Scripps Florida faces another environmental challenge
In 2004, Scripps ran into a torrent of opposition from environmental groups when it announced plans to build its Florida campus on a 1,900-acre Palm Beach County site called Mecca Farms. Mecca itself was a grove and sand mine of little environmental value. But a Scripps campus there would lead to sprawl, argued 1000 Friends of Florida and other groups. They said Mecca wasn’t a suitable place for the huge biobusiness cluster the state hoped to see created. The battle over the site grew so intense some feared the county would lose Scripps.
Environmental groups argued a superior site for Scripps was in Palm Beach Gardens at a site known as the Briger tract, a 682-acre parcel straddling I-95 that was hemmed in by development. “Environmentalists Back Briger Tract,” read the headline in one south Florida newspaper. Eventually, Scripps opted to put its first buildings in the Abacoa development adjacent to Briger, while Briger was seen as a site for expansion and the bio-cluster. Palm Beach Gardens went on to designate Briger for a bio-science future and entitled the site for 4 million square feet of offices and biotech facilities, plus homes and a hotel. A 1000 Friends of Florida’s press release cheered, “Major Victory for Smart Growth Advocates: Scripps Moved to Abacoa/Briger Site!”
That was then. As Scripps and Kolter Group, a West Palm Beach developer, move to develop their pieces of Briger, a new set of environmental groups has filed a legal challenge to stop them.
South Florida Wildlands Association, Sierra Club, Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition and the Green Party of Palm Beach County filed under the Endangered Species Act to halt development to protect the threatened Eastern Indigo snake. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey in 2011 didn’t see any snakes on the site but said it likely held six.
Charles Pattison, president of 1000 Friends, says his group isn’t involved in the latest stop-Scripps effort. He says it’s always been a challenge for the environmental cause in Florida to “speak with one voice.” The groups that fought against Mecca saw development there as significantly more damaging and championed Briger as a “trade off of sorts,” he says.
Scripps spokeswoman Mika Elizabeth Ono says Scripps is working with the county and Kolter to coordinate development. U. S. Fish and Wildlife’s official opinion on developing Briger is that it would mean an end to Eastern Indigos there but poses no threat to the species’ continued existence.
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