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Stronger efforts needed to save
I remember when one of the last cypress
swamps visible from U.S. 19 in Pasco County
was bulldozed. It was destroyed in April 1983.
Developer George M. "Bud" Brown was re-
Brown said he thought he had county
permission to fell the trees, protected by
county ordinance, and fill in the wetland.
County officials later acknowledged that a
bureaucratic foul-up could have led Brown to
I moved to this area about two months
after the bulldozers leveled the cypress bay- t
head. People were still talking about it, shak-
ing their heads in disgust. Another tract of i
Florida's wetlands, another sliver of Florida's
soul, had vanished.
The story was my first exposure to one of
the most pressing issues facing Florida today:
managing growth and its impact on the envi-
ronment. The latest chapter involves Florida
Power Corp.'s Crystal River plants.
Florida Power carelessly blundered into
the coastal wetlands off Citrus County begin-
ning in the late 1960s, leaving destruction in
its wake. It has fought the federal environ-
mental protection agencies' demands to take
measures to protect the Gulf for more than a
decade. Power officials now have a plan to
make amends. But it's not that easy.
The hot water discharged from the plants
into the Gulf of Mexico has killed more than a
square mile of sea grass in shallow waters
along the coast. The submerged grasses pro-
vide breeding and feeding grounds for a huge
variety of invertebrates and fish. They are
part of a vast network of wetlands, extending
from Cedar Key to south of St. Petersburg,
that is essential to Florida's commercial and
recreational marine life.
At issue is how to repair the damage.
The state could require Florida Power to
build cooling towers for its discharged water.
Power officials claim that option could cost
$200-million or more. And, they say, installing
the towers won't guarantee that.the damaged
area will rejuvenate. They contend that other
factors, such as increased silt created by
shifting currents caused by the Cross Florida
Barge Canal, located just north of the plants,
may have contributed to the damage.
Florida Power has come up with an alter-
nate proposal. Under the plan, power officials
would create new marshes and sea grass beds.
They would operate a fishery near the plants
to stock the Gulf. The plan would cost $11-
million. The major drawback is that most of
the plan creation of new sea grass beds and
stock enhancement relies on unproven
Experts aren't sure if either proposal will
give back to the Gulf what the power plants
destroyed. And they don't agree ,n which plan
has greater merit, although EPA officials feel
strongly that eliminating the power plant's hot
water discharge would greatly improve the
situw.tio, It's another example of a recurring
theme: Damaging the environment is easy.
Repairing it is difficult if not, in some cases,
Hernando County residents got a taste of
that hard reality when developers altered the
Weeki Wachee River in 1970. The developers,
R. W. Underwood Jr., W. G. Underwood and
Jack Underwood, dredged the river near Wee-
ki Wachee River Retreats to create fill for
homes along one of the river's banks. The
altered area became wider and more shallow.
Its sparkling waters grew murky.
After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
sued the developers in federal court, Jack
Underwood agreed to finance efforts to re-
store the Weeki Wachee to its natural state.
The plan centered on the installation of a
series of jetties along the river.
The engineering firm that devised the plan
originally estimated that the damage would be
corrected within 10 years. The firm has about
doubled that estimate while the chief regula-
tor with the Corps of Engineers' Tampa office
says it will be lucky if the river returns to its
original state in 100 years.
That prognosis more than hints that the
Weeki Wachee has suffered permanent dam-
age. It suggests that, again, man has dealt a
careless, knockout blow to Florida's fragile
Such incidents should serve as a warning.
We need to look longer and harder before
altering the environment.
The destruction of some 600 acres of the
West Coast wetlands system might seem in-
consequential. The disappearance of one cy-
press bayhead in a state full of swamps and
wetlands might seem hardly worth noting.
The fouling of a turn in the Weeki Wachee
River some might label regrettable but insig-
nificant. But each represents a chipping away
of Florida's natural resources. Experts esti-
mate that in the past 150 years more than 60
percent of Florida's wetlands have disap-
peared in similar fashion.
Last fall, when talking about the destruc-
tion caused by Florida Power, Dr. Lawrence
Olsen, a marine biologist for the State Depart-
ment of Environmental Regulation, put his
finger on the moral of the story: "You take
piece by piece, a square mile here and a square
mile there, and all of a sudden you have