Compared to previous public meetings at Vanguard High, a reduced crowd of about a hundred people attended the public meeting sponsored by the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection’s Division of Recreation and Parks (DRP) at Fort King Presbyterian Church on Thursday night. A noticeably strong contingent of the profit motivated seemed to counterbalance and even outweigh the testimony of environmentalists, also in contrast to the previous meetings.
Lewis Scruggs of DRP was again leading the meeting. He reviewed the previously outlined time frames and aims of the project, a comprehensive scope that included addressing cultural and archaeological legacies as well as the range of items included in the earlier Interim Transition Plan.
Public comments were the primary agenda item for this meeting. After longtime environmentalist Guy Marwick led off speaking in support of promoting education and public awareness, a steady stream of individuals promoting small business, concerned about concessionaire choices that had apparently been the subject of a separate DRP meeting on Tuesday, and much talk of eco-tourism and education began to yield to an insistence on public-private partnership that had Marion County as the public side of management, not DRP.
Rock Gibboney who has been representing a group of investors at every meeting complained about not receiving proper notice of this meeting. Yet he was at the Tuesday meeting, and he complained about concessionaires who were being considered, that not enough consideration was being given to local enterprises. Him? His deep-pocket people? He complained that DRP lost $14 million on its parks operations and needed money makers to support the conservation efforts. He complained that state funding was precarious and that local funding support was preferable.
Gibboney complained a lot and feigned victimization, that somehow he wasn’t getting a fair shake. Really? Some arguments made little sense, like his state funding gripe. Later, DRP’s Scruggs would note that DRP was 60% self-supporting, an exceptional level among state park services in the nation. State funding is bound to go up and down, but everyone acknowledged the unique and outstanding quality that Silver Springs would take as a park in the system, well worth the investment. Silver River State Park seems to have fared quite well with funding, thank you. Retaining state funding is far less of a gamble than private funding which can be withdrawn or shut down when profitability isn’t maintained or forthcoming.
As the meeting progressed, it was clear that a variety of voices had been recruited to advance profit-making interests alongside conservation. Environmental activist Doug Shearer noted that the public comments had taken the “eco” in eco-tourism as “economic” instead of “ecological.” He advocated making sure that the ecological work is given priority over any economic speculations. He denounced the county commission for its consistent unwillingness to lift a finger on environmental issues surrounding Silver Springs. Shearer noted that once the waterways and habitats were reset on a strong footing, there would be plenty of opportunity for the profit-takers.
Then David Tillman took the microphone. Tillman, a civil engineer, is well known as a tireless and shameless shill for the wealthiest developers and has been a reputed strong arm for campaign donations for commissioners. In a word, he’s a hack. In his smarmy, time share salesman kind of way, he tried to suggest that he was on the same page with everyone in the room.
With that remark, Guy Marwick finally cracked. He shouted back, as Tillman’s arm swept to embrace the room, “Don’t include me!” which brought quite a bit of laughter and a warning from Scruggs about audience conduct.
Tillman concluded his sales pitch with an appeal to let the County Commission run what will become Silver Springs State Park together with local private business interests. That was the true agenda that had been recruited and represented, whether the variety of speakers realized why they were recruited to speak or not.
Environmental activist John Dunn also spoke strongly against any path taking priority over ecological restoration and rejuvenation, and denied that the County Commission ought to have any role.
Scruggs announced that there will not be another public hearing until the summer, with the transfer of lessee of Silver Springs Attraction from Palace Entertainment to DEP coming on October 1, 2013.
County Administrator Lee Niblock and County Commissioner David Moore sat in the back and observed, apparently pleased with the turnout of pro-county, pro-business supporters.
Environmental activists need to take notice and get re-organized. Emailing Mr. Scruggs will at least ensure their comments are in the public record. You can believe the profit takers haven’t taken anything for granted and are working every angle to get what they want.
There is no doubt that if the County Commission has a hand in management, it will allow anything that the monied interests desire. Gibboney and Tillman made that clear. In their view, profits must take priority over ecology, and profits will determine the success of Silver Springs - theirs and their sponsors’ profits.
Send your email to: Lewis.firstname.lastname@example.org and encourage him to put ecology over profits, and keep the Marion County Commission as far away from this as possible.
Reminder: the second Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) meeting on developing a strategy for dealing with nitrates in the Silver River Basin will be next Thursday, March 14 starting at 10am at the Marion County Public Library, Main Branch. Ending time is published as 3pm.