By Scott Camil
In January 2014, we had a meeting to discuss what to do about Plum Creek’s (PC) plan to destroy wetlands, the wildlife corridor, the rural way of life that many of our citizens enjoy, and the Alachua County Comprehensive plan.
Commissioner Mike Byerly, members of SSJ, EXCOM, and other environmentalists attended the meeting.
We decided to form a new organization to educate the community about the devastating effects of the proposed PC plan and to protect the Alachua County Comprehensive Plan that protects our environment and rural way of life.
We decided on the name Stand By Our Plan. We spent the next 2 years raising awareness and educating the public.
The Alachua County Comprehensive Plan is as close as we can get to a political consensus and compromise in our community. The product of many years of citizen advisory committee deliberations, workshops, public hearings, and legal challenges, then formally adopted and continually revised by an elected county commission, it provides a carefully considered blueprint for future growth in the unincorporated areas of our county. It balances the public interest with the rights of property owners by directing growth to appropriate areas and protecting public health, neighborhoods, farms, wetlands, and significant natural areas.
In 2011, Plum Creek created the Envision Alachua Task Force and began working on a plan to develop its lands in eastern Alachua County. This would require massive changes to the county’s comprehensive plan, sparking significant opposition by environmentalists and rural citizens.
In February of 2016, the county held 3 special meetings on whether or not to approve Plum Creek’s plan. The reason that there were 3 meetings is that there was a huge outpouring of citizens who wanted to speak on this issue.
Each person got up to 3 minutes to speak and more than 200 people gave their testimony over a span of 3 days and more than 11 and a 1/2 hours. Those speakers who supported the comprehensive plan outnumbered the pro-PC plan by more than 3 to 1. These speakers represented a cross-section of our community, young, old, students, retired people, urban and rural, a cross-section of backgrounds and income. All of these people have one thing in common; they want to protect our rural way of life, our environment, and the comprehensive plan that protects both.
The PC side is primarily made up of special interests, Plum Creek staff, paid consultants, the Chamber of Commerce, Envision task force members, the builders’ association, and a sprinkling of people from groups and organizations that received money from PC.
PC is having a hard time in Alachua County – they are used to having their way. They use money, propaganda, manipulation, and deception to get what they want.
On page 1 of their PR book, in the introduction, the first sentence says, “ Plum Creek initiated the Envision Alachua planning process in response to a request from Alachua County”. The very first sentence starts with a deception – there was no request by Alachua County.
The deception continues, from their tightly controlled and carefully choreographed meetings trying to manufacture consent to giving money to worthy causes and organizations in order to buy good will and political influence. They pander to low-income folks, feigning concern for wage disparity, while we all know that they don’t really support a true living wage.
They act like they believe their own propaganda. They promise opportunities for east Gainesville, while their own map shows that their land is further away from east Gainesville than existing economic and educational opportunities that are much closer and have public transportation.
They don’t understand our citizens. As much as people hate taxes, our citizens have voted to tax themselves every time there has been initiative on the ballot to raise money in order to invest in our community, buy land, and put it into conservation.
This is the big difference between us. They are motivated by greed and think that they can buy everyone off.
They believe that accumulation of wealth is what life is about so they have a hard time when
they come up against a culture that is motivated by quality of life, not greed. Our folks can’t be bought.
PC understood that our County Commission would decide this issue. Their strategy was to try to change our county commission by replacing environmentalists. Since 2012, they have been trying to knock Mike Byerly off the commission.
The main issue of the 2014 County Commission race was the Alachua County Comprehensive Plan or the PC plan. Ken Cornell won that election beating Pastor Thorpe. Ken supported the comp plan and Pastor Thorpe supported Plum Creek’s plan.
This year, PC’s Task Force member Kevin Thorpe is running again, this time going after Mike Byerly’s seat.
Mike and Ken have been unyielding in the protection of our environment and comprehensive plan. They have been very outspoken on this issue.
School Board member Eileen Roy, who also serves on the Planning Commission, voted to recommend that the county not approve PC’s plan. She too has an opponent, Juliun Kinsey, another Task Force member.
We believe that PC will also run someone against Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson.
On March 1st the County Commission voted on Plum Creek’s plan. The vote was 3-2 to deny Plum Creek’s plan. The commissioners that voted to deny were Mike Byerly, Ken Cornell, and Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson. The commissioners who voted for Plum Creek and against Alachua County were Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV and Lee Pinkoson.
This was an enormous victory for the citizens of Alachua County and our environment. Rarely do citizens win a victory over a multi-billion dollar corporation.
Plum Creek was recently bought out by Weyerhaeuser so they now have more resources for their next attempt to have their way with our county. We will remain vigilant.
Please support our elected representatives who fight for our future and us.
We thank all of you who participated in this very important victory.