“What this is basically showing us is that developers, if there’s money to be made, they will develop it,” said Stephen Strader, an associate professor at Villanova University who studies the societal forces behind disasters. “You have a natural wetland marsh … the primary function of those regions is to protect the inland areas from things like storm surge. You’re building on top of it, you’re replacing it with subdivisions and homes. What do we expect to see?”
–Dr. Stephen Strader, as quoted by Jake Bittle writing in Grist, “Hurricane Ian was a powerful storm. Real estate developers made it a catastrophe,” September 30, 2022
What? Too soon?
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, many believe it is too late.
Floridians can’t say we weren’t warned.
For decades, Florida environmentalists have sounded the klaxon on natural hazard vulnerability and overdevelopment in a place where greed knows no boundaries, nothing is sacred, and the only thing that matters is profit.
In turn, our elected dullards and those uber-wealthy insiders who own the paper on their political souls, have marginalized those voices of reason – flippantly dismissing concerns while facilitating explosive development across the width and breadth of this sensitive spit of sand – even concocting non-sensical laws in Tallahassee that give large tract land owners/speculative developers carte blanche (while providing political insulation to local elected officials) to do anything they damn well want – wherever they feel like doing it.
Even if it means slash-and-burn clear-cutting, artificially changing the topography of the land, threatening our finite supply of clean water, or drowning their neighbor.
In the fallout of Ian, horror stories are beginning to emerge of entire neighborhoods inundated with water after wetlands were filled under an idiotic “hurt here/help there” mitigation strategy – and existing residents saw the runoff from nearby new development sitting atop what was once our aquifer recharge areas – while underwater residents of Midtown continue to suffer from years of neglect when civic attention turned to “New Daytona” west of I-95. . .
Now that our worst fears have been realized – with thousands of our neighbors sitting in the dark, their homes, cars, and worldly belongings ruined by standing floodwater, the death toll rising, and thousands across Central Florida left homeless – perhaps it is time we reevaluate our priorities in the Sunshine State?
Politicians tell us that some 1,100 new residents move to Florida everyday – therefore, existing residents are told we have some cockamamie obligation to squeeze-in and make room – sacrifice our quality of life (and our very lives) to accommodate the asinine “build it and they will come” mentality that continues to pave over our wetlands, wildlife habitat, and natural buffers.
So that some fat cat real estate developer can buy another vacation home in North Carolina or Snowmass?
In my view, Hurricane Ian should be the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
Now that the results are undeniable, more development in areas where fill is required – or allowing multi-story buildings east of A-1-A where coastal erosion is already threatening existing structures – isn’t just risky, it should be criminal.
Mother Nature has exposed the fallacy we have been fed – stripped away the cheap façade – countered the political rhetoric of those cheap tools who accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from developers – then look us in the eye, shrug their shoulders, and tell us “Nuttin’ we can do, hands are tied – If you’re not growing, you’re dying!” – while dragging their leaden feet on reasonable low-impact development strategies, wildlife protections, and impact fee increases.
With the core of our state in tatters and our insurance apparatus insolvent – who will stand up and accept responsibility for the cowardly chain of events that led to one of the most expensive catastrophes in the history of the world?
Nobody. That’s who.
With elections approaching, the federal government will print more money (during the worst economy in years) and shower cash on the state of Florida. What is not gobbled up by recovery contractors, misspent by local governments, (or outright stolen) will trickledown to those who need it.
But it will take time.
The ugly fact is, most victims will be left to hire bloodsucking lawyers to haggle with what remains of their parasitic insurance company who will lowball them, quibble claims, and dodge responsibility for years.
And we’re all victims. . .
My hope is that the November elections come before “Disaster Amnesia” returns – before the glossy mailers convince us to doubt what we see with our own eyes – before we forget the fear and trepidation many of our neighbors’ felt as the floodwaters continued to rise.
Santayana was right – “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”