“Biostitutes” help rape environment
Finally, someone shined a light on these hustlers. Sunday’s St. Petersburg Times featured an exposé of a firm that has long been selling developers the “expert testimony” they need to destroy our natural resources.
“For years, Florida’s largest environmental consulting firm, Biological Research Associates, has helped private companies win government permits to pave over wetlands and destroy wildlife habitat.”
I have had to fight against B.R.A.’s sellout-scientists several times, and I can tell you it’s enormously frustrating for citizens to work our tails off putting together the facts & figures to make a case for saving some of our precious natural resources, only to have the developer trot out these pole-dancing “experts” to say that those natural resources don’t exist, or that paving them over won’t hurt them a bit, or whatever.
The Times reports a few of the most egregious examples of B.R.A’s role in environmental destruction across the state, including one in Hillsborough county in which
“B.R.A. reported finding no wildlife habitat on a development site, only to have county officials discover more than 100 acres still being used by wildlife.”
But there have been several instances where B.R.A was involved, and are not included in the Times’ report.
One local case which particularly infuriated me was not mentioned in the Times. The developer wanted to destroy gopher tortoise habitat on a skinny spit (300 feet wide!) of pristine sand pine scrub, sticking out into the middle of the Little Manatee River at Mill Bayou, just to build a couple dozen houses. Hundreds of citizens and several local & state environmental groups voiced their opposition, and even the National Humane Society sent a letter from Washington D.C. opposing the project for the sake of the 20 gopher tortoises living on the site.
B.R.A. argued for the destruction of the exceedingly rare sand pine scrub habitat, claiming the gopher tortoise population was not worth saving. They also pushed for an exception to our rules protecting native trees along the river. And they testified under oath that there were no listed plant species on the site. But there were.
Before the hearings, I visited the site with a couple of bona fide professional biologists and a Tampa Tribune writer whose subsequent article included photographs of the endangered plants. The listed species (Tillandsia Utriculata, endangered, and Garberia Heterophylla, threatened) were clearly visible from the road. At the hearings, I spoke about these plants, as did an honest, unpaid biologist. Yet B.R.A’s scientists testified that there were no listed plant species!
I can’t tell you how galling it is for citizens to be speaking truth to power at these hearings, only to have paid experts used to deny the truth. (The developer eventually won the Mill Bayou rezoning case, though citizens won a few concessions.)
Other local issues involving B.R.A., but not in the Times’ report include:
- Little Harbor’s request to pack condos onto a site at the mouth of the Little Manatee River. Although this project will pave shut the only riverfront doorway in a critical wildlife corridor between nature preserves, fragmenting habitat for the families of bobcats, foxes and otters which I have personally seen there, B.R.A. discounted all this wildlife as “ruderal species,” and went on to testify that the wildlife didn’t use this corridor, even though I submitted photos of trails which the wildlife used so frequently they were worn down like little highways.
- The Cypress Creek Town Center project, now embroiled in a Sierra Club lawsuit for impacts to wildlife and extensive wetlands damage at the headwaters of the Hillsborough River. B.R.A. seriously underestimated the number of gopher tortoises at this site, claiming there were only 10 while citizens protested that there were over 30. After the developer was granted permission to move the tortoises, it turned out they actually needed permits to relocate 50 of the rare tortoises. Citizens maintain that dozens of tortoises and other listed species have now been buried alive by the developer in midnight(!) excavations.
- B.R.A. was on the side of the developers who tried to eliminate our EPC wetlands protections last year. B.R.A’s Drew Sanders spoke against EPC in a Tribune article, which went on to reveal inaccuracies in his statement regarding EPC’s role in a B.R.A. project.
While other paid consultants have been known to slant the facts to benefit their clients, B.R.A.’s reputation is abysmal. I’ve often heard words like “biostitute” used to describe them, but it’s time their sleazy tactics were spoken of publicly:
• Inglis Town Commissioner Ed Michaels calls B.R.A. “biostitutes” — a word combining “biologist” and “prostitute” — explaining, “They’re for hire.”
• others in the environmental consulting industry say B.R.A. has long been known to put its clients’ demands ahead of accurate science.
• B.R.A. “is considered kind of a black hat in the consulting business,” said Ray Ashton, a longtime consultant from the Gainesville area. “You can make it really good for your clients by skirting the rules and endangering the resource.”
Hopefully, once everybody knows which consultants lack credibility, their testimony will become worthless, and consultants with integrity will be hired more often, so environmental decisions can be made based on the facts, not the best “expert testimony” money can buy.