Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Around the Bend; Wetlands Groups Celebrate Partial Victory

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Around the Bend; Wetlands Groups Celebrate Partial Victory

Article excerpt

Byline: DAN SCANLAN

The Sierra Club and St. Johns Riverkeeper held a party Thursday night at the Mandarin Community Club to celebrate the Army Corps of Engineers' recent decision to deny a federal permit for the Freedom Commerce Center.

But the estimated 60 guests were reminded that an administrative law judge still has to rule on the environmental groups' challenge of a St. Johns River Water Management District staff recommendation, which approves the project. And The Goodman Co. still has more than a month to appeal the corps' denial of the permit needed to build the retail, residential and office project off Baymeadows Road.

Riverkeeper Neil Armingeon said he advised guests to "celebrate carefully" as they prepare for more possible challenges.

"The purpose was to really catch our breath and take stock of where we are, celebrate the success we have had so far and rededicate ourselves to get where we need to be to save that piece of land," Armingeon said. "But we are a long way from victory."

The Goodman Co. wants to develop 227.9 acres of heavily wooded land between Interstate 95, Baymeadows Road and Philips Highway into an office park, stores and homes. It filed the permit application for the project in October 2000 but made numerous changes to the plan before Water Management District staff recommended approval late last year.

Residents from Mandarin and the Southside joined environmental groups in protesting the project, saying it would damage wetlands that serve as the headwaters for Julington and Pottsburg creeks. The Sierra Club and St. Johns Riverkeeper legally challenged the Water Management staff conclusion, and a state administrative law judge held a two-week hearing in late April to hear evidence on whether that staff correctly applied state rules in its recommendation.

The Corps of Engineers denied a permit to allow the filling-in of 167 acres of forested wetlands on the site May 13. Goodman has until July 13 to appeal. …

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