First Big Win In Effort to Save Small Wetlands

Written by Stuart Attorney Virginia Sherlock of Littman, Sherlock & Heims, P.A.

The Local Planning Agency voted 3-1 in a jam-packed chamber Thursday evening to deny approval for CPA 17-07 that would allow the destruction of small urban wetlands.

LPA Chair Jim Moir and members Don Foley and Cindy Hall voted to approve the staff recommendation to deny the Comprehensive Plan Amendment after hours of public comment from Martin County residents who were passionate, articulate, and unanimous in urging the board to reject the wetlands destruction proposal.

LPA member Crystal Lucas was absent; Ed Ciampi appointee Scott Watson voted in favor of CPA 17-07, arguing that the property rights of individual landowners should take precedence over “the greater good” that might be achieved by regulating the use of land, including regulation that protects wetlands.

Amendment proponent Don Cuozzo was not at the meeting due to a family loss. He was represented by Toby Overdorf of Crossroads Environmental, who acknowledged that no data and analysis accompanied the application because, he said, it simply doesn’t exist. He did not know how much property might be affected by the amendment or what the long-term impacts might be. He repeatedly suggested “better ecological function” could result from destroying small urban wetlands and mitigating for the loss by establishing new wetlands elsewhere.

County staff did an excellent job of presenting the application along with a series of important unanswered questions that the applicant failed to address.

Citizens walked to the microphone in a steady stream to urge the LPA to reject the proposed amendment in 3-minute speeches that were serious, funny, touching, scientific, anecdotal, spontaneous, well-planned, personal, and, above all, heart-felt.

Local environmental leaders including the Indian Riverkeeper and representatives of the Martin County Conservation Alliance, bullsugar.org, the Martin County Chapter of the Native Plant Society and the Guardians of Martin County were interspersed with citizens who have never before appeared at a local government meeting.

The final speaker of the night was environmental icon Maggy Hurchalla, who expressed pride in the overwhelming outpouring of love for Martin County that was expressed by residents who cited the Martin County difference, our special quality of life, and concern for the economic and environmental value of small urban wetlands.

Many speakers referred to last week’s wetlands workshop in explaining the importance of small wetlands. Others commented on the long-standing protections afforded to wetlands by our Comprehensive Plan. One speaker held up a brochure that she had picked up from a stack of educational materials in the County Administration Building lobby and read aloud a paragraph about the danger of flooding caused by the replacement of natural land with pavement and buildings that produce increased runoff. As many speakers noted, without small urban wetlands, there’s nowhere for water to go except for streets and yards and, ultimately, into our rivers carrying unfiltered pollutants.

Just before calling for a vote, LPA Chairman Moir thanked the crowd for attending the meeting and speaking out for our community and community values.

If you attended the meeting, you felt the pride and joy that Martin County residents exuded in urging protection for animals, birds, neighborhoods, rivers, and public health by saving — not paving — small urban wetlands.

If you did not attend, you can share that pride and joy by watching the video of the meeting that will be posted on the County website at www.martin.fl.us.

The amendment will be considered by the County Commission on April 25 if the applicant decides to move forward despite the LPA denial.

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