Resignation Indignation

When Joette Lorion publicly quit Friends of the Everglades, some environmentalists scoffed

"If the district review team was just a fact-finding committee, they should have just given you facts," she told the board. "Instead they gave you conclusions."

Lorion argues the report may not be valid, since the team's meetings were not open to the public. That's a possible violation of Florida's Sunshine Law. (District officials contend there was no policy recommendation, so the group did not break the law.)

Most important, Lorion says, the SFWMD estimate of $112 million is too low and the sources for the money are still unclear. The U.S. Department of the Interior has pledged to pay half the cost which, if only $60 million, would amount to the Interior's entire fiscal year budget to purchase environmentally sensitive lands in Florida. SFWMD wants Miami-Dade County to pay 25 percent, but Lorion believes that's unlikely. (Dade environmental director John Renfro is currently preparing a report for the county manager on the subject.)

In addition Lorion points out Congress has already allocated money to build levees. "You could restore flow without getting [residents] out and it would be much cheaper and much faster," she says. "There are areas we have already trashed. This is one of them. Why don't we just slap up a levee and get on with it?"

She also fears that video tape or articles that depict the government forcing area families from their homes would destroy public sympathy for Everglades restoration. Project opponents are already making common cause with residents. "It's just fodder to all these groups that want to stop restoration," she says.

Add landowner litigation to the mix and the purchase of the 81-2 Square Mile Area could drag on forever, she argues.

Some of Lorion's former peers are disturbed by her position. They question her motives: Is she trying to open the Everglades to development by her employers, the Miccosukees? "What she has done is actually quite divisive," argues one prominent environmentalist who declined to be named. "I think this is a very bizarre transformation and it does seem to be connected with her advocacy on behalf of the Miccosukees."

Lorion contends her views have not changed. At the meeting she foretold the death of the Everglades. "I see northeast Shark River Slough will never be rehydrated. I see Everglades restoration and the park going down the drain," she said fighting back sobs. "I love you all but I am sorry, I had to say this."

Days later in her Kendall office, she reflected on her words. "It's not a lot of fun looking like I'm on the wrong side of an issue," she says. "I'm not used to that." She faults her fellow environmentalists for losing perspective. Lorion recalls once being told that a zealot was one who lost direction and then redoubled effort. Environmentalists might argue that describes her. She sees it differently. "I quit the environmental movement to save the Everglades," she insists.

jacob_bernstein@miaminewtimes.com

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