Residents from across South Florida packed into the Clewiston Commission Chambers Tuesday night to voice their opinions on Florida Power and Light’s (FPL) desire to build a power plant near the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation.
In a public hearing, FPL presented its request to amend the county’s comprehensive plan, making it possible to build a gas and solar energy power plant — dubbed the Hendry Next Generation Clean Energy Center — on a more than 3,000-acre piece of land off of County Road 833.
FPL had come before the county commission four years ago with roughly the same plant proposal on the same piece of land. Commissioners allowed the 3,000-plus acres to be rezoned from agriculture to planned unit development (PUD), giving FPL the go-ahead to build the plant.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida sued Hendry County, saying the rezoning was contradictory to the county’s comprehensive plan, and won.
Roughly 10 months after the judge ruled in the tribe’s favor, FPL was back before the commission with proposed amendments to the comprehensive plan that would make it possible to build the same plant on the same piece of land.
The commission would vote Tuesday whether or not to send the proposed amendments to the state for review.
FPL’s amendments include adding a new land use category to the county’s comprehensive plan called Electrical Generating Facility, adding a subarea policy to the plan that would define specific details about the proposed plant, and changing the future land use map to designate the property as electrical generating facility instead of agriculture.
Roughly 20 residents spoke out against the proposed amendments. Residents from Clewiston, Big Cypress Reservation, LaBelle, Fort Myers and even Lake Worth told commissioners they do not want this plant built on the land in question, which they say holds historical, cultural and environmental significance.
Despite FPL’s assurance that the power plant would not negatively impact the wetlands and wildlife around it, residents weren’t buying it.
“It is ludicrous to say they [power plants] will not have negative impacts to the land around them,” said one Lake Worth resident.
One tribe member urged the commission to use this moment to send a message that they’re here for the people, not the money.
“We all have our duties, we all have our moments, this happens to be yours. … We weren’t put here for money, or to buy new clothes or fancy cars. … If you can’t breathe the air you’re breathing, what’s the point?”
Others spoke not only of environmental impacts the plant may have, but also of their belief that FPL is trying to bypass a judge’s ruling by changing the county’s laws for their own gain.
“I’m not a member of the tribe, I’m still a renegade, but they’re my kin folk, I stand here today with them to say put a stop to this nonsense,” said
Florida resident Danny Billie. “I hope the county commissioners let every citizen do the same thing: change the law and do what they want, in their homes, in their yards.”
Only one resident spoke in favor of the plant, Pioneer resident Fred Bosely, who said the remoteness of the land would make it the perfect place to build a power plant.
After two hours of impassioned protests, the board of county commissioners voted unanimously to transmit the three amendments to the state for review. Commissioner Janet Taylor was not in attendance and did not vote.
A three-minute recess followed the vote and the public hearing, as visibly upset residents cleared the chambers.