Green Heart of the Everglades, Florida
The state of Florida purchased 11,000 acres of land in 2023 in order to restore the land bordering Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve Via The Miami Herald

SEATTLE - An independent test around over 10,000 acres of land purchased by the state of Florida in 2023 shows that the Collier family, one of the richest and most powerful in the state, sold 8,000 acres of contaminated land related to a 1956 fire that, according to a former employee, the family never cleaned up.

Last year, Florida spent nearly $30 million with the aims of conserving land near Everglades City, but a federal lawsuit unsealed in June found that most of it suffered from log-term exposure to creosote, which may cause birth defects and cancer, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Sonja Eddings Brown, a former employee of the Collier family, claims that they never disclosed any contamination.

"This case centers on a businesswoman and matriarch of a powerful Florida family, Parker Collier, and the unlawful acts she perpetrated to enrich herself by engineering the promotion and sale of 8,000 acres of land contaminated with deadly creosote in the Everglades," Brown said. The lawsuit is part of a larger employment dispute with Parker Collier, which alleges she misrepresented the contamination of the Green Heart of the Everglades land to Brown while the former employee pitched it to the DeSantis and Trump administrations in 2020.

Brown claims that Parker Collier fired her once she started to ask questions in relation to the contamination. She also raised concerns about corruption in another development deal in Collier County, Florida.

A spokesperson for the South Florida Water Management District, which purchased the land on behalf of the state, told the Herald/Times as they investigated the issue that "a comprehensive environmental assessment of the land was done before the transaction, although the report did not count with any physical sampling.

Brown clams she conducted her own testing and reviewed it with toxicologist Dr James Dahlgren. Her samples showed that Jerome's soil and drinking water are still contaminated, and therefore the surrounding areas are likely still contaminated as well, including a large portion sold to the state last year. Jerome is a rural area of Collier County at the edge of the Everglades.

The 11,000 acres of land sit between the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve and it is home to 39 threatened or endangered species such as the American Crocodile, Black Bear and Florida Panther, according to a project summary. As of now, it remains unclear of the allegations about the contamination will put in jeopardy the conservation efforts around the Green Heart of the Everglades.

Florida had plans of undoing the damage inflicting the area and, in 2000, approved a plan that was expected to cost just under $8 billion and take about 20 years. That cost has now jumped to $23 billion and it has fallen decades behind the original schedule. According to a report by the Miami Herald last April, half of the Everglades' tree islands are now gone, constantly threatened by high water levels as well as new developments around the area.

© 2024 Latin Times. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.