Into the bowels of hell

By Henry Lamb

Dante’s “Inferno” is a graphic story about a journey through various levels of pain and, finally, into the bowels of hell. It could well be an allegory for the people who are being squeezed off their land by increasing layers of regulatory control and, finally, into utter despair and hopelessness.

South Florida provides an excellent example of a scenario that is being played out in every state, and every community across the country.

Florida adopted its Comprehensive Planning Act in 1976. Then came the regional Water Management Districts and the regional Planning Commissions, neither of which are elected, but have enormous regulatory authority.

Local elected officials have the responsibility of “planning” the development of their communities, but their plan must be approved, by the state. Residents of a community can no longer hold their local elected officials accountable; local officials are required by state law to serve the state first, and their constituents last.

Each of the state’s regional regulatory agencies holds veto power over any land-use decision that the county officials may make and has the authority to stop any activity that an individual land owner may wish to undertake.

Enter now, the State Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Park Service, and the U.S. Corps of Engineers. These agencies, too, have authority to stop any project – and levy fines. An individual who wishes to use his property for some productive activity must traverse a path that is every bit as frightening – and much more expensive – than Dante’s route to hell.

Pastor David Mallory set out 14 years ago to build a center for homeless people, drug and alcohol abusers, unwed mothers, and others in need. He acquired 70 acres about five miles East of Naples, and began his journey. Before he was allowed to break ground, he was required to purchase 103 acres of permanent swamp, at a cost of a half-million dollars, as “mitigation” (read: extortion) for the use of his 70 acres.

Listening to his 14-year ordeal is, indeed, more frightening than reading Dante’s “Inferno.” Dante is fiction; Mallory’s story is fact. The Water Management District required him to build two boat ramps from his property into an adjacent canal, for use by the Water Management District. The Corps of Engineers threatened to levy a $25,000 fine and to void a permit they issued in 1998 because two bushes found on the 70 acres were identified as “invasive” species. Ironically, the federal land that borders the Mallory property is covered with “invasive” species.

To one degree or another, Pastor Mallory’s experience is repeated every day, in every state, by thousands of people who thought America was the “land of the free.”

Each of these agencies claims that their policies are the result of local input by community-based advisory committees and councils. What a joke. These committees and councils exist, but they are appointed, and they consist of paid professionals from environmental organizations along with county, state and federal government agencies. Ordinary people are systematically excluded. Meetings of these committees and councils are frequently held during business hours when ordinary people are at work, and often, meeting announcements are published only days before the event – if at all.

In South Florida, The Nature Conservancy, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, and the Audubon Society, are among the prime movers of the land control agenda. Each receives generous grants from the agencies of federal government that regulate land use in South Florida. Taxpayers are forced to pay for the regulatory abuse, and often, for the confiscation of their own property.

Collier County, like many other U.S. communities, has established an “urban growth boundary.” In so doing, land owners outside the boundary lose all hope of profiting from their land investment. Moreover, the county has designated “Natural Resource Protection Areas” where land use is severely restricted. Owners must continue to pay taxes, but may not use the land to produce revenue to pay the taxes. This situation transforms land owners into “willing sellers” to fatten the land inventory of government, or of The Nature Conservancy.

Traversing this multilayered regulatory maze is very much like descending through Dante’s levels of hell; each one, a little worse than the last. Individual freedom is little more than a memory in South Florida, and is fading very fast across the land. Each new regulation further erodes individual freedom – and drives the nation further into the bowels of hell.