From: John Cote, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Published May 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Environmentalists Lose Appeal against Scripps

An appellate court Wednesday rejected an appeal by environmentalists who oppose The Scripps Research Institute's Florida expansion on northern Palm Beach County property.

Hours after hearing oral arguments, the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld a judge's ruling that approved an environmental resources permit for the planned biotechnology park.

The controversial project is beset by lawsuits, but Scripps backers have strung together a series of legal victories.

"That's five of five," County Commissioner Mary McCarty said of Wednesday's ruling.

The Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition had filed suit against the South Florida Water Management District and Palm Beach County over a state administrative law judge's decision approving a water district permit for development on Mecca Farms.

There are still three legal challenges facing the biotechnology campus planned for a former orange grove west of Palm Beach Gardens.

Wednesday's ruling by a three-judge panel was unanimous and came without comment.

Boca Raton attorney Barry Silver, who represents the environmental coalition, had argued that the administrative law judge failed to consider all the potential environmental impacts from building the biotechnology campus.

Authorities obtained an environmental resources permit in December, but Silver argued the judge who approved it only considered the impact on a 256-acre parcel rather than the whole 1,919-acre project.

The permit allowed the start of excavation on 500 acres of the site, but provides conceptual approval for the entire development.

"The law doesn't permit you to do it piecemeal," Silver argued. "Because they haven't applied for a permit, because they're doing it piecemeal, they're being rewarded. That's exactly what the law says you're not supposed to do."

Silver argued the administrative law judge ignored secondary and larger impacts beyond Mecca Farms and did not take into account the impact of 2,000 residential units and a mile-long open mall bordered by buildings. The project also includes 8.5 million square feet of offices and laboratories, shops, schools and parks.

Mecca Farms is bordered on three sides by sensitive lands.

Silver could not be reached for comment after the ruling was handed down.

Susan Roeder Martin, senior attorney for the South Florida Water Management District, dismissed Silver's arguments, telling the court that authorities had secured conceptual approval for the entire site. "We felt that it was well within our authority and that the county had complied with the rules," said Sheryl Wood, general counsel for the district. "I was just glad it was resolved so quickly."

Staff Writer Cadence Mertz contributed to this report.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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