Farago is not alone in his belief. This past May 7 the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Working Group passed a resolution highly critical of Dade County and its plans for Homestead Air Force Base. The members of this federal group, appointed by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and led by Col. Terry Rice of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is charged with, among other things, coordinating cleanup efforts in the Everglades. In its resolution, the group stated that "issues pertaining to growth and development in southern Dade County are not being addressed comprehensively but instead are seemingly being addressed in an ad hoc manner."
In response to the working group's resolution, the broad-based Everglades Coalition, in a May 17 letter to Babbitt, asked that the federal government delay transferring the air base to Dade County. "Our concern for environmental impacts to Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park has been raised to the status of alarm," wrote co-chairs Ronald Tipton, of the World Wildlife Fund, and Theresa Woody, of the Sierra Club. "It is now clear that local and state processes are insufficient to ensure that South Florida Everglades restoration efforts can be protected from massive regional development that will occur as a consequence of air base redevelopment, now in the planning stages."
Bolstered by the federal working group and the Everglades Coalition, as well as by a host of other environmental groups including Friends of the Everglades, the 42-year-old Farago has tried to bring some order back to the process of developing the air base. In the past, the arguments against HABDI have been rooted in the complaint that it was not fair to grant development rights to a single, politically powerful group without competitive bidding and without any real input from the public. But with that fight having been lost, Farago believes environmental issues must now be the rallying point. And he has the time and energy to devote to the cause.
His father, a Hungarian immigrant who survived Nazi work camps, settled in Rhode Island and started a manufacturing business that Farago and his brother eventually took over. The company was on the leading edge of fiber-optic technology; in 1988 Farago and his brother sold the business, which brought them enough money to retire in comfort. But rather than cruise the world, Farago, who is married and has three children, decided to use the freedom that money provides to become a civic activist. He became intensely interested in environmental issues in 1988 when he moved to Key West, and continued that interest when he settled in Dade County in 1992. He formed the Alliance for Sustainable Communities two years ago, concentrating on urban-planning issues, and has since developed a fax network of people and groups -- from the Friends of the Everglades to the Kendall Federation of Homeowners -- he keeps apprised of issues he thinks are important.
"I don't mind spending six hours at a county commission meeting waiting to speak for five minutes," says Farago, who also publishes the Urban Pioneer newsletter. "This is a way for me to pay back the incredible good fortune I've had. Not just for my sake but for my children's sake as well."
It was Farago's Rhode Island upbringing that brought him to Chafee's doorstep a few months ago. Farago's family has known the senator for many years, and his position as chairman of the environment committee made him a natural object of pleas for help. Farago says he spent weeks providing material on the Homestead issue to Chafee's staff. "Senator Chafee has been an environmental leader in Congress through his entire career," Farago notes. "He understood there is a national interest in making tax dollars work for taxpayers with respect to environmental protection."
Or at least Chafee used to believe that -- until Bob Graham explained to him just how complicated things are in South Florida.
"I still have the highest respect for Senator Chafee," says Farago, who continues to lobby the senator for a GAO investigation, "and I am confident that once all of the parties are fully informed about the necessity of a congressional GAO investigation, we can move forward in a productive way."
The Dade County Commission, however, took another step backward last week when it decided to ignore established procedures requiring a developer to assess the impact his project will have on the region -- including the effect on schools, roads, and sewers -- and opted instead for an expedited review that critics fear will sidestep many of those concerns. As Commissioner Art Teele, a HABDI opponent, complained: "The public is just being stampeded through this entire process.