Amendment 2: "Save our Wetlands"
Charter Amendment 2, known as the Save our Wetlands Amendment, is being fought for and against with such animosity and acrimony that you would think that we were talking about how you support our troops.
This issue has once again split local environmentalists. As a member of the Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club Executive Committee, I have sat in meetings where well-known, well-intentioned environmentalists with years of great service to the environment have fought viciously with each other over this issue.
Both sides are exaggerating the outcome of this vote. They both claim that if this amendment passes/fails, it will be the end of wetlands in Gainesville.
The philosophical difference between these two sides has to do with growth and how it is managed. On one side, you have environmentalists who believe that we can do nothing to stop growth because people are coming and you have to make room for them, so they are willing to compromise: give the developers some and we get some. On the other side, you have environmentalists who believe that growth is based on bad national immigration policies, that we can do something about it and that we should fight to protect everything that's good for the environment and that also preserves our quality of life.
I have struggled to understand the issue and come to a personal decision as to whether or not I would support this amendment. I got worn down and tired of both sides, their over-aggressiveness and absoluteness.
I took the amendment to attorney friends here in Gainesville and outside of Florida, looking for some objective answers. All of the attorneys said basically the same thing: 1) that the amendment could have been worded better, 2) that sound legal arguments could be made and the wording could be interpreted as either protection and restoration of wetlands or no restoration of wetlands. The legal fight is over this wording.
PROPOSED CHARTER AMENDMENT: Wetlands within the boundaries of the City of Gainesville shall be preserved and shall be protected from any alteration. Undisturbed buffers shall be maintained around wetlands. Wetlands damaged after the effective date of this Charter Amendment shall be restored to their original condition at the owner's expense. This Charter Amendment shall be implemented by ordinance. Intent of this Amendment: That the wetlands of the City of Gainesville be preserved.
The Anti-amendment crowd says that this means you cannot restore wetlands: "...shall be protected from any alteration."
The Pro-amendment side argues that this means that you can alter for the purposes of preservation and restoration: "Intent of this Amendment: That the wetlands of the City of Gainesville be preserved."
The lawyers I spoke with said that If the amendment passes, it will be up to the City Commission to decide on the interpretation and write an ordinance. A pro-developer commission would probably interpret the amendment differently than a pro-environmental commission. If people didn't agree with the ordinance, then it could be challenged in court and the courts would make the final decision on what it means.
So if this amendment passes, it may end up in court for a final interpretation and if it loses, then it will probably be rewritten with more clarifying language, signatures would again have to be collected to put it on the ballot and we would fight it again.
I don't believe that either side is all right or all wrong. Each person can read the amendment, look at the arguments and decide for themselves which way to vote. There are honest arguments on both sides and both sides are guilty of exaggerating the outcome if their side loses.
Although I am a member of the Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club Executive Committee, this article is not sanctioned by or to be seen as me speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club. The Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club was split on this issue and decided to take no official position on the amendment.
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