Destiny's Child

Page 2 of 3

"Mrs. Douglas smiled. “Just because I wrote a book doesn't mean they'll listen to me. I'm just one person. People don't listen to one person about anything. They listen to organizations.'

"Now it was Joe's turn to smile. “So why don't you start an organization?' he asked."

Before she could answer, Browder drove Douglas to the construction site.

"As they drove through the park the sweet sounds of mockingbirds and wrens filled the air. Mrs. Douglas spotted an otter playing in the canal along the side of the road. It slid down the side of the canal and then floated on its back, basking in the warm sunshine.

"As they listened to the birds and watched the otter they grew quiet. Each of them was reminded once again of how much there was to love about the park. They knew it would be destroyed if the jetport was built.

"At last they reached the jetport site. Joe led Mrs. Douglas to the place where the airstrip was being built. She looked around at the fallen trees and the bald patches of land. She saw the swampland torn apart and drained.

"That's all it took."

A short time later Douglas announced that she was forming an organization to fight the jetport. The group would be called Friends of the Everglades.

By the fall of 1969 the plan of attack was clear. While Browder and Douglas helped educate the public, not just in Florida but throughout the nation, as to the threat posed by the jetport, Reed strode through the corridors of power in Tallahassee and Washington.

Following the governor's order to temporarily halt construction of the jetport, Reed and Browder, working with a cast of scientists and other experts, created a list of 112 questions they wanted Dade County to address. At a subsequent public meeting to hear the county's response to those questions, Reed became infuriated when it became clear county officials refused to give serious consideration to the environmental concerns.

"You are wasting our time," Reed recalls chiding Mayor Charles Hall before a packed audience. "The mayor went ballistic." Hall called Reed and Browder "white militants" and told them to "go to hell." Eventually, Reed says, the mayor became so angry he threw his chair across the stage and stormed out of the meeting.

Through the governor Reed retaliated by yanking all state-required permits for the jetport. Both sides began lobbying Washington for assistance. The Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration advocated in favor of building the airport. Reed and the governor, meanwhile, lobbied the U.S. Department of the Interior and found an ally in Walter Hickel.

Ironically environmentalists had opposed Hickel's nomination as Interior Secretary, citing his abysmal record as governor of Alaska. But after winning Senate confirmation to the post, Hickel decided his first official trip would be a two-day camping adventure in the Everglades. Reed acted as tour guide, and remembers how, at the end of the first day, Hickel and Governor Kirk polished off a bottle of whiskey at their campsite and then jumped into canoes in the middle of the night for a tour of Lostmans River, about 25 miles south of Everglades City. "They were bombed out of their minds, and they had these park rangers with them, and they kept asking the rangers what an alligator roar sounds like, and then they'd try to mimic one," Reed says, laughing at the memory. "They just howled away." Hickel ended up proving to be a valuable ally in Kirk's fight against the jetport.

Browder and the National Audubon Society had their own contacts as well. The national president of the society helped convince Nixon's chief of staff, John Erlichman, that the jetport was a mistake.

Environmentalists found an unexpected friend in Julie Nixon. The president sent his daughter on a "fact-finding mission" to the Everglades during the jetport debate. (An alligator hunter was hired by the Secret Service to walk in front of her and scare off any threatening creatures.) Browder prepared a wonderful tour for her, and she returned to Washington opposed to the jetport.

In January 1970 Reed and Kirk were summoned to the White House. After waiting a short time in the Roosevelt Room with Hickel, Transportation Secretary Volpe, and others, Reed says Erlichman suddenly burst into the room and announced that the president had made a decision: The jetport was dead.

Rather than couch the decision in environmental terms, Reed recalls Erlichman saying that the president didn't trust what was happening with the jetport because he believed it was part of a play by Dade County Democrats to get rich from land speculation. As Erlichman was speaking, Nixon walked in. He told the group his decision needed to remain secret for a few days. Volpe would have to privately brief the mayor in Dade County; he also needed to alert key members of Congress. "I don't want any showboating," Reed says Nixon commanded.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede