the Plaza of the Americas--a large meeting area in the
center of campus--and we had a direct link to Capital Hill and to congressmen. And we had
lengthy discussions about all kinds of political issues, almost every weekend. So it was a time
and a place to be aware of all of these things and speak your mind and learn a lot. Throughout
the course of all of that, I was somehow overwhelmed by what I saw going on in the
environmental arena. I was overwhelmed by the destruction of the planet. I guess also at that
time Greenpeace was getting started. I was enthralled with Greenpeace's tactics. Taking a boat
and going into a nuclear test zone and threatening to stay there, even if they set off a bomb, was
just an incredibly brazen and brave thing to do. Greenpeace effectively stopped the French from
testing nuclear weapons off the coast of Alaska. They stopped whaling all around the world.
And it was very impressive; direct action was the thing to do at the time. The Vietnam protests
were extremely successful. In fact, I am still convinced that it was the large-scale protesting
around the country that ended the Vietnam War. So with all of this it was easy to latch onto
something and believe in political activism and believe in democracy and believe in putting your
foot down and telling people you want change. So that is what I started doing. And I picked the
environment as my area. I was born in New York and I grew up in Atlanta and I never had any
activities outside, really. And all of a sudden, I was introduced to all of these magnificent places
around the world, through my classes and through T.V. I guess my classes really showed me
what was being destroyed everywhere. I was taking a lot of political science classes. I was
signing up for environmental organizations and getting environmental magazines. And I cannot
point to any one particular issue, but the accumulation of everything that was going on during that
time just made me very aware of all of these things and the need to do something. I saw all of
this going on, and the only way things were being changed was by people doing things. And I
saw the destruction of the environment. And for some unknown reason it hit a very, very strong
chord in me. And I guess, while I was in college, most of my activism had to do with Vietnam.
My real involvement in environmental issues did not begin until after I got out of college. In
college I was very involved in the anti-war movement. We protested a lot and we were
confronted by the police a lot. We were tear gassed several times--all here at the University of
Florida campus. It was quite a remarkable time to be here. I remember one time there were
several students who were succumbing to tear gas and I went over--this was in front of the
administration building--to help them. And a police officer came over and he picked up a hose
and was squirting them down while I was trying to wipe their faces off. And that picture was
picked up by the AP [Associated Press] and was in the Atlanta newspaper the next day.
My parents thought I was being hosed down by police officers and threatened to pull me out of
school. They knew I was involved in all of these things. My parents, of course, were totally
against it. When I went home we talked about Vietnam [and] we talked about civil rights, and my
parents were just totally befuddled by why I cared about any of these issues. But anyway, that
picture was sort of a turning point--when that picture appeared in the paper and they [my parents]
refused to accept my explanation. The resulting discussion ([which lasted] for an hour or so),
where they just could not understand why I was involved in these things, made me realize that it
was hopeless to try to explain these kind of issues to people like my parents. But anyway, back
to what we were originally talking about.
So I was involved in all of these things in college, and then I graduated. I went to law school for a
short period of time. Actually, I went for two years and then I dropped out. But I guess if I had to
point to a place where my real interest in the environment was kindled, it would be in law school.
I chose environmental law as the area I wanted to specialize in. At that time--this was 1975 or
1976 or 1977--it was very unusual for someone to study environmental law and it was very hard to
find any courses in it. I was able to find a couple. And in law school, you study cases--law
cases. And law cases have an incredible amount of information in them that is not available.
Well it is available, but it is not given to the general public. And I was studying these cases and
finding out what was going on with pollution. And I was amazed at the extent of deceit and
malicious intent and disregard for the environment by the American corporate structure. We were
reading cases. And there is one case that really sticks in my mind, that was just unbelievable.
Maybe this is a turning point. It was a case involving the Great Lakes. I think it was the reserve
mining case--Reserve Mining vs. the US government. This company had been dumping toxic
material in Lake Michigan for thirty years, despite all of the evidence that it was cancer-causing,
despite all of the facts that people had been complaining and telling them it was illegal, despite the
government telling them it was illegal. And for thirty years they continued to dump and flaunt the
law and their lawyers continued to get stays and reprieves and they just kept on dumping. And
the end result was, of course, something like 700 million tons of toxic materials dumped into Lake
Michigan over the course of thirty years. Finally, the company just closed down and went out of
business. And in the case proceedings, the government was trying to get this now-defunct
company to pay for the damage. And of course they did not. So anyway, I saw that and I was
just totally amazed at the disregard for the environment by corporations like this. And we kept
studying other cases in different classes and other companies. The situation was just sad; it was
pathetic. One corporation after another [would dump]. Oil companies and car manufacturers
and chemical companies--they were just destroying the planet and not caring and not paying any
attention to who they were harming or what they were doing.
E: So you are saying that they continued to do it after they were aware of it? Because of course, in
the beginning, people were not aware of it.
A: Without question, the corporations in America and around the world were extremely aware of it.
They knew exactly what they were doing. They were clearly toxic chemicals that were not
allowed to be dumped in the United States, that they were taking to other countries and dumping.
Air pollution was very bad for people, [as] they were spewing out into the environment. This was
the time when the government--the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] was being formed.
NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] was being instituted. The Council for Environmental
Quality was being formed. The Department of the Interior was trying to set up more parks.
People were trying to preserve Alaska. All of these issues in the environment were going on.
And from a legal perspective, the reason for all of these laws, including the endangered species
act, the clean water act, the clean air act, was because--and if you are in law school and studying
this, you can see--government officials, pushed by environmental groups, were being forced to
look at the total collapse of the natural system by corporations, mainly in the industrialized
countries of the world. And in America, the response was this tremendous laying down of
environmental laws, to try to quell the destruction that was going on. And the culprits were mainly
corporate America and a public that was refusing to pay attention, or did not care, or was not tuned
in to the environment.
E: Sometimes I think when these groups like Greenpeace and some of these others are out there
banging their drums and carrying placards, I think a lot of the public sort of looks at them like,
"That is sort of the lunatic fringe. Just how important is it?" I think it sometimes takes a while
before people separate this lunatic fringe from, "Well maybe that is really true!"
A: I think that is true. I think that is why environmentalism is so big now. It has taken twenty years
for this lunatic fringe to become accepted by middle class America as a viable force. The Sierra
Club was considered [to be] a bunch of idiots.
S: What is the Sierra Club?
A: The Sierra Club is probably the oldest environmental organization in the country. The Sierra club
was formed by John YUR and GIFFORD PINSHEU and JOHN MARSHALL and people like
that--famous environmentalists in the early part of the century. And their goal was to set up
national parks and take people out into the wilderness and show them what was being destroyed
and what needed to be protected. And the Sierra Club has grown into an organization of--I would
imagine--millions of people around the country, and certainly thousands of local chapters. And
they do whatever they can through lobbying or outings or education to inform the public about
environmental problems and to aid in the public's appreciation of the natural world. And the
Sierra Club, along with a host of other environmental organizations, was being formed during the
early 1970s, late 1960s. And all of the things that these people were complaining about are now
mainstream; now everyone accepts it. The Endangered Species Act was fought tooth and nail.
But it was the environmental organizations that got the Endangered Species Act passed. It is the
same thing with a host of environmental laws. Without all of these environmental organizations,
most of them would not be in place today. Most of the environmental laws would not be in place
today. So there is a lapse time. But all of these things that people were complaining about, are
now coming to pass. The fact that cars did not get a lot of mileage, nobody cared about thirty
years ago, twenty-five years ago. Now there is a whole host of laws.
E: In the first place, gas was so cheap.
A: Well gas was cheap, but the environmental community was saying, "Gas is cheap, but that is just
a misnomer; we are not paying the true cost of gas. We are not paying for the environmental
destruction that is caused by the mining of oil. We are not paying for the environmental
destruction that is being caused by the exhaust pipes of cars. We are not paying for the
environmental destruction that is the result of all of the roads being put into all of these pristine
areas and cutting across wilderness and destroying wildlife." So the environmental community
was saying, "Look, let's start paying for all of these things. These are hidden costs that we are
not paying for. We are destroying the planet, and we are not paying for it. The planet is paying
the price of industrialization and technological advancement an we are getting a free ride." So
the environmental movement pushed and pushed and all of these laws were passed.
A perfect example is high sulfur coal. High sulfur coal is cheap coal and it was used by all of the
utilities around the country in the 1960s and before then. And the result was acid rain--all over
the country. Well, through the Clean Air Act the industries were forced to put scrubbers (which
are high-tech pollution abatement equipment) on all of their smoke stacks. After scrubbers came
the introduction of low sulfur coal; we had to clean our coal before we burned it. And the
consequence was, the price of coal went way up. The same thing [happened] with the price of
oil, with transportation, with precious metals, and with aluminum. As all these things had to start
paying their way, their prices went up. They were paying their way by having to go through
pollution abatement processes. [And] the same thing [happened] with nuclear power.
The reason nuclear power is so unbelievably expensive, is because there is a plethora of
environmental laws and regulations to control the nuclear power industry. And without them,
there may be more accidents than there have been. I guess this is a good time to talk about
nuclear power. Nuclear power is an issue that is dear to my heart. As I was saying, I was
involved in quite a few things during this time period--the late 1960s to late 1970s--and I was
enthralled with these environmental organizations and what they were accomplishing. And their
names were always coming up in all of the law cases I studied in law school. It was "The Sierra
Club vs. this group" and "[The] Audubon Society vs. this group" and "Greenpeace vs. this
corporation." And they were doing amazing things. One thing that really got all of these
organizations together, one issue that they were really starting to focus on in the mid 1970s, was
nuclear power. If you have studied environmental issues and if you were involved in them during
this period, you learn that industry controlled by the bottom line did not care about the
environment. There just was no environmental ethic in the American corporate structure.
E: I think there are not an awful lot of ethics [in business, in general].
A: Well there probably are not an awful lot of ethics [in business]. But particularly, from my
perspective, there was no environmental ethic. An American corporation would do anything.
You have dozens of examples. There are just dozens and dozens of examples of what they have
done to the environment. You have LOVE CANAL, fighting the Endangered Species Act, [etc,
etc]. Oh, it just goes on and on; it is endless. But anyway, they all sort of coalesced around the
nuclear power issue; it was something that every environmentalist could be against. I mean, here
was the American corporate structure taking the most toxic, deadly material on the face of the
planet, holding it up to the American public and saying, "We're going to produce energy with this
material and we are not going to dispose of the waste. We are going to let you deal with it later
on and we are going to have a future where the wheels of industry are going to turn, based upon
the mining and production of the most toxic materials on the planet." And when you started to
look at this and study how toxic these materials were, and you put this together with a history of
negligence in the environmental area by the American corporate structure, it was easy to become
terrified. These industries, these giant utility companies, were very, very closely linked with the
military industrial complex at the time. That is no fly-by-night statement. I mean, bear in mind
that you had WESTINGHOUSE, the largest producer of nuclear energy plants (and also probably
the largest producer of nuclear weaponry in the country), working to promote nuclear power. And
you had companies like BET TEL, one of the largest international construction companies, [and]
also one of the largest weapon suppliers in the world. So you had all of these incredible
connections between nuclear power and weapons. You had industry that was trying to take this
unbelievably toxic material--plutonium and uranium--and use it to produce energy. And you had
this history of negligence on the part of these industries. If you roll all of that together and
combine it with this attitude in the 1960s and the 1970s, to distrust industry and look behind what
is going on, you have all of these environmental groups that are giving you this avenue to explore
these issues. And when I looked at this--I do not have the words to describe how appalled I was
at what they were trying to promote for energy use in the United States and around the world.
And I do not want to talk too much about the finer points of nuclear energy. It is a very debatable
topic these days. But back then, [this was] before you had all of the regulation [that we have
today]. This was before you had the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This was before you had
the International Atomic Agency Administration to protect against the proliferation of nuclear fuels.
And this was before you had all of the regulations that you have today. So you had this industry
going loosely about its business of promoting nuclear power. And within this framework I started
studying the issue. And what I saw, along with tens of thousands of other Americans, was an
issue just as in need of public attention and public exposure as the Vietnam issue. Vietnam was
coming to a close and we--people who were involved in that--were feeling very successful about
the fight against the Vietnam War. And the next great issue was nuclear power. It was not a
matter of just trying to latch onto any old issue. When you studied the issue, it was a great issue
to fight for. So it got my interest. And for one reason or another, I dropped out of law school
after two years. And I moved to Athens, Georgia and studied nuclear issues with several
environmental organizations--very intensively.
I guess I should talk a little bit about how we perceived the industry at the time. It was an industry
that was--like I said--trying to develop this energy from uranium and plutonium. They were
ignoring the fact that the process produced vast quantities of radioactive waste, with no way to
dispose of them. They were ignoring the fact that the material could be used to produce
plutonium. They were saying, "Let's have this industry, let it grow, let's worry about the nuclear
waste, let's worry about the proliferation of nuclear weapons later, at some other time. And trust
us; we will take care of it." And of course that was absurd, because the American industries were
doing a horrible job of taking care of the environment as it was. So I looked at this as the ultimate
environmental issue, and I got very involved. And I happened to be in a great place to do it. It
was Athens, Georgia.
There was one area of South Carolina which was the focal point of the nuclear industry at the
time. So it was very close to me. I was networking with other people. We were learning about
what was happening at ROCKY FLATS. ROCKY FLATS was the weapons facility out in
Colorado. We were learning about what was happening at HANOVER. That was the weapons
facility or the storage facilty--it has a whole host of activities--but Hanover was the government's
nuclear facility in Washington state. I was learning about BARNWELL, South Carolina--the
reprocessing facility in South Carolina where the nuclear industry, through government subsidy,
was hoping to take nuclear fuel.
I guess I need to explain a little bit. When nuclear fuel is used in a nuclear power plant, it is
waste when it comes out of that nuclear power plant, but it is extremely valuable because it is
peppered with plutonium. Plutonium, while being probably the most deadly material on the
planet, is also one of the most expensive. It is completely manmade, but it is messed up with all
of these fuels so it cannot be reused. So the industry was going to send all of this fuel to a
reprocessing plant in BARNWELL, South Carolina. The issue was so complicated and I would
like to finish this interview without spending four hours talking about nuclear power. But anyway,
at BARNWELL, South Carolina, they were going to reprocess this fuel [and] take out the
plutonium. And at another area the government and the industry were building what are called
"BREEDER Reactors". There was only one breeder reactor being built in the country, and there
was only one reprocessing plant being built in the country--and that was at BARNWELL. And the
industry's plan was to take the plutonium, put it in a breeder reactor. Breeder reactor is exactly
what it is called. It breeds. It produces more fuel than it uses. So you would put the plutonium
in at one end. On the other end you would get a very large mix of nuclear fuel with more
plutonium than you put in to begin with. That mix would be sent to the reprocessing plant, and
you would get the plutonium out and do it again. What the industry was telling the public was that
this was the end of energy shortages around the world--limitless energy at low cost. [It seemed]
a dream to good to be true, and of course it was. So the anti-nuclear movement focused around
this end of nuclear power--breeder technology and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuels. There
were many, many other issues, [such as] the destruction of Indian reservations for the mining of
uranium, the disposal of high level waste underground, the transportation of high level waste,
[and] the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These were all issues as well, and we were all
involved in that. But the breeder technology and the reprocessing technology, being designed
and developed around BARNWELL, South Carolina, right next door to SRP, the Savannah River
Plant. [The SRP was] the largest facility of its kind in the world to produce nuclear weapons, [and
it] was right next door to the BARNWELL facility. The links were just too great to believe that
nuclear power, plutonium, and nuclear weapons could all be done safely, effectively, and protect
the environment. [We could not believe that] weapons would not be made from nuclear power
plants, etc, etc. We just could not believe that all of that could be done safely. So this area
became the center of focus for a very large and growing and vibrant anti-nuclear power
establishment. And I got right into the thick of it. We organized a group in Athens called
Athenians for Clean Energy. I was the person in charge; I was the coordinator. And because of
our proximity to these facilities in South Carolina, we were immediately tapped into the
environmental network and anti-nuclear power network around the country. And people were
calling us and writing us and wondering what was going on. People were trying to get us to
organize, and we did. We organized a lot. It was just a great place to be at a great time in
How can I sum up what some of our involvements were? We formed an organization at Athens.
We had hundreds of members. We met every week. We had programs every month. We
traveled all over the Southeast. We protested everywhere we went. We wrote letters. We
talked to congressmen. We networked with other environmental organizations around the
country. We traveled to ROCKY FLATS to protest there. We traveled to HANOVER to protest
But the main thing was BARNWELL and the reprocessing and breeder technology. I guess this
was 1980 or 1979. We went to BARNWELL, South Carolina. We brought over a hundred
people from Athens. We organized a mass demonstration at the BARNWELL facility. We had
over a thousand people. We camped out at BARNWELL for three days in this tiny little rural
community in South Carolina. At the end of the third day we all tried to enter the facility. Three
hundred people were arrested and we were on national news for a week. And all of a sudden the
country knew about BARNWELL, South Carolina and reprocessing and breeder technology and
we were on a roll. It was wonderful. [The] next year we did it again. And another two or three
hundred people got arrested.
At the same time that we were doing this, there were other things going on with nuclear power.
There was the SEABROOK Nuclear Facility in New Hampshire which was just a travesty; it was
one problem after another in the designs of the facility, and the utility was building it, regardless of
the problems. There was the plant out in California being built on the earthquake fault--the
SANTA NOFRE Plant in California. And there were of course lots of people protesting against
E: Did you get involved in anything in Florida? This was before you came here.
A: No, I had already graduated from the University of Florida.
E: But it was before you came back?
A: Yes, this was before I came back. I guess this is 1994. In 1988 or 1989 I moved back to
Florida. My wife got work here and we moved back. I will get to that in a minute, I guess, if you
want to hear about that. But this is all of the history, and this is all of the exciting history. So we
were networking with all of these other people, fighting nuclear power plants. I remember we had
some wonderful things that we did. We organized a demonstration to go up to BARNWELL,
South Carolina one time, and it started in Miami, Florida. And all through Florida, people joined
the protest. It was a caravan of several hundred cars.
[End side A1]
A: So, as we started to see all of these successes in nuclear power, the group I had formed (and was
head of)--ACE, Athenians for Clean Energy--slowly lost its punch. And we eventually disbanded.
The BARNWELL facilities had been shut down. SEABROOK, New Hampshire had been shut
down. Nuclear power had grinded to a halt. So our organization disbanded. But we are all
politically active people. So we were not just going to be quiet and go about our business; we got
involved in other things. We all had to earn livings so we worked and raised families and got
older and joined environmental organizations and continued to fight for environmental causes and
environmental issues. But it was done on much less [of a] grand scale than it had been in the
1960s and 1970s and beginning of the 1980s. We became somewhat institutionalized, just as
the Sierra Club is now and Greenpeace is. All of these organizations are now part of the
American psyche; they are part of the system.
E: What do you think are the environmental issues here in Florida?
A: Well, when I came to Florida in the late 1960s and the early 1970s to go to college, Florida was
being totally destroyed environmentally. And it was so hopeless. People who were in the
environmental movement at that time were just throwing up their hands in disbelief. In fact, they
were running from Florida. It was just so hopeless here. So I never thought I would come back
to Florida. It was the last place I wanted to come to because the environment was just so trashed
in this state at that time. And for growth and development, those were the boom years--the
1970s and 1980s--for Florida. No one wanted to listen to environmentalists. So I went back to
Athens and got involved in the anti-nuclear movement. And then, low and behold, I am back in
Florida. And I come back here in 1988 and I see that it is the same old thing; the state of Florida
is still being trashed. But there is a big difference. Now the environmental movement is
respected. Now the things that I had been complaining about are appreciated. And people can
look around and see that Florida was being destroyed and that all of these things that the
environmentalists were yelling about were valid. The wetlands were being destroyed. The
wildlife was being destroyed. The forests were being destroyed. The oceans were being
polluted. The rivers were being channelized. And everyone all of a sudden was waking up and
looking around and saying, "Wow, the quality of life in Florida is being destroyed." So when I
came back to Florida in 1988 I saw an environmental movement that was vital and vibrant and the
state was paying attention. And today what we have in Florida, is an environmental regulatory
system that is probably better than any found in any state in the country. It is too bad that it took
so long for it to get going. But now the environmental movement and the environmental
regulatory system in Florida is a very driving force--to make sure that the environment does not
get trashed to the degree that it was earlier on. So it was kind of refreshing to see. I joined a
local organization, the Sierra Club, and started doing things here in Florida at a low key level (like I
had been doing the last couple of years). [It was] nothing special--just keeping my hands in
things and writing letters occasionally. And of course [I was] trying to stay out of South Florida,
where the environment was gone. But in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s people in Florida were
saying, "What are you doing to the Everglades? What are you doing to the St. Johns River?
What are you doing to this river and that river?" [But] no one wanted to listen. And now we are
spending a fortune to try to undo the damage that had been done back then. So it is just like
nuclear power; we turned the tide, and in Florida the environmental movement has turned the tide.
The government in Florida is finally paying attention and trying to correct the mistakes of the
So it is kind of fun being involved here in Florida today. My involvement in Florida, when I moved
back, was pretty much nonexistent, except for going to local Sierra Club meetings and just kind of
paying attention and talking to people. But I am an outdoor person, so I started to get involved in
outdoor activities here in Florida. Now we are back almost up to 1990. I started canoeing a lot
here in Florida. Some of the rivers are spectacular. I started getting outside and seeing what
little of Florida is left--how spectacular it is. And I became very involved with Paynes Prairie and
the area just south of Gainesville. It is full of wildlife. In fact, in all of the time I have spent
outdoors, I do not think I had ever seen anything as spectacular as Paynes Prairie in terms of
wildlife--except for Alaska.
Now that is a whole other story. I was very involved in the protection of Alaska in the early
1980s. The passage of the Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act of 1984, which set aside all of
the parks in Alaska--I was very involved in that. But anyway, that is another interview. But I was
going to Paynes Prairie a lot and hiking through it and bird watching and canoeing Newnans Lake
on the edge of Paynes Prairie. And [I was] just amazed at the wildlife. One day I was walking
through Paynes Prairie, and I ran into the park biologist. His name is JIM WEIMER and we
started talking. And I said, "This is just such a remarkable place." And he said, "Yes, but you
would not believe what people are trying to do. They are trying to cut the water off to Paynes
Prairie." I said, "What are you talking about?" And he said, "Well, there are people south of
Paynes Prairie who believe that the water that flows onto Paynes Prairie would serve the public
better if it was diverted away from Paynes Prairie and went down to Orange Lake, a lake south of
Paynes Prairie. Thereby it could raise the lake levels and ensure that the lakes continued to be
viable fishing areas for recreational fishing people. And I said, "Now Jim, you cannot be serious.
You mean to tell me that here, in 1990, with an area protected like Paynes Prairie, people are still
trying to subvert the system of protection for special lands like this?" And he said, "Yes, people
want to see Paynes Prairie destroyed so that the lake levels can be augmented." I just could not
believe it, so I started looking into this issue. And sure, low and behold, Senator Kirkpatrick, who
is a recreational fisherman, was trying to have the water cut off to Paynes Prairie. In fact, [he]
had been successful. The water flow to Paynes Prairie--when I was looking into this--had been
cut off for ninety days as a test run, to see if it would have any negative consequences on Paynes
Prairie Preserve, and any positive consequences for Orange Lake. What that implied was that, if
indeed it had no negative impact on the Prairie and it did have a positive impact on Orange Lake,
then we could say, "Hey, let's take water from a protected preserve and send it on down to
Orange Lake to be used by recreational fisherman." I just could not believe that. This land was
protected. It was a state preserve, it was a national, natural landmark, it was protected in the
national system as well, and these private interests were going to do what they had been doing in
the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. They were going to destroy an incredible environment for
their own personal needs, and I was just amazed. So I jumped on it as a new issue and got
involved in the protection of Paynes Prairie. I have been involved in that for two or three years.
And just like the issue of nuclear power, when a lot of people see you putting a lot of energy into it,
they jump on the bandwagon. And people did that with Paynes Prairie. And some of the local
organizations sort of tapped me to try to make the public more aware of what was happening with
Paynes Prairie. And I did. I joined Florida Defenders of the Environment and represented them
on Paynes Prairie issues. And I represented the local Sierra Club chapter on Paynes Prairie
issues. And I have been working on that. And as a consequence of that I got involved in some
side issues that had to do with water resources in this area. And that is my involvement in
Florida, to this date--Paynes Prairie and the water issues that revolve around some of these
pristine areas all around Gainesville.
E: What do you think of this GREENWAY thing that they are trying to make a green path through,
along HOGTOWN CREEK, or whatever? Do you think that is destroying the environment, the
fact that they are going to make a pathway there? What do you think of that?
A: I think that GREENWAY is a complicated issue. It needs to be done very slowly. There are
developmental interests in this community, in the community of Gainesville that would put a ten
foot wide slab of concrete all along GREENWAY. I think GREENWAY is probably a good idea if
it can be done environmentally, sensibly, with a lot of attention paid to the sensitive areas in which
it is going to be placed. And as long as there is plenty of input by those who are trying to protect
the environment and do not want to see a massive development of the HOGTOWN Creek
floodplain, as long as they are listened to, I think it can probably be accomplished in a somewhat
environmentally benign way that develops a nice resource for the community. But there is plenty
cause for concern. One of the issues that has spun off of my involvement on the water flows to
PAYNEs Prairie, has been the development of what is called a "Rails to Trails Corridor" through
Paynes Prairie. There is an abandoned rail line that goes through Paynes Prairie. When the rail
line was abandoned the state bought it and it became part of the state's Rails to Trails program
where rail lines are converted to bike paths or pedestrian walkways, or whatever. Well it just so
happens that this rail line goes through one of the most sensitive and wild areas of Paynes Prairie.
So now you are confronted with the issue of--
E: That is along the northern rim, is it not?
A: Yes, it is along the northern rim. Now all of a sudden, here is another issue: do we take this rail
line and develop it and pave it right through the heart of one of the most sensitive areas of Paynes
Prairie? Or do we respect the original mandate of the Paynes Prairie Preserve which places
higher priority on wildlife, ecosystems, and natural habitat than it does on recreation? Or do we
listen to the recreational interests of bicyclists and pave that road and not restore it? [Do we]
pave it and make it a major transportation recreation corridor or do we leave it alone and let it
become part of Paynes Prairie and restore it as its original habitat? Well, the recreational
enthusiasts have worn out. The area has been designated a bike path. Several of the
environmental organizations fought that. They had the path rerouted away from sensitive areas.
They got a commitment from the state, [saying] that they would never pave it. So we thought
there were some compromises that were successful. Well now the state is coming back and they
are going to pave it. A ten foot wide swab of concrete, right through one of the most sensitive
areas of Paynes Prairie preserve, totally ignoring the needs of wildlife, the needs of migrating
birds, and the recreational enthusiasts are probably going to win out on this. Well, I think you can
draw parallels to the Hogtown Creek Greenway. If it is not done properly and if it is not done
carefully and if it is not done with the environment being carefully weighted and the needs of the
environment highly prioritized, you will have the same situation. You will have this giant swab of
concrete through the last remaining creekway.
E: Like 1-95?
A: Yes. It is pretty amazing that they are doing this to Paynes Prairie. And already there are plans
to dam up a section of HOGTOWN CREEK as part of the greenway and [to] make a series of
lakes and have a series of canoeable lakes on HOGTOWN Creek, which is a total manipulation of
the environment. And that is not what the original Greenway proponents were expecting. And
also we find out now that at the site of
[This is where Genny ended and Emily began.]
these lakes, some developmental interests in town are pushing for a conference center. So you
have a greenway that is a great idea. Get the people out, let them walk along this beautiful
creek, the one major creek through the heart of the city of Gainesville, be in tune with the
environment, see the birds, identify trees, and pay attention to the plants that grow along the
floodplain. [It is] a great place for people to go and become aware of nature and appreciate
nature. Now it is being changed. It is not only going to be a footpath, it is going to be paved. It
is not only going to be paved, but a section of the creek is going to be dammed up. That section
of the creek will be turned into lakes, the floodplain will be destroyed, and then the developmental
interests will use this to develop a major complex for tourism and development of other areas in
the city. And all from the beginning of this great idea to put a greenway in through one of the nice
creeks of Gainesville.
E: How come such a nice idea, just nature, and too many people get their hands on it and it is gone.
Next, 1-95 will go through Devil's Millhopper.
A: If we are not careful, that is what will happen. That is a difficult question to answer. Everyone
considers themselves an environmentalist. Just like no one wants to admit they are racist, no
one wants to admit they are against the environment. It is very complicated to try to sort out how
someone who considers themselves an environmentalist could promote some of the things that
they do, you know. The people that promote nuclear power wake up in the morning, and send
their kids off to school, and brush their teeth just like the rest of us, but yet they promote
something that destroys the environment. And they look at it as not destroying the environment.
I do not know. Those are difficult questions. There is a big gap in the psyche of the general
population regarding environmental ethics. It is very easy to understand why you do not commit
crimes, or why you do not step on your brother's projects, or step on your parents, or why you
respect your parents, or why you do not kill people. All these things are part of our psyche, part
of our moral development. We take it for granted. We do not do that with the environment. It is
easy to say, "I want the natural world to be protected," but it is another thing to say, "I am willing to
change my lifestyle, or cut down on my consumptive use of resources for the protection of the
environment." There is not that same moral development or ethical base that we have with a lot
of other things like crime or incest or things like that. We do not have that regarding the
environment. People are not in tune with the natural world. In fact, it is quite the opposite still in
this country and around the world, the natural world is something to be controlled and molded for
our own personal use. I am not a philosopher, but somewhere in all that is the reason why we
take something like the Hogtown Creek Greenway and turn it into a massive development that has
the potential to destroy the creek.
E: Do you know what I think it boils down to?
E: Personal power.
E: And glory. To leave it natural, it is the way God made it. But, if I do it and I suggest this and I
am thumping my chest and everybody says, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," for their own personal reasons,
then it gets out of hand.
A: Many times that is the case. The people that promote the paving of the trail through Paynes
Prairie are definitely on a power trip.
E: Definitely. They are not going to ride a bicycle through it.
A: Many are not. They want to promote this for money, for their own personal needs, for their own
political gain, but there are other sides to this. The people that want the water from Paynes
Prairie to be diverted to Orange Lake are not on a power trip, they just see their own interests as
more important than other interests. And those other interests happen to be birds and animals
and wildlife in this case. Those are difficult questions to answer. For years when I was involved
in the anti-nuclear power movement, people would stand up and yell and scream at us and say we
did not know what we were talking about and we were stopping progress, and it has always been
a difficult question to try to figure out why people do what they do that is perceived by many as
environmental destruction. It is a very difficult question. I do not have the answer to that. I
guess over the years I have gotten sensitive to those issues, whereas I just kind of wrote these
people off. Now, I pay attention to them and I pay attention to their needs. I realize the people
at Orange Lake make their livelihood at Orange Lake, and when the lake levels go down, they
lose money. And they get concerned. So I am sensitive to that now, whereas in the past I
would just say, "Tough luck. You cannot have this water, it belongs on Paynes Prairie." Now I
am sensitive to those needs, but I still do not have the answers as to why they do not understand
that they have no right to that water, and why an area like Paynes Prairie that has been set aside
for everybody should take a higher priority than their personal needs. I do not understand why
they do not understand that. I do not know that I ever will, and I do not understand that anybody
will ever really understand those kinds of questions. I guess the bottom line is that for people like
myself who care very deeply about wildlife and nature and natural systems, the word is, always
stay on guard. Always look at any activity that affects the environment with suspicion, because
the history has been that, invariably, people do not pay attention to the planet and to the natural
systems that support us. So that is why I think that the greenway needs to be done very carefully
with a lot of supervision by the environmental community.
E: Now there is some other talk about trying to build a development of houses also on the edge of
Paynes Prairie, right? By the golf course, I think.
A: Yes. Paynes Prairie is a microcosm of what goes on everywhere. Everybody wants to be
around the protected areas. It is just sort of a mixed blessing, you protect an area. Once you
set it aside and give it this protection, all the growth and development is held at bay for awhile,
and what you end up with is this beautiful area in the middle of the sea of growth and
development, so everybody wants to get as close as they can to it. It becomes an invaluable
resource. The same thing happens around national parks, the same thing happens around all
the protected rivers, and the protected bays, and the protected estuaries. It is a mixed blessing.
You give these areas protection, and they increase in value in the public's mind because the
public wants to use them. So you have to continually stay on guard forever. Developers are
going to want to ring Paynes Prairie Preserve with housing complexes and high rises so people
can have views.
E: Were you involved in the other one a couple of years ago?
A: No, I was not involved. That was right after I moved to Gainesville, but that is what first made me
aware of Paynes Prairie, the fact that a large development was being put on the edge and people
were so upset over it and so emotional over it that they were willing to be arrested to stop the
development. Whenever I see that, while some people might say, "Oh, another bunch of nuts," I
say, "What pulls these people's heartstrings so much. What has got them so in an uproar." So I
looked into it and I found out that Paynes Prairie was truly a remarkable wonder and the people in
this area should just count their lucky stars that it is here. So it was actually as a result of that
that I started going onto Paynes Prairie and paying attention to it and hiking around it and
checking out the
E: Well it was in the newspapers everyday. There was the biggest hoorah.
A: Yes. But that was interesting because a lot of the people who were involved in that were not your
regular environmental organizational types in Gainesville. I think there was a sort of hardcore
contingent of environmental activists on campus at the time, which, of course, they are now gone.
But they did great. They stopped that development. If they were not there, if they did not get
involved, the development would have taken place. Once again direct action and civil
disobedience, while many people frown on it and think it is left-wing fringe kind of thing, it
succeeded. It stopped the development and made a whole community aware of a whole slue of
threats to Paynes Prairie Preserve. So my hat is off to all of those people that were involved.
E: You also feel that, as far as safeguarding the environment is concerned, many manufacturers,
maybe in the food industry and so on, could do a lot to help the environment by not serving
hamburgers in styrofoam and all that sort of thing. I think the rubbish you see along the road also
detracts so much. Even if it the median in the road with a few wildflowers, that is the environment
A: Well, things are happening in all areas. McDonald's no longer uses styrofoam. When people go
into McDonald's and they see no styrofoam they go, "Oh, this is neat. McDonald's is not using
styrofoam, good for them." Well, McDonald's did not just do that. It was a five year effort by the
Natural Resources Defense Council, another vital -- viable and vibrant -- environmental
organization in this country. They worked with McDonald's for five years and they got
McDonald's to agree on an experimental basis to go to something besides styrofoam.
E: And the advertising types probably figured this is a real boost for them. So it is not out of the
goodness of their heart.
A: Not at all. The Natural Resources Defense Council working with the people in management of
McDonald's who are very intensive educational program, showed them clearly that styrofoam was
having a very, very detrimental impact on the planet on a very large scale. They convinced
McDonald's that they could be in the forefront of a new way of packaging that was going to be
environmentally safe. McDonald's bought on. The result is that McDonald's no longer uses
styrofoam, uses recyclable packaging, and other people are paying attention. But, again, it was
the environmental movement that made this happen. It was not done in a vacuum, and the
environmental movement has gotten industry to sign a paper out that is called the Montreal
Protocol, and it was developed by the international environmental community, it was signed in
Montreal [Canada], and corporations from around the world are signing on, as well as
governments. That protocol calls for phasing out of all ozone depleting hydrocarbons that are
mainly found in forms of styrofoam. The Montreal Protocol is a major environmental success
story. Ten years from now there probably will be hardly any styrofoam, and it is a result of the
environmental movement. Again, the public will think, well, how did this happen, if they even
think about it. But, it happened because there are thousands of environmental activists working
to make it happen. Environmentalism is no different than civil rights or citizen movements to a
whole host of things whether it be health care issues or issues for the elderly. Whatever it may
be, it may all happen because the public gets involved, and the environmental movement is just
like any of those, they make things happen. I am glad to be a part of it, plus it gives me a way to
feel like I am doing something more productive.
E: Worth living for.
E: Do you see any more issues here in Gainesville that you think need looking into besides Paynes
Prairie and the greenway?
A: Environmentally? Well, yes, I do, and there are a lot of people working on them. There is more
recycling, there is the use or recyclable materials when you buy things, enviro-shopping is a big
term, buying things that use recyclable packaging.
E: Or no packaging. There is nothing wrong with buying potatoes loose. Why do they have to be in
the styrofoam tray?
A: Sure. More bicycle paths. There are a lot of environmental issues. The protection of some of
the lakes, like Newnans Lake, the purchase of more property for wildlife corridors and wildlife
habitat, Alachua Conservation Trust is very active in that, all these things are going on, everything
is happening. I do not think the situation is as dismal as it was twenty or twenty-five years ago by
any means. There is a lot of hope, a lot of cause for hope, but you have to be on guard all the
time because special interests and money and power will, at the drop of a hat, trash the
environment for their own needs. At some point, we will be a more enlightened public, and we
will look at the planet in a different way. We will look at the planet, hopefully, as a living,
breathing entity as opposed to something to be subdued and subjected to our own whims. I hope
that day will be visualized in my lifetime, but maybe not. I guess another great environmental
issue is population control. It is a very controversial issue and people do not want to discuss it,
but population control and, not lowering our standard of living, but using less resources in our
standard of living, being less consumptive of natural resources, I guess, are two of the great
issues, I think, in the years ahead. We need to use less, and we need to procreate less.
Without coming to grips with those two issues, all the environmental gains in the past will
eventually be overrun by the negative impacts of runaway consumerism and runaway population
growth on a global scale. So there is still plenty to do.
E: I see things they build like the schools and buildings, the windows are sealed, so they must run
the air conditioning and the heat all the time. Why? Look at this beautiful weather in Florida.
A: The issue of paying attention to having a lifestyle that has lees negative impact on the
environment is sort of, when I talk about consumerism, I guess that could all be rolled into an
environmentally conscience, or an environmentally sensitive lifestyle. That is, I guess, the next
big issue to be confronted along with population control. If people were aware, really, on a deep
down level of how everything they do impacts the planet, and took responsibility for that personal
impact that they are creating, then, some of the other issues that you were just alluding to would
be addressed. In other words, it is very common for Americans, Westerners especially, to think
that success means a big house. Well, maybe we should, on the outside of that house, put how
many kilowatts they use, how much cubic foot of air is heated and cooled, and how much pollutant
is put into the environment as a result of that large house. Maybe, just like that, we should put
the mileage on the outside of a car. If somebody drives a big car, the mileage should be on the
outside of it for everyone to see. I do not think that will ever happen, but people need to be
aware of the consequences of what they do. There is no need to have a clothes dryer. My
goodness, Florida has more solar energy than just about any place in the country. But people do
not pay attention. The American dream is to have a 3,000 square foot house and run the heating
and air conditioning all day long. That has grave consequences for the planet. I would say, do
things that other people would say means lowering you standard of living, but for me, having a
smaller house, using the air conditioning less, using the heating less, does not mean a lower
standard of living. But for most interests in our society, that is a lower standard of living, and
people do not want to admit that that is what we need to do.
E: I think Americans are incredibly wasteful.
A: Oh, no question.
E: I do not like to say lazy, but I think that is a good word. They do not want to wash a cloth napkin.
They would rather use paper napkins and throw them away, just incredibly wasteful. Tell me
about the Orange Creek Basin Advisory Council.
A: The Orange Creek Basin Advisory Council was set up by the St. Johns River Water Management
District about six months ago.
E: Only six months ago? It is new.
A: Oh, it is very new. We have only had three meetings. It was set up by the governing board of
the St. Johns River Water Management District, and it is mandated to last for two years, and its
purpose it to make recommendations to the St. Johns River Water Management governing board
on issues related to water resources within this whole area. When I say this whole area, the
water management district calls the area the Orange Creek Basin. It is sort of a misleading term
because Orange Creek is a very small creek that flows out of the south end of Orange Lake, but
the Orange Creek Basin is everything from Newnans Lake southward to the south end of Orange
Lake. In other words, it includes Newnans Lake, the Newnans Lake watershed, Paynes Prairie,
Prairie Creek, Lochloosa Lake, Camps Canal, the River Styx, Orange Lake, and all the drainage
areas for all those lakes. Some people think that the advisory council may just be a lightening
rod for the water management district to sort of diffuse things that are controversial so that they do
not get all the blame for the decisions that they make. However, the people who are on the
advisory council like to think that we are going to have some major input into the decision making
process for the water management district. There are about fourteen people on the council, and
they represent land owners around Orange Lake, Lochloosa Lake, and Newnans Lake. They are
representatives of the water management district, environmental organizations. I represent the
local Sierra Club and Florida Defender's of the Environment. There are representatives from
the Department of Environmental Protection, Alachua county, (Levita Brown represents Alachua
county,) Marion county, and the representatives from the Game and Fish [Commission].
Basically, what we are doing at this stage, is getting input from all these agencies regarding all the
issues involved. The issues are many and very complicated. This is a very difficult thing to try to
sort through. Do you want to hear what some of the issues are?
A: Myself and Robert Hutchinson, the past director of Alachua Conservation Trust, comprise a
subcommittee of the basin advisory council and we are looking at the widening of Highway 20.
So we met this morning with the Florida Department of Transportation to discuss the widening of
Highway 20, or the locally called Hawthorne Road. That road is going to be widened in 1999 to
six lanes, which will make it wider than 1-75.
A: I know. And the public does not even know about this. Our mouths dropped open when we
heard these plans. They have already got the plans. They are already basically set in concrete.
But when they do so, it is going to have some impact on some issues that affect the advisory
council, and specifically those issues are the dam at the end of Newnans Lake, which is extremely
controversial, whether that dam should be removed, rebuilt, left in place. And that issue, how the
dam is dealt with, bears on whether or not lake levels on Newnans Lake are going to be allowed
to fluctuate naturally or artificially, and that bears on aquatic weed control, access for recreational
fishing, stocking the lake for fishing, not stocking the lake, wildlife habitat, and then, it also bears
on water quality downstream. Water quality downstream bears on ... some of the water that
flows out of Newnans Lake becomes Prairie Creek, some of that goes down to Orange Lake,
some of that goes down and flows onto Paynes Prairie. So the water quality bears on
Department of Environmental Protection restoration projects on Paynes Prairie. The flow levels
could potentially be controlled by the dam, and the flow levels is a very highly charged issue for
the residents around Orange Lake who want all the water they can get. So these are very
complicated issues, and the water management district has to make decisions as to how much
water goes down to Paynes Prairie, how much goes to Orange Lake, how much gets kept in
Newnans Lake for fishing in Newnans Lake, and before they make all these decisions, they have
kind of set up this advisory council to take in input from all of the agencies and make
recommendations to the water management district, and that is what we are doing. [They are]
extremely complicated issues. There is a sinkhole in Orange Lake that has taken a lot of water
from Orange Lake so that the multi-million dollar fishing industry is being severely hurt right now.
The Orange Lake people want to dam up the sinkhole. Well you just do not go around ...
E: But is it possible to dam a sinkhole?
A: Yes, it is possible. Technologically, it can be done. Financially and economically is another
question. In terms of environmental damage, that is another question. Politically, that is another
question. Can it be done politically? Just because something can be done technologically, does
not mean it can be done politically. Then there is another issue of natural systems and natural
flows in the Florida aquifer. Once you dam up sinkholes, you cut water off to the Florida aquifer.
Well, is that fair to the people that take their water from the Florida aquifer. The water flows in the
aquifer from Orange Lake, it flows southeastward and comes back up at Silver Springs. If you
close down the sinkhole in Orange Lake, are you going to negatively impact the water that flows to
Silver Springs, and do they have a say in it. Should they be able to say yes or no, you can plug
up the sinkhole. So the issue gets very complicated. Personally, from my standpoint, the people
at Orange Lake that want their lake levels manipulated and artificially kept high are part of the old
school of thinking in Florida, that you do whatever you need to do to accommodate growth and
tourism and recreation. So that school says that if a lake is low, you dam up the streams that
flow out of it, and you keep the lake level high. Well, the trend in Florida -
[End side A2]