From the air, Barley Barber Swamp is distinctive. Like a thimble, it sticks out into Florida Power and Light’s reservoir in Indiantown, Martin County. The 6700 acre “man made lake” can hold more than 80,000 acre feet of water. It lies just north of the C-44 canal, and east of the dike from a once sprawling Lake Okeechobee. Barley Barber is the “crown jewel.”
“This jewel of a swamp” is a popular tourist destination and considered to be one of the finest remaining old-growth cypress communities in the country. In 1972, FPL purchased the swamp and surrounding lands to build their 6700 acre cooling reservoir that it operates in agreement with the South Florida Water Management District. An intake canal connects to the C-44 and S-153 to the northwest, contains and drains waters that once naturally flowed into Lake Okeechobee.
It is a wonderful thing that FPL saved the remaining 400 acre swamp! Today it is teeming with plant and wildlife species, including ancient bald cypress tress, one qualifying as the largest in the United States. My brother, Todd, notes that some estimates put that tree at 1,000 years old. The Wikipedia entry says its 88 ft. tall with a circumference of 33 ft., while the “Lady Liberty” tree in the same park as the late “Senator” is 82 ft. tall and 32.8 ft circumference – and is claimed to be 2,000 years old?
Hmmm? Maybe in south-central Florida we are really in first place!
Cypress are valuable and majestic water trees. It’s so nice to have what’s left, but one can’t help but wonder what the swamp looked like before its ancient branches were cut for lumber, and its massive stumps burned to make way for agriculture?
Well, we can can know…almost… I asked my brother, Todd, historic map expert, if he could show us, and he has created yet another “time capsule flight” video to take us there!
Using 1940 United States Department of Agriculture aerials, a 1953 USGA topographical map, and 1974 Florida Department of Transportation map juxtaposed to Google Earth images from today, we see the swamp in all its glory stretching east with forks, like a “river of trees.” What a beautiful, beautiful swamp it must have been!
Before it was cut down, Todd calculates it at 3076 acres, or 14.81 square miles. Amazing! I wonder what animals lived there? We can imagine alligators, and owls as the images fade in and out. And then we see the swamp’s stately trees replaced by the shape of the reservoir; we see the tree stumps burning, and smoke rising the sky. An offering perhaps…
….as humans we seem determined for the theme of our lives to be “Man over Nature.” Well, sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose…
Today, Todd’s video focuses on the structure and size of the former Barley Barber Swamp, but in Part II, he will share yet another story, the 1979 catastrophic failure of the FPL reservoir that burst through its dike like a tidal wave…
Part #1 in a series about the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) and how to get involved, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 8-11-17
Who or what is the CRC?
Have you heard about Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission?
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what it is. Apparently according to a Florida Bar contact, of new members polled in 2017, only 19 percent knew what it was! This makes sense perhaps, as it only convenes once every 20 years.
So what is it anyway?
The Constitution Revision Commission, or CRC for short, is a powerful entity composed of 37 members that meets to examine the Florida Constitution and propose changes for voter consideration. It’s powerful because any constitutional amendments proposed by this entity go directly onto Florida’s 2018 General Election ballot. Thirty six members – or Commissioners as they are called – are appointed by the (15) Governor, (9) Senate President, (9) House Speaker and the (3) Florida Supreme Court Justice. The (1) Attorney General is automatically a member.
I am proud to serve as a Commissioner on the CRC, and for the past few months I have been traveling across the state along with other commissioners to encourage Floridians to share their ideas regarding the Florida Constitution, and boy they have! Over 800 ideas or proposals have been submitted so far this year. (https://www.flcrc.gov/Proposals/Public)
Although thousands of Floridians have come to meet with us at public hearings, we have a lot more work to do to ensure citizens understand the CRC and know more about this historic process. Therefore, I am writing this blog series.
When and why was the CRC created?
The CRC formally came into being in 1968 when it was created by Article XI, Section 2 of the Florida Constitution. The CRC was part of several changes ratified by Florida voters that year, during an era when Florida was under great pressure for reform.
In the years leading up to the 1968 changes to the Florida Constitution, many believed that the legislature was not adequately representing voters. For many years, state politics had been dominated by a group of lawmakers known as the Florida “Pork Chop Gang,” who held disproportionate influence and power in north Florida although the majority of the population now lived in the central and southern parts of the state. They held on to their power at all costs.
This disproportionate power and influence began to crumble following a 1962 federal law suit entitled Baker vs. Carr, that determined “…redistricting issues enabled federal courts to intervene in state redistricting cases.” As Florida was held to be in violation of representative districts, in 1966, Florida’s legislature was federally dissolved and all members had to “go home” and later run under newly-created districts. Can you image! After re-election, representation from Florida’s highly populated cities was prominent for the first time.
The “reapportionment revolution” of the 1960s established the principle of “one man, one vote.” Change doesn’t come easy. It was tumultuous time with the Civil Rights Movement; desegregation of schools; women’s rights; the Vietnam War; the counterculture movement; and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, and later civil rights legend, Martin Luther King Jr. among others – – broadcast on the new medium of television– made “it” impossible to ignore.
In unison with the aforementioned upheavals, and “seeing the writing on the wall,” the Florida constitution was being updated from its archaic 1885 amended version, that remained in use, to something more “representative.” The state legislature had created the 1965/66 Constitution Revision “Committee” to research and make recommendations of reform to the legislature. Thus the CRC was born! It was that early “CRC” that put forth the idea of a bi-decade Constitution Revision “Commission.” It was soon after approved by the state legislature in landmark changes of the 1968 legislature and the “new” constitution.
The “every 20 year CRC” remains unique to Florida.
In closing, beloved Chesterfield Smith, chair of the 1965-68 legislative constitution revision committee, had a lot to be proud of, but it was the CRC he considered the diamond of his efforts.
“It is my own personal judgement that above all other matters, the new provisions in the 1968 Constitution authorizing means for further constitutional law changes are the most important things in the new constitution.” – Chesterfield Smith
We may ask, “why did Chesterfield Smith think the CRC, part of the provisions authorizing further constitutional change, was such an important legacy?”
It was an important legacy because Mr Smith and other leaders who lived through that unforgettable era wanted to ensure that such times, and a constitution so out of step with the people, would never happen again!
In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss how the CRC has evolved over time and how Floridians can get involved. For now, learn more at www.flcrc.gov, which includes an online submission tool that allows you to create and submit proposed constitutional amendments to the CRC. The proposed deadline for accepting proposals is September 22, 2017!
When I was a kid, I often walked to the Indian River Lagoon and just stood there in amazement watching the hundreds, if not thousands, of baby horseshoe crabs winding their way through the sands. They left circular trails, crossing over and over again…
Where were they going? What were they doing? Why were there so many?
Every once in a while, I would pick one up and place it carefully in the palm of my hand. Its sharp tail and prickly feet pushed against me. I watched in wonder at its strength as it bent in half. Once returned to the sand, the little crab went back to work immediately as if nothing had happened at all.
My mother had told me the horseshoe crabs were more ancient than the dinosaurs and had been here “forever.” “They are living fossils” she would say. “And they can live over 20 years and take 10 years just to mature.”
Although I picked them up with such care, today, forty years later, when I try to find them, they’re gone.
What happened to the horseshoe crabs of the Indian River Lagoon? How did a creature so ancient, resilient, and prevalent almost “disappear?”
Although there is quite a bit of literature on the Central Indian River Lagoon, I could not find much on the Southern Lagoon. Some of the best documentation came from Gretchen S. Ehlinger and Richard A. Tankersley. On line, they are cited multiple times for their paper “Reproductive Ecology of the American Horseshoe Crab, Limulus Polyphemus, in the Indian River Lagoon: An Overview.” I was also able to read “Evaluation of the Horseshoe Crab Fishery in the Indian River Lagoon Using Catch Data From Two Power Plants,” and a September 2014 “FPL Cape Canaveral Energy Center Horseshoe Crab Deterrent Fence Specifications” publication.
All of these lead to the following observations: decline of the species has been noted for around three decades. There have been UME’s or “Unexplained Mortality Events” where up to a 100,000 have died in the same area around the same time.
Factors that are related to their overall decline in the lagoon include intense coastal development, shoreline breeding grounds destruction, and unbridled human population growth; expansion of agriculture drainage watersheds into the IRL; deteriorating water quality; power plants sucking up as many as 100,000 a year into their intake canals; and over-fishing. The crabs are used as bait, collected for marine purposes, and more recently captured live and bled for their “blue-blood”that is invaluable to human health.
Unfortunately, for many years, the value and importance of the horseshoe crab was not recognized. For instance, Ehlinger and Tankersley note a one year study in the early 2000s at two Indian River Lagoon power plants that recorded a total of 39,097 crabs trapped on the intake screens at Cape Canaveral, and 53,121 at the Orland Utilities Plant. The scientists also mention a previous study from 1975 that estimated 69,662 at the Canaveral Plant, and 104,000 trapped annually at the Orlando Utilitility’s Indian River plant. “This alone could easily account for a decline in the Indian River population.” (Ehlinger and Tankersley 2007)
The St Lucie Power Plant located here in the southern lagoon did not agree to be part of the study and there is very little research one can now find on the subject.
In any case, the good news is that just recently the Cape Canaveral plant has installed a wall to protect the horseshoe crabs and science’s recognition of the species has people wanting them to come back.
The Florida Wildlife Commission notes:
“Horseshoe crabs are extremely important to the biomedical industry because their unique, copper-based blue blood contains a substance called “Limulus Amebocyte Lysate”, or “LAL”.This compound coagulates in the presence of small amounts of bacterial toxins and is used to test for sterility of medical equipment and virtually all injectable drugs. Anyone who has had an injection, vaccination, or surgery has benefitted from horseshoe crabs!”
…”in March 2000, a series of management measures for horseshoe crabs went into effect in Florida. The regulations required a license to harvest and set a limit on the number of animals each licensee could harvest per day (25 to 100 animals allowed per day per person depending on the permit). In 2002, a biomedical permitting rule created a mechanism to allow for biomedical collection.”
Personally, looking at these photos of the horseshoe crabs being bled is like a science fiction movie to me. Never as a kid would I have imagined my little friends with needles in their heads being milked for their blood.
….But if this is what is going to save them… I must say, if they could talk, I bet now is the strangest part of their 450 million year journey. In my mind, they will always be free and drawing circles in the sand.
The video I am sharing today was filmed by the late Dr. Dale Hipson. Born and raised in Stuart, Dr Hipson was an avid wildlife lover, and very involved at the Stuart Heritage Museum. http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com
Through the help of my mother, Dale’s family, and the community, I share one of Dr Hipson’s most famous videos from 2006 filming what seems to be hundreds of alligators marching across Powerline Road in the Dupuis Wildlife Area. I recall asking Dr Hipson why they were all crossing the road. “They are seeking more water,” he said, “levels change abruptly all the time.”
In the video, Dr Hipson and Shirley Corley’s “amazements” can be heard in the background. The video is quite delightful, even funny at times, and deserves to be reintroduced to the public. I know you will enjoy it.
Like hard resin, stories of long-leaf pine and towering Florida forests are in me. Since my earliest days, I remember visiting my mother’s family and hearing tales around the dinner table:
“In the 1930s your Granddady and Uncle Gordy dove down to the bottom of the Swanee River, chained those sunken water-logged giant trees, pulled them out with mules, put them on a train to Gainesville, milled them, and built this house by hand. Virgin long-leaf pine that had been on the bottom of that river for 90 years became our home. This house is history.”
At the time, the stories were just part of a lifestyle I did not lead living “down” in Stuart, Florida with the Yankees. In Gainesville we ate boiled peanuts, okra, gigantic breakfasts of bacon, eggs, toast, and homemade jelly. In Stuart, I ate Lucky Charms.
Now that I am becoming an old-pine myself, the story of the long-lost, long-leaf pine is more interesting to me. And “lo and behold,” although public records show the famous long-leaf forest stopping just north of Lake Okeechobee, recently my mother and I learned that they were, indeed, further south, right here in what today is Martin County!
This observation is bases on a 1st hand account of 1910 by J.H. Vaughn in an Abstract of Title for Indiantown, Florida.
In the early days of our country, long-leaf pine forests covered approximately 90 million acres and stretched across the entire southeastern United States. These trees are documented to have stood from 80 to 175 feet tall and many were up to 400 years in age. Of course multiple animals were dependent on the forest for shelter and food and there were massive benefits to the watersheds. The cleanest waters in the world run off of forests. These amazing trees evolved to completely withstand forest fires, actually thriving in such conditions. Imagine if you would these remarkable trees of our Creator, cut to the ground with the same state of mind as today when mowing one’s lawn….By the 1920s only 3% of the forests remained.
So where were these trees in Martin County? Where do we fit into the incredible history of these magnificent conifers? J. H. Vaughn, a lumber man of the 1800s, negotiating a sale states in the abstract of title below:
“…there is an average of 2000 feet of Long Leaf Yellow Virgin pine per acre.. being on the eastern side of Lake Okeechobee…”.
(The Townships and Ranges listed are today’s Indiantown.)
I think it is incredible that we are part of the long-leaf pine odyssey. As today, the Nature Conservancy and people like M.C. Davies have dedicated their fortunes and lives to bringing back this magnificent species and the animal life that comes along with it. The situation is a lot like St Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee restoration. It’s a generational goal done so that our stories and our lives are remembered, and not “long-lost.”
“Here is the basin right now. It may not be the blue-green algae but I am willing to bet it has some of the same properties that created the algae bloom.” —Mary Radabaugh, Central Marine
Central Marine…the epicenter for the St Lucie River’s “Algae Crisis of 2016.” More photographed than a movie star, the marina became home-base for reporters, politicians, as well as state and federal agencies. All witnessed something beyond human imagination. It is something we will never forget…
Mary and Dutch Radabaugh, who manage Central Marine, bravely and eloquently handled the situation, and kept working….
Mary became the spokesperson for Martin County on local, state, national, and international media. Her confident and calm southern manner gave stability when it was difficult to breathe.
This year, in 2017, Mary has remained low-key. Although the ACOE is not discharging Lake Okeechobee waters in to the St Lucie River, the marina definitely has been showing signs of a possible coming bloom…
The “circus” too fresh in Mary’s memory, she has not spoken, until now.
The photos below are Mary’s; they are dated. As one can see, although there is no blue-green algae visible, there are the signs. The signs we learned to recognize in 2016. The bubbles, the foam, the nutrient swirls of seeming organization…
So, with no dumping where are the nutrient bubbles coming from? These nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) are known side effects from years of careless agriculture and development—- that feed the “algae…”
Is it there from last year, or before? Is is rising from the putrid muck of the river where the blooms sunk and died only to rise again?
Most important. Is it now endemic to the system? Will it affect our health?
~Just to look and see if we could follow the bubble/foam for Mary, Ed and I flew on Sunday, July 30th, from the St Lucie Locks to the St Lucie Inlet. It was early morning, and the light was not great, but one could see the intermittent bubble swirls like a gigantic serpent to the Inlet. In the video they are most visible rounding the peninsula of Sewall’s Point.
Mary just happened to be at the Sandbar and St Lucie Inlet on Sunday, just off Sewall’s Point. She texted a photo and wrote:
“I really have a hard time watching people swim in the water when it is that gross brown color. I truly believe if they were dumping the lake right now we would be way worse than last year. This that we are seeing I believe is remnants of algae settled in our river bottom being churned up in combination with natural runoffs. Keep up the documentation so when they do decide they need to open them we can show it will be a catastrophe to human health.”
Mary’s photos of dark river water flowing out towards the St Lucie Inlet, July 30th, 2017: