WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Environmentalists dumped sand and rotten oranges in a county development board's office in a protest of plans to build the Scripps biotech research facility on a rural citrus grove.
Nine protesters were arrested Wednesday after storming the offices of the Palm Beach County Business Development Board, police said. They ruined an Oriental rug in the lobby foyer by stomping the fruit, officials said.
Two of the protesters had to be removed by the city fire department after they used bicycle locks to chain themselves to a stairway railing in the agency's lobby, police said.
The protesters were objecting to plans to build Scripps Florida in a citrus grove west of Palm Beach Gardens. They argue the facility will increase suburban sprawl, pose environmental hazards and hurt the fragile Everglades.
"Sometimes it's necessary to take a more visible and dramatic action," said Cara Jennings, one of the organizers of Monday's protest. "Oranges can be cleaned up faster than hazardous biotech materials."
As police arrested the eight men and one woman, more than 20 protesters affiliated with the radical environmental group Earth First! stood across the street from the office, with signs opposing Scripps' development.
California-based Scripps announced in 2003 that it would expand to Florida after being heavily recruited by Gov. Jeb Bush, who said it would help diversify the state's economy by luring more high-tech companies and jobs.
The development board persuaded Scripps to choose Palm Beach County for its Florida facility, leading to the selection of Mecca Farms, a 1,919-acre citrus grove. The county and state have pledged roughly $800 million to buy the land, build the facility, pay its operating costs for seven years and develop a biotech cluster around the institute.
Bevin Beaudet, the county's Scripps program manager, said the activists didn't look like "mainstream citizens."
"I guess it's sort of an anti-technology backlash, anti-globalization. I don't think that's a prevalent attitude in this county," Beaudet said.
Other groups such as 1000 Friends of Florida and the Florida Wildlife Federation have opposed the Mecca Farms location. They contend the way Scripps and Palm Beach County chose the site violated state growth management and anti-sprawl laws.
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