Hip hip hooray. The Homestead airport is dead. For now, at least.

"From an environmentalist's standpoint, it's hard to imagine a Republican administration trying to find an Interior Secretary acceptable to the conservatives of the Rocky Mountain West better than Gale Norton."

The Everglades Coalition can either demonize her or reach out to her. History suggests it would be better served by the latter, a case in point being the battle 30 years ago over the proposed jetport in the Everglades. Richard Nixon's Interior Secretary, Walter Hickel, was opposed during his confirmation hearings by every environmental group in the nation. But soon after being confirmed, he took an official trip to the Everglades, a place he knew nothing about but quickly came to appreciate. As a result he helped to kill the jetport.

Earlier this month Clinton's Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt told me he first visited the Everglades in the Eighties, while he was running for president. "It confirmed my view at the time that there was nothing much to care about east of the Rocky Mountains," Babbitt said with a wry smile. "It's an acquired taste." In time, he noted, he too came to prize its beauty and so applied himself to stopping the Homestead airport.

The Homestead runway will be a temptation for years to come
Steve Satterwhite
The Homestead runway will be a temptation for years to come

The sooner Norton travels to South Florida the better. Like Hickel and Babbitt before her, she'll be looking for projects that will improve her image within the environmental community. Given that state and federal governments have committed nearly eight billion dollars over the next 30 years to Everglades restoration, jumping on that bandwagon could be easy for her. She might actually turn out to be an important ally. And who knows, there may come a time in the future when environmentalists will need her help battling yet another effort to turn that bothersome Homestead runway into a commercial airport.

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