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The color of money

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They exercise veto power over a highway’s path. They arrange for members’ swamp land to be purchased by the state. They abandon thousands of laid off farmworkers to the marketplace while advocating -- reluctantly, they say -- a $91 million taxpayer payoff to a dozen millionaires.

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And for this they stand to reap millions for themselves.

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Is this the board of a major regional bank? A powerful law firm? Not exactly.

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"Sierra Club has always supported their work," says Marty Sharpe, a Sierra Club member and local activist against poorly-planned development. Adds Mary Barley, head of the Everglades Trust and one of Florida’s most visible environmentalists: "They always tried to do the right thing, not only from the environmental side, but from the people side."

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What is this enigmatic organization?

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The group is Friends of Lake Apopka, widely credited with the imminent cleanup of the state’s fourth largest and most polluted lake. FOLA has just a few hundred members and maintains a budget in the low four digits, but the group has leveraged these meager resources admirably. FOLA created a folksy video and bottled gunky green lake water -- FOLA COLA -- to build legislative support for the cleanup. The group’s main spokesman, Jim Thomas, is a well-known and widely respected environmental consultant.

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So totally does FOLA own the Lake Apopka issue that other environmental groups defer almost totally to FOLA’s judgment. But FOLA is different. Like an environmental group, it advocates a clean lake. But like a developers’ consortium, it celebrates urban sprawl, privatization and property rights. With a love of consensus, a keen fear of radicals and no actual environmentalists among its directors, FOLA is the prototype for a new kind of "environmental" organization in Florida -- and perhaps the nation.

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In fact, the unprecedented buyout of Lake Apopka farmland -- lauded as an environmental masterstroke by its advocates -- is actually a land speculation plan designed to spur development of west Orange County. And among those who stand to benefit are five FOLA board members who collectively own more than 200 acres on the lake. These five could increase their land values by more than $25 million by marketing the lake as potentially clean -- an illusory stance, given that development could increase runoff into the lake even as farm drainage is cut back.

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And FOLA’s power is growing. "We’ve become almost a regulatory agency," says Thomas. "People bring us all sorts of ideas."

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One such idea arrived in late 1995: a request by the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority for FOLA’s opinion on a proposed alignment of the planned $200 million Western Beltway, the four-lane highway coveted by Disney and other major west Orange County landowners. The proposed road would have gone over the northeast corner of the lake, until FOLA vetoed it.

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FOLA had been working with the environmental advisory group helping the authority weigh its options. That group included "just about every significant environmental group " -- among them the Sierra Club and Audubon Society -- "plus state agencies," says authority spokesman Steve Pustelny.

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But while there were many reasons the bridge idea was bad, says Thomas, not all of them were environmental. "It would have taken the house of one of our board members, Milt West," Thomas says. "He said, ‘No way.'"

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Thomas, a landscape nursery owner, is FOLA’s liaison to the state’s environmental groups. He ran both the Clean Lakes Coalition and Friends of the Wekiva River, a respected environmental group, before being asked by West, a Realtor, to assemble FOLA in 1991.

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Driving FOLA’s creation, says Thomas, was "the economic benefits of a restored lake." In the interests of promoting this he assembled "a diverse board, including chamber [of commerce], city representatives, scientists, attorneys -- and farmers," he says. "We went to the lion’s den, and we told [farmers]: ‘We’re not going to try to put you out of business, but we’re not going to stop until we get this [lake clean]." The farmers put up Giles Van Duyne, director of the Zellwood Drainage District, which encompasses most of the lake’s adjacent farmlands. "We had a good diversity," says Thomas.

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Everything but an environmentalist.

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"We don’t just take a Sierra Club-type stand," he concludes. "We want to be realistic."

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As famous now for chemically neutered alligators as it was in the 1940s for trophy bass, Lake Apopka suffers from a perpetual algae bloom that makes the lake an iridescent green. Yet realism, in the context of cleaning up the lake, has added up to a heady mix of big-money interests masquerading as aggrieved citizens.

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Of FOLA’s 17 current board members, at least 10 have direct ties to real-estate interests, either themselves, through spouses or business partners. And records show that board members collectively own or control at least 886 acres in west Orange County.

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It is natural that property owners would band together to promote their interests, and such a group was incorporated in February 1993 and named the Association of West Orange Land Owners. Its largest backer was the Disney Development Co.; its treasurer was FOLA board member Jack Amon.

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In October of that year many of the same landowners created a new group, Horizon West, which Amon also serves as treasurer. That same month the group announced a grandiose plan to develop 66,000 acres of dead citrus groves that straddle west Orange and Lake counties south of Route 50. The vision: distinct "villages" distinguished by New England-style town centers separated by 500-foot-wide greenways.

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Two trends drive Horizon West. First, Disney plans to expand its holdings in the area both to build new attractions and to create affordable housing required under its other county arrangements. Second, grove owners, with virtually no citrus left, want to cash in.

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As burned-out citrus, "there’s not much value to the land," says Amon. Meanwhile, laws designed to prevent sprawl have pushed growth into neighboring Lake County, where 4,000 new homes are being built within a mile or two of Lake Apopka.

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But while Horizon West spokesmen -- and FOLA board members like Amon, Thomas and Orange County Commissioner (and Realtor) Bob Freeman -- see theirs as a "model plan," it is not. The concept was developed by former Orange County Planner Jim Sellen, who is perhaps best known for Avalon Park on the county’s east side, a planned development of 40,000 people that drew the ire of environmentalists for encroaching pristine wetlands, and of planners for promoting sprawl. (Thomas currently is designing the landscaping for Avalon, a happy coincidence that has calmed the development’s critics.) But the Horizon West plan proposed by Sellen initially was rejected by state Department of Community Affairs officials because, according to DCA planner John Healy, "urban sprawl would result."

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In fact the plan can better be understood not as a quantum leap in enlightened planning, but as Freeman originally described it -- as a means of providing hope to demoralized former farmers by spurring real estate "speculation."

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Florida’s politics having long ago arrived at a consensus equating "growth" with godliness, the first village of the Horizon plan passed county muster in January, and was approved by state officials in July. Perhaps coincidentally, Avalon Properties purchased 360 acres in the area in March, paying $1.95 million. Among the brokers: Horizon West President Lester Austin, a former Winter Garden citrus grower who sells agricultural real estate, and Maury Carter, a former Amon associate.

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Jack Amon’s most recent brush with environmental reality came in early August, as he walked the swampy bottom of the proposed Oakland Nature Preserve. "I was right in here," Amon says, brushing the thick hammock back with a wide machete. "Right down here, six inches from my foot, was a gator’s tail. Four foot of tail."

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A wiry man who still spends part of each day tending his 100 acres of citrus, Amon works from a new white truck made old by constant altercations with brambles. In the mid 1980s he owned or managed more than 3,000 acres but like all the local citrus farmers, Amon was humbled by that decade’s three freezes. He made his last land buys -- on Lake Apopka -- in 1989, just before the worst of them. "You pays your money and you takes your chances," he shrugs.

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"Fortunately, some of the land here, folks want to buy," he says. But not much. Not yet. A big, weathered sign stretches across the lot next door to the old, well-shaded home that serves as Amon’s office: "Historic Oakland ... 3 Prime Lots ... $19,750 each ... Owner Broker Jack R. Amon."

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Amon, president of FOLA from 1994 until earlier this year, takes pride in this shady 92-acre nature preserve, which FOLA proposed and the state will buy for a FOLA-created non-profit to manage. It will have a quarter mile frontage on the West Orange Trail, a paved hiking and biking path, and 1,000 feet on Lake Apopka. FOLA members hope it will attract people and provide them an understanding of the lake’s natural beauty and the importance of restoring it. The $561,800 project, funded with money solicited by FOLA from the Florida Communities Trust, will take 10 years to complete.

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While FOLA is best known for helping to force the buyout of vegetable farms across the lake, the comparatively tiny Oakland Park project better exemplifies the FOLA style. Although 21 acres of the future park land are owned by Oakland’s most recent former mayor, the largest share -- 65 acres -- is swampland owned Mark McGinnis, a FOLA board member. The taxpayer-funded preserve thus will buffer and augment the value of McGinnis’ adjacent, buildable land just as the taxpayer-financed farm buyout is expected to boost property values all over west Orange County.

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This ownership scheme is no secret. There was some discussion of the ethical propriety of arranging for a member’s swamp to be sold to the state as a "preserve." "We worried about that," says Thomas, who added that the group shared its concern with the regulatory St. Johns Water Management District; no one objected. Besides, McGinnis had put the property on the market before FOLA approached him, says Thomas, and no one in the area has questioned the transaction: "It’s such a close-knit community, it’s hard to do anything without everyone knowing."

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The state, too, has no problem with the arrangement, says Anne Peery, executive director of the Florida Communities Trust. Ownership of the land is not an issue because the trust awards money for land acquisition only to those projects that serve the trust’s mission of promoting conservation, recreation and coastal management, she says. But the competition isn’t stiff; last year, 50 of the 60 applicants were funded. Oakland’s application -- ghost-written by FOLA’s Thomas and Amon -- ranked 18th.

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Peery suggests that FOLA spotted the land and then recruited McGinnis to the board "as part of the wooing process" to get the land for an environmental purpose. But that’s not how it happened.

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"Mark McGinnis joined the board of FOLA and said he owned the property," Amon says. "His dream was for a camp along with the church" that now sits next door, "but it was taking too long. We hit on the idea of a park."

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McGinnis says his original idea was scuttled by the state in an argument about a right-of-way easement over the West Orange Trail. But the deal to sell some of his land to the state as a preserve has nothing to do with that fight, he says, and his fellow board members didn’t show any favor when shopping for a potential preserve. "FOLA looked into two or three [potential sites]," he says.

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So is the arrangement beyond ethical reproach? Not if you ask a real environmentalist.

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"If it is not a conflict of interest in law, then it is a conflict of interest in perception," says Linda Bremer, co-chair of the Florida Sierra Club’s wetland committee. "The property should have overwhelming environmental value to override the perception."

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The process by which a farm owner becomes a developer takes many forms. Most times the farmer will retain a patina of his old identity, so much more friendly does it seem in the public eye than that of developer. FOLA’s talent has been to demonize the vegetable farmers (whose pig-headedness made the task easy) and to assume for citrus farmers a new identity: defender of fish and clean water.

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Ask Rep. Everett Kelly (D-Tavares) to assess the role of development interests in the FOLA agenda. "The developers never talked to me," he says.

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Says Amon: "I don’t think the development community per-se has anything to do with what FOLA has done."

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Yet Amon recently had a 50-acre lakeside parcel annexed into Winter Garden because, he says, the sewer and water services there will serve an environmental purpose to his groves -- and also because he might consider putting houses on the land in 15 or 20 years.

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He sought, but did not get, residential zoning. Had he done so, the potential reward would have been enormous: Amon currently owns about 180 acres of $5,000-an-acre grove land in Orange County; a 30-acre parcel of similar ground, rechristened Oakland Point by developer Jim Karr, is selling at $59,900 for half-acre lakeside lots.

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Amon insists, "I’ve never made a real-estate transaction." Yet he is so linked with those interests that Winter Garden Public Works Director Marshall Roberts, when asked about trends in property values, directs a visitor to go see Jack Amon, the citrus grower.

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Milton West, the founding agent of FOLA, says he can’t estimate how much property values will increase from a clean lake. This may sound odd, since West’s Century 21 office (which he established in 1991 and recently sold) is among the region’s largest land dealers, and because West and his father own or control no fewer than 440 acres of ex-groveland, plus prime commercial real estate, in the Lake Apopka area.

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FOLA’s interest in real estate values was illustrated by the group’s displeasure with the St. Johns District’s impact statement on the farm buyout, which projected an annual cost to the region’s economy of $110 million. FOLA considered hiring its own expert to display better the sunny side of the taxpayer-financed transaction; Instead, St. Johns pushed for and got an addendum to the report. The tacked-on estimate, by Maryland consultant Apogee Research: $30 million in increased economic benefits annually by 2021.

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Kenneth I. Rubin, Apogee president and CEO, suggested who would enjoy those benefits in a May 7 letter to St. Johns Water Resources Director Charles Padera. Consulting a study of a Texas lakefront, Rubin noted that 22 percent of the value of residential property within 2,000 feet of a clean lake was tied to the lake. "On average," Rubin wrote, "individuals paid $42,000 (1990 dollars) more per house to be within 2,000 feet of the lake." Applying that same premium to an estimated 7,500 houses that might be built within 2,000 feet of Lake Apopka, he observed, "would compensate for all direct losses associated with elimination of farming."

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How does that apply to FOLA’s landowners?

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Plugging Rubin’s $42,000-per-house premium into Milton West’s 145 or so lakefront acres, assuming a comparatively low eventual development of two houses per acre, yields a potential premium of just over $12 million to West alone.

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The same formula plugged into FOLA board member Jim Hawley’s lakeside trailer court -- at the more common four homes per acre -- yields about $1.7 million. Amon’s freshly-annexed 50-acre lakeside grove would yield, at a low two houses-per-acre, a $4.2 million premium. Jack Morrison’s Fuller’s Cross holdings would increase in value by perhaps $294,000. John Nabers’ 42 lakeside acres might be worth another $3.5 million, while Mark McGinnis’ remaining 51 acres -- after the Oakland nature preserve is established -- could theoretically be worth another $4.28 million.

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McGinnis says his land is for sale, and that he hopes to sell it to the church. He’s no developer, he says; presuming the sale to the state goes through, and after paying taxes, his foray into the land business "made a lot of other people a lot of money."

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Morrison says he has no plans to increase development on his land. "That’s my house," he says. "I don’t want anybody else back there."

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Still, most of the lakeside land will become backyards within the next 10 to 20 years, potentially creating millions in "economic benefit" to these FOLA board members alone. Not bad for a few years of do-gooder volunteer work.

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Kelly, the Lake County legislator who fought for years to clean Lake Apopka and receives much credit for the buyout plan, is sitting in his favorite Bob Evans restaurant and parsing the politics that brought the historic deal to fruition.

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"I thought we’d have a hellacious battle," Kelly says. "But everything fell into place."

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What happened was this: Rep. Bill Sublette (R-Orlando), at the behest of the St. Johns River Water Management District and FOLA, began to prepare a bill in early 1996 that would have enforced a stringent pollution cap on farm runoff. The farmers got wind of it and, over the course of several weeks in late January and early February, concluded that they wanted to be bought out by the state, and asked Kelly to help arrange it.

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Kelly was able to arrange for $20 million of state money that year -- enough for a "down payment" -- and a total buyout of A. Duda & Sons, the area’s second largest grower. St. Johns officials and Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay got $26 million more from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and this year the Florida Legislature committed another $45 million.

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Nearly lost in the action was the fate of the farms’ 2,500 or so workers, most of whom are longtime Apopka residents and many of whom own homes in the area. Among legislators, only Rep. Bob Sindler (D-Apopka) fought for money to retrain and re-deploy the people left jobless by the buyout. But Sindler was boxed by circumstance into supporting only the feeblest of measures: money the state raises by selling the farmers’ equipment will be ploughed back into the region, and only "up to" 20 percent of that can be used for worker retraining.

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"He was trying to take care of his people," Kelly says. "But I had a bigger mission." That mission was nothing less than regional economic revitalization. "Orange County," predicts Kelly, "will be shocked at how much development this will engender."

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While conventional wisdom blames the political climate for the abandonment of the workers’ interests, FOLA made two decisions that cost the farmworkers desperately needed political clout. First, while legislators and farmers assumed a five-year buyout process, FOLA -- even as it publicly claimed to oppose the buyout -- began pushing behind the scenes for the fastest buyout possible.

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In a Feb. 20, 1996, speech to legislators then still drafting buyout legislation, Amon presented five concerns, two of which urged the state "to move expeditiously ... to avoid any perception that this is a stall," and to "not allow the farmers to continue polluting the lake for an extended period." In a Feb. 29 address to Orange County’s legislative delegation, he advocated a farming phase-out of two years or less.

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The remarkable speed with which the buyout has been executed is a source of pride for Kelly, who contrasts it with the continuing litigation and recrimination surrounding attempts to cleanse the Everglades. But the quick pace has upset the farmers, who prefaced their $95 million selling offer on a five-year lease-back deal, during which they would farm unimpeded and collect interest on the money. It also has devastated any hope of orderly planning for the layoffs.

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Jeannie Economos, an organizer with the Farmworkers Association of Florida, began attending FOLA meetings in 1996, and pleaded with county and state officials for help in creating social service centers, retraining, and English language classes for the displaced workers. She also begged FOLA to help. FOLA said no.

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"We are concerned but will not actively support their issues," reads a quote attributed to Jim Thomas in FOLA’s minutes from March 6 of this year.

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"We only have so much energy, and we can’t spread ourselves too thin," says Amon. "Jeannie Economos and I spent a lot of time together.... I even gave her counsel, and told her what to do and who to call, because she was kind of naive. But she sort of wanted us to do it."

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While Economos can give the impression of being overwhelmed by adversity, her options were limited. The farmers wanted nothing to do with the workers’ issues; Duda representatives even expressed fears that retraining too soon would cause them to lose employees. Yet the state would not allow the workers’ group to begin planning without a representative of the farmers.

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"This sets the whole environmental movement back because it pits environmentalists against labor once again," Economos says of the buyout, "and it also sets a precedent of buying out farms. The polluter doesn’t pay."

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As this story goes to press, St. Johns has bought the three largest farms in the Apopka area, and is close to deals for several others. A few holdouts may remain, and five farmers who sued the district and then withdrew have made it clear they may refile their suits. The deadline for farmers to agree to a buyout is Sept. 30.

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Yet as the farmers fade into history, the emerging threat to Lake Apopka’s health is lawn chemicals and road runoff -- housing developments that the St. Johns district seems now to favor. And the "environmental" group allegedly looking out for the lake’s interest is comprised of people set to cash in on the housing boom spurred by a restored lake -- even if that restoration proves illusory.

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For Sierra’s Linda Bremer, the scenario is troubling. "The waters have been muddied by conflicts of interests, and things like private enterprise pushing their own agendas, conflicting scientific data," she notes. "The end result has got to be an improved Lake Apopka. How we get there, I don’t know."

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Others say the future of environmental action is development. "There used to be there was a very sharp dividing line between the people we would classify as environmentalists and people we would classify as developers," says Charles Lee, senior vice president of the Florida Audubon Society. "But throughout Florida it’s becoming increasingly recognized that what’s good for the environment is good for business."

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The buy-out is often depicted as the best of a bunch of bad options -- or as the only "realistic" accommodation to both the lake and its polluters. "The public is going to benefit from a cleaned-up lake, so it’s fair that the public pay for some of it," says Amon. "And the farmers do have some property rights."

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But what if a real environmental group had taken on the farmers? What if they had staged protests and rallies, linking forces with the farmworkers to advocate for real enforcement of both environmental and labor laws, and no buyout? Idealism, whatever its shortcomings, wouldn’t cost you $91 million.

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A real environmental group might have fought for justice instead of a real estate marketing slogan. But no such group existed. Indeed, few people even understood the need for an environmental group, because they thought Lake Apopka already had one.

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In his trailer office, Jim Thomas looks to the future of Lake Apopka, a lake someday dotted again with bass boats and lined with expensive homes. He’s working on a model ordinance for lake protection, guidelines for growth management on the lake. "We need to manage the property very carefully," he says.

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The environment demands no less.

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Buying the farm implements

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The sale of the muck farmers’ equipment has by far caused the most controversy in the $91 million, environmentally-inspired plan to buy out the farmers who have help pollute Lake Apopka. During legislative negotiations, the farmers’ lobbyists shrewdly held out for the state to purchase their farms as "going concerns," including the market value of the business itself and the value the equipment would have "in use" on a working farm.

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This language, while guaranteeing a more-than-fair deal for the farmers, also guarantees that the state will take a bath. "We know we’re only going to recoup about one-third of what we pay for the equipment," acknowledges Robert Christianson, the St. Johns River Water Management District’s director of land acquisitions, and lead negotiator in the buy-out. It could be much worse: some of the most expensive equipment -- Zellwin Farm’s precooling and shipping equipment, plus icehouse machinery -- will cost taxpayers $1.6 million but is estimated to bring just $260,000 at auction.

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So far the state has agreed to buy equipment from Zellwin and A. Duda & Sons, the region’s largest farms, for almost $15 million more than it is worth. A look through the appraisals reveals the breadth of state generosity. Consider, for example, Duda’s fleet of pickup trucks.

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Among Duda’s rolling stock are five 1987 Ford pickups that the state will buy for an average of $4,350 each -- some $480 above various blue book valuations as of last month. The trucks will remain in service until the deal is consummated next spring, dropping a few hundred dollars more in value each.

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How ’bout this: The pickups already are fully depreciated farm implements, at least three years past their useful life. In other words, Duda already has deducted each truck’s full purchase price (probably about $11,000) from its corporate taxes.

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Hungry for more rip-off? Amongst Duda’s fixtures and equipment, to be bought by taxpayers for more than $5.7 million, are 18 items listed as "Not In Use." They range from feed conveyors to slicers and are appraised at a total of $63,450 -- their "fair market value in continued use."

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At Zellwin, taxpayers will buy a veritable junk yard, consisting of 34 partial trucks, whose "fair market value in continued use" is $72,500. Among these gems? Eight 1968 and six 1972 Chevy truck cowls valued at $28,000.

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What’s more, the entire $19.8 million purchase price of Duda farms, struck in December 1996, is being held in escrow until the state takes possession. The interest on that money will be paid to Duda, which means they can farm their land and sell it, too. Same thing goes for Zellwin, on the $33.49 million that went into escrow on Aug. 20.

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Almost all of the purchase price would be considered a capital gain under federal tax laws, so the farmers have found a way around that as well. Zellwin had its own appraisal done, and arrived at a value of $42 million. Given the agreed-to purchase price, Zellwin will take the difference -- about $8.5 million -- as a tax-deductible "charitable contribution" to the state, thus avoiding completely the capital gains taxes that would normally put a 20 percent bite on the deal.

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The FOLA Generation

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The group sat around a table at Dos Pacos, a Mexican restaurant in Winter Garden. Members of Friends of Lake Apopka were trying to come up with a publicity stunt -- something to generate media interest and make the legislators take notice of the farm buyout proposal.

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Max Blanchard suggested bottling the polluted water.

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"I said, ‘FOLA Cola,’" he remembers. "Someone said, ‘Oh no! Someone will sue us if they drink it.’"

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The group kicked around some other ideas but eventually returned the bottle. Michael Malloy, a FOLA member who already had begun work on a logo for the group, agreed to make a label. Blanchard and his partners filled the containers and glued labels all night on May 1, 1996, then drove them up to the capital, where Rep. Everett Kelly (D-Tavares) was waiting.

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The television stations loved it. "One senator held up his bottle and said, ‘There’s something moving in there,’" Blanchard gleefully recalls. The buyout bill passed unanimously as Kelly, Rep. Bill Sublette (R-Orlando) and Sen. Buddy Dyer (D-Orlando) toasted their victory with FOLA Cola.

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Blanchard, part owner of a video production company, bought the Edgewater Hotel, once the jewel of Winter Garden, for $100,000 in 1995, with plans to turn it into a production facility for his own use and for visiting film crews. The building had not served as a hotel since the ’30s and had been virtually abandoned since about 1970. "The debris in the halls was two feet thick," Blanchard says. Hundreds of pigeons were evicted, unharmed.

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With the $2 million restoration ahead of schedule, Blanchard says, he hopes the lake’s renaissance will improve the fortunes of the hotel as well. Certainly the hotel had depended on the lake in its past life.

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Construction of the Edgewater Hotel began in 1923, at the height of a Florida land boom, a time when "people were paying up to $10,000 a acre!" Blanchard marvels. But the developer ran out of money in 1925 when the hotel was only a quarter finished.

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Jerry Chicone Sr., the citrus baron, secured financing for construction to resume, and a scaled-down version of the original plan opened in 1926. The hotel prospered briefly, but the land boom ended in 1927; the stock market crashed in 1929.

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Although Lake Apopka bass fishing buoyed the upscale hotel, Blanchard says, the depression ended the hotel’s glory days, and the lake’s postwar decline kept it down. "They died together, and now they’re going to be revived together."

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Hear that Training Coming?

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Since the Lake Apopka buyout idea was floated in early 1996, considerable attention has been paid to the potential hardship for hundreds of small business owners who depend on the farms. Others, like Jeannie Economos of the Farmworkers Association, have tried with limited success to focus attention on the 2,500 or so farmworkers -- mostly low-paid and seasonal field hands -- who will be laid off directly.

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Betty Quinn falls between these two groups.

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"I’m one of those folks, for sure," she says from her office at Grower’s Precooler, the vegetable processing plant she has managed for 20 years. "I’m going to night school." She’s taking computers and accounting at Westside Vocational Tech.

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Westside VoTech is perhaps the best hope for retraining the workers, but the funds for the retraining may not be available until after the farm equipment is sold, in June 1998. Economos says the planning and infrastructure for the courses should be put in place now, so that the many workers who need to learn English can get their head start. But Westside and other potential training providers are not creating new courses so much as battling over who will get the funds.

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"I don’t think people are looking at this from our point of view," says Quinn, whose operation employs about 170 during the peak season and about 18 full-time, salaried staff. "These folks, 90 percent of them didn’t finish high school. But they’ve created a nice lifestyle based on this [job]. They have houses, nice cars. Now they’re going to work for $5 an hour?"


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