We touched down late Tuesday night after flying close to nine hours of tortured travel thanks to the lowest fare! We are fighting a battle that is well into its 11th hour. Like so many that define conservation, the human element stands over the proceedings, doing it seems all it can to tear away at the very fiber of life that makes our planet or our community whole. After battling the Game and Fish Department one would assume that other battles would be easier, more focused on common ground. Yet with the toxic brew of money and ego, common sense is lost, even when the fight involves less than 100 acres on an inlet in southern Florida.
This fight is one that deals with people. Nature plays a role because these people possess a million dollar view, on the Loxahatchee River, the inlet that flows to the Atlantic less than a mile from where I type. The waters here define the wildness, for the land has been pulverized by those that have made this part of the world their home. There are lots and lots of these people, many with accents that define a former northern latitude. Jupiter has become a prosperous community, one that thirty years ago had homes without floors, places void of air conditioning. Today this inlet is filled with multi-million dollar homes, just down the road one can find the home of Tiger Woods, Burt Reynolds, restaurants and malls fill the interior and there is not a sense of poverty to be found. Yet, some years ago a small and by all accounts the oldest trailer park in the state-Suni Sands and some lands that surround this area were declared "blighted."
This area qualified as a Community Redevelopment Authority (CRA) District. In essence it’s a fast-track and a golden parachute for a developer. CRA's will allow the developer to build and will give generous incentives that often last up to twenty years to build. In this case the plans call for construction of a massive shopping mall, condo's restaurants and a high end hotel, that they like to refer to as an Inn. The billionaire developer is a man that in 1976 graduated from college and the following year his father bought him a University, be it one in Grenada. You may recall that in 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan sent in some Army Rangers to save these students under dubious circumstances and flew them home. Naturally, this cost many millions and the benefactor was this same developer: Charles Modica.
If you come to Suni Sands the first thing you understand is that rather than being a blight, it is a small village that defines ones sense of old Florida. Its funky, but far from run down. Many trailers have been here 30 or more years and the people, a community of 55 and older are like a fine tapestry, they fish, they work, they share and laugh. They are a generation of people not taken by showy wealth, though many could afford a home, they prefer the charm and simplicity that life here has afforded. In Jupiter take a drive and you will come to a stop light opposite a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, perhaps (if you are in a lesser neighborhood,) a Porsche.
Yesterday I spoke at length with a widow, whose husband served in the Army, she spoke of times here where everyone liked to have parties on the beach, "with the wine flowing she said someone would play guitar and sing, we would all be having fun, while the manatees floated to the surface to share those fun times with us enjoying the sounds and joy of a seemingly lost piece of this state.
That inlet where the manatees came to enjoy the music are still filled with their presence. They along with Leatherback turtles and the endangered sawfish depend on the Johnson's seagrass and the protection of this part of the inlet for their survival. Yet, city officials here could care less. Those in the Federal Government we have spoken to continue to say that no permits have been filed, so there is little they can do.
For his part Mr. Modica, continues to buy luxury homes in the area, just purchasing the home of Burt Reynolds and giving generously to politicians, while making sure that those veterans in this small piece of heaven are thrown out quickly.
For those who signed his agreement, he will give them $1000 dollars and they can stay until April. For people like Marcia Arsenault and her husband Roger that refuse to sign, he has said be out by November 30th. For them the cost of even moving their trailer will be in excess of $20,000, the view they have spent years enjoying, will be gone. For the manatees that once shared the pier to enjoy music, the plans call for a massive dredging of the inlet to allow for Mr. Modica's collection of boats.
Most of the people I filmed on my last visit are gone, broken -hearted they have been sent to nursing homes, or collected by family members to live out their lives in Las Vegas, New Jersey, Michigan...
Several veterans simply died here before they could be taken away. Many here say, "well, they knew the time would come, or that’s life." Yet, to a person they also say, "it’s a shame, a crime that these people and that community must go to make way for yet another mall."
Yesterday’s big news was of the fish caught off the deck by Jan West, we all heard the story over wine on a deck that was made of simple wood. As the sun set, the clouds billowed and stood like sentinels over the multi-million dollar homes to the north. In the week ahead we will meet with the media, interview more residents and take in this small park that still holds a large mound that was once the home of the Jobe Indians. The City and state it seems do not care that those remains are here, construction it seems is the golden rule in Florida, it keeps them working.
We come to this place becomes it represents so many places across our nation, the deadening of emotions that define the haves and the have-nots. In this case we are simply talking about a solid middle-class, but in a town filled with million dollar homes, middle-class is defined, well viewed, in a different light. The term "mobile home" conjures up many stereotypes, but here that can be defined as generous, kind, loving and well it is truly community.
The trailer park is now seeing some its trailers removed, the ground is broken in places but the resolve of the people here remains solid. Yesterday a Bald Eagle flew overhead being chased by an osprey. It is just another day here in a waterway that is stunningly beautiful, and vibrant with so much life. This fight involves protecting a place or a part of our heritage from a group of people that define life by possession, by what they can get, rather than in the sense of the true beauty that comes from knowing your neighbor, sharing time as a community and enjoying as one the commons that define our shared lands and waters. Suni Sands for many may seem like nothing, but in reality Suni Sands defines us as a people. When we are willing to destroy that which is more than adequate, to create more luxury for a select few, we are once again destroying the wild and the common sense that as a people we continue to lose and abuse.
What we are losing is the ability to live with less, compassion too is being lost, as we are emotionally being deadened by the 24 hour media and our own sense of entitlement. Saving Suni Sands may not change your life , but it will help so many that feel they have lost the ability to fight, to stand up for justice in a world that is lawyering away our connection to decency and each other.
We are here to fight, to fight hard and smart against those that use their personal greed and lack of humanity to "get more", and define their life in the victories that come, so is the story of one Mr. Modica. This week we will challenge his right to cause such harm to people and the environment.
Bold Visions Conservation