In a 1987 interview, John Brooks said he was not optimistic about the future of St. Lucie County’s beaches. “So much will be lost before we even realized we should have saved it,” Mr. Brooks said. “The great god progress is the main problem.”
Mr. Brooks, who worked with the Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County to save the 1.6-mile oceanfront park that bears his name, died a few months later, but his predictions proved to be prophetic.
The great god progress, in the form of green energy and giant wind turbines, wants space on St. Lucie County’s south Hutchinson Island beaches. Florida Power & Light Co., if county commissioners agree, will place the turbines at John Brooks Park and at Frederick Douglass Park, just to the south, and on another parcel to the north.
Mr. Brooks fought for five years to save St. Lucie’s beaches. He argued that the land, then called Green Turtle Beach, was the wrong place for a golf course and an 800-unit high-rise condominium – and he won. He helped a citizens committee persuade St. Lucie to issue $10 million in bonds to help buy that 400-acre parcel and five other beaches through the state’s Save Our Coasts program.
“He was a great believer in renewable energy,” his widow Jane Brooks said. “But speaking as Mrs. John Brooks, I know he wouldn’t want to see those giant wind machines there. He believed the beach should remain a quiet place to enjoy nature. The beach and the ocean are incompatible with huge wind machines.”
Last week, I drove up to look at the beaches where FPL hopes to put the 40-story turbines – five on land it owns near the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant and four on beaches that, thanks to Mr. Brooks and other conservationists, the public paid to buy and save forever.
The wilderness character of those beaches, once heavily wooded and accessible only by bumpy trail roads, has changed as much as the rest of Hutchinson Island over the past 20 years. Power lines now run along A1A, and more than 2 miles of sidewalks have been installed east of the road near the public beaches.
On the beach, a 10-story condo is visible to the north and others are off in a hazy distance to the south. I’d rather not see any tall buildings near the beaches, but the fact that these are so close makes the empty strips of sand beside the sea all the more precious.
John Brooks Park and the others connect to create a natural area where the sounds of waves, wind and sea birds erase the noise of traffic on A1A. Mangroves line the dirt road to the water; sea oats and sea grapes anchor the sand on the dunes. A boardwalk over the dune and a dirt parking lot, muddy from Tropical Storm Noel’s rain, are the only amenities. Frederick Douglass Park is more civilized, with picnic shelters, grills, restrooms and a parking area marked with sea grapes groomed into a squared-off hedge.
I walked down to the water and tried to imagine a 415-foot-tall wind turbine behind me. Even if it were quiet, it still would cast a giant shadow. Would the “flickering effect,” in which the blades turn and chop up the shadow, prove not only annoying to people but also disturb wildlife? Taller than the island’s condos, taller than the twin nuclear reactor towers a few miles south, four windmills along that short stretch of public beach would dominate the landscape and destroy the area’s natural beauty.
Doug Coward is the only county commissioner who opposes the windmills on public beaches. A strong supporter of renewable energy, he backs FPL placing the five giant turbines on its own property near the nuke plant. The other commissioners, who all say they haven’t yet made up their minds, could be seduced by the cash FPL would offer the county to allow the windmills on public beaches. They hope that the money could ease the sting of state-mandated budget cuts.
Commissioner Coward questions whether allowing windmills on public beaches is legal, and put the issue on the county’s Nov. 27 agenda for discussion. There’s plenty to talk about, but the question of whether to put giant windmills on public beaches has a simple answer:
By Sally Swartz
Palm Beach Post Editorial Writer
7 November 2007
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