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Environmentalists urge Sierra Club to drop suit

Published July 7, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - The Sierra Club is being asked by five other environmental groups to drop its challenge of the Babcock Ranch development plan in southwest Florida, saying the litigation jeopardizes the state's purchase of 74,000 acres for preservation.

The groups - Audubon of Florida, 1,000 Friends of Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation, Everglades Foundation and Everglades Trust - say the Sierra Club's challenge, scheduled to go before an administrative judge July 24, should be dismissed.

"Were this deal to collapse, we don't believe that it could be put back together again," said Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Frank Jackalone, a senior regional representative for the Sierra Club, said the group plans to proceed with the challenge, which is set to go to court the day before the state is scheduled to close on the $310-million deal for the preservation tract.

The state plans to keep that property undeveloped and open for public recreation.

"It would be a travesty if at this late stage of the game it was lost as a result of one environmental organization's unilateral action," said Deborah Harrison of the World Wildlife Fund. "So we call on Sierra Club to please withdraw their petition and allow this purchase to move forward."

Last month, the Sierra Club asked a judge to evaluate whether West Palm Beach developer Syd Kitson should be allowed to build a city for 45,000 people on 15,000 acres of the Babcock Ranch, which is apart from the 74,000 acres he is to sell the state under their agreement. Kitson plans schools, stores, mixed-income housing and hurricane-resistant homes.

Sierra Club officials have said they fear the planned city will create pressure to fill in the gap between it and nearby Punta Gorda and Fort Myers with more development.

Fuller said the other environmental groups fear that if the Sierra Club's challenge goes forward, it will undo the state's purchase, force Kitson out of the deal and result in the Babcock owners looking to sell to other developers who may be less willing to preserve as much of the property in Charlotte and Lee counties.

[Last modified July 7, 2006, 01:27:11]

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