GET THE KIDS INSIDE! BOLT THE DOOR!

Toxic sewage spawns swamp monsters; officials say no cause for alarm

Clemente is rankled by the suggestion that he is failing to treat a potential public emergency with an adequate sense of urgency. He is taking the report seriously, Clemente insists, though he declines to reveal the identity of the alleged former director or to make public the purported affidavit. "Attorney-client privilege," he snaps.

Other officials have resisted the glibness-as-damage-control strategy. Jim Karas, a government relations representative from the South Florida Water Management District, read the Sun report while on vacation in Phoenix and immediately dispatched a memorandum to his superiors in West Palm Beach. "I suggest we assemble a working staff committee ASAP to investigate this issue, as it has obvious, significant implications," wrote Karas in his hastily scrawled missive.

The top brass at the district is concerned about the discovery. On January 17, director Samuel Poole III wrote a letter to a high-ranking U.S. official, seeking federal involvement in the matter. "District maintenance workers have determined that a number of pumping stations throughout South Florida have been damaged by wildlife, and these employees suspect that the swamp monsters may be responsible," Poole wrote in his letter to Col. Terrence "Rock" Salt, executive director of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Poole requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Justice "begin investigations of these creatures for potential criminal prosecutions."

The director also offered an explanation for the mysterious attack on the two tourists in late November, one that raises more questions than it answers. The "weirdos," he wrote, were two district staff members dressed as the district's alligator mascot. "En route from a function in Naples to the South Florida Fair, their district vehicle broke down on I-75," Poole explained. "The two employees believed that their unique costumes might help them in their efforts to hitchhike a ride back to West Palm Beach."

The South Florida Fair, however, takes place in January, not November. Poole was unavailable to explain the glaring discrepancy. And despite the show of concern, a spokesman says the Water Management District has no plans to form a research committee to study the swamp monster issue. "We're more interested in water quality than creatures," explains John Neuharth.

Residents of the Everglades -- those citizens most directly threatened by the reported lusus naturae -- are apparently taking the threat seriously and are "arming themselves with high-powered automatic weapons," the Sun reported in its January 2 issue, which also included breaking stories about the discovery of Noah's Ark and about a geneticist's theory that dinosaurs became extinct because solar radiation made them homosexual.

But Joette Lorion, the usually voluble spokeswoman for the Miccosukee Indians, whose reservation is located in the Everglades, is mum on the subject. "We have no comment," she said nervously when contacted late this past week, then slammed down the phone, casting a heavier cloak of mystery over the crisis.

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