Pristine oasis may go to waste in trash crisis
November 8, 1985
As the last wild traces of South Florida disappear under the dredge and bulldozer, it's a good time to weigh the fate of the Pond Apple Slough.
That such a place has survived the blind rapacity of Broward County's development is both a marvel and mystery. Stubbornly it thrives, a steamy oasis wedged between two of the busiest and ugliest thoroughfares ever built, State Road 84 and U.S. 441.
Perhaps one thing that has saved the 100-acre gem is its invisibility not only from the roads, but from the South New River Canal, which forms its southern boundary.
Hemmed in, shut off, nearly forgotten, the freshwater swamp and its adjacent cypress forest is one of the most pristine Florida habitats left on the peninsula. Beyond the drooping pond apples are royal palms, coco plums, leather ferns and sprawling ficuses, ancient giants draped with moss, wild orchids and airplants.
Penetrable only by canoe and foot, the Pond Apple Slough is a refuge for bobcats, raccoons, squirrels and gray foxes; snakes, alligators and endangered crocodiles; hawks, ospreys, kestrels and other birds of prey. The animals have adapted remarkably well to the swamp's clamorous borders, and even to the roar of 727s passing low on approach to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport.
But soon there will be new neighbors: Interstate 595, arcing high overhead, and a massive garbage incinerator, with two enormous landfills. The highway is an aesthetic nuisance but nonintrusive; the incinerator is something else.
The battle has been predictably emotional, with homeowners and environmentalists on one side, county officials on the other. Beginning Tuesday at the Davie-Cooper City Library, state officials will hold nine days of hearings about the new garbage plant, and one of the main issues is its effect on the rare slough.
The swamp itself is on state property, technically protected. But one of the landfills is planned for 200 acres of county property, now sawgrass, which borders the tall cypress. Environmentalists fear poisonous runoff from the ash and refuse will decimate the swamp.
George Fitzpatrick, chairman of Broward's Environmental Quality Control Board, says the landfill "will have a very negative effect … You shouldn't build incinerators with landfills in a swamp."
Adds naturalist Woody Wilkes: "It will destroy this whole area. There's no way to get around it."
Faced with a mountainous garbage crisis, Broward is determined to build new incinerators; it's already issued $521 million worth of bonds to finance two of them.
Tom Henderson, director of resource recovery, says the county has spent a fortune studying the pond apple habitat and is committed to saving the slough and restoring long-lost waterways near the dumps.
"The area's going to be much better than what's there," says Henderson.
He also says the dump site nearest the Pond Apple Slough won't be needed until the turn of the century, if ever, and that all ash would be deposited on a thick layer of plastic to prevent leeching into the precious groundwater.
Opponents say that's not enough. They view the incinerator as a fountain of rancid air, and they want modern emission controls on its smoke-stack. They also want its ash and rubble trucked out west; in other words, no landfills near the swamp.
The classic problem with dumps is that nobody wants one in their own backyard. Trouble is, this just isn't any old backyard; it's one of the few remaining glimpses of Florida as it was a century ago, a gentle canoe trip into the past.
Surely the state can settle this controversy by demanding strict, enforceable measures to save the Pond Apple Slough and the air it breathes. A dump is one kind of political legacy; a wilderness is another.
It would be a tragedy to lose it to a 40-foot hill of burnt slop.