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Published on Sunday, February 27, 2000 in the Miami Herald
Taking A Stand: `Green' Al Gore's Turning Pale Shade Of Yellow
by Carl Hiaasen
 

Vice President Al Gore, who claims the greenest pro-environmental credentials of all the presidential candidates, is showing a flash of yellow.

A pro-Gore rally here in South Florida was suddenly canceled last week by Carol Browner, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Local conservation groups planned to use the occasion to tweak Gore into taking a position on the huge commercial jetport that's been proposed for South Dade.

Browner, who opposes the jetport, said a scheduling conflict -- not the planned demonstration -- caused her to cancel the Hollywood campaign rally. Maybe that's true. Or maybe Gore's handlers merely wanted to avoid a scene. With the Florida primary looming, it would look bad for the vice president to be picketed by the Audubon Society.

Gore's opponent, Bill Bradley, recently said he would not support development of a commercial airport at the old Homestead Air Force Base because of its sensitive location, between Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park.

By contrast, ``Green Al'' Gore had this to say: ``I would urge the continued discussion of how a balanced solution can be found that can help the community without hurting the environment.''

Mush. You like the Homestead airport concept, or you don't. There are votes to be gained from either position. All that remains is for Gore to choose one.

Why won't he? Because it's easier not to.

From its shady beginnings, the airport has been a pet project of prominent Democrats, among them Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas and Sen. Bob Graham. The fact that another jetport wasn't needed didn't stop the County Commission from handing a no-bid lease to a bunch of politically connected home builders with deep campaign pockets but not a clue how to make an airport.

Penelas's vote was central to the Homestead air base giveaway, and he continues to be one of the project's most visible boosters. He is also a key supporter and fund raiser for Al Gore's campaign. Get the picture? For Gore to speak out against the jetport would be like kicking Penelas in the shins, and Gore needs Penelas too much to do that. But Gore also needs the ``enviro'' vote, so he likewise can't afford to support the jetport.

Therefore, braced with South Florida's most controversial environmental issue, the environmental vice president has elected to wimp out and keep quiet. Too bad, because lots of voters are curious to know where he stands.

Those who favor the jetport say it's necessary to revitalize the economy of hurricane-ravaged South Dade. But how many times have we heard this line? Wasn't the motor speedway supposed to revitalize South Dade?

Hurricane Andrew struck almost eight years ago, yet it remains a shopworn excuse for any half-baked scheme that wildly promises jobs while enriching a few plugged-in entrepreneurs. Homestead is in deep trouble if it's banking on HABDI, the group that received the controversial air-base lease. Not only the EPA but Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has come out against the jetport.

So have several communities in the nearby Upper Keys, where there's widespread concern over the air pollution and noise that accompany hundreds of daily takeoffs and landings.

Picture even a down-scaled version of Miami International Airport on the shore of south Biscayne Bay and the rim of the Everglades, and you can understand why folks are so worried.

LOW-IMPACT USE NEEDED

It's also easy to understand the frustrations in Homestead, which was smacked hard by the Air Force pullout. The challenge is to figure out a profitable, low-impact use for the base that won't threaten the fragile parks, or scare off the thousands of tourists who flock there. Collier family interests have proposed a resort and office park for the base site. Another group says it would be perfect for launching commercial satellites.

The jetport scheme might be in trouble, but those behind the project have the clout to keep it alive. Gore might be able to duck the controversy before the March primary, but it's not likely to go away before November.

If he doesn't take a stand soon, we can assume that the self-proclaimed green candidate isn't referring to the green of the Everglades, but rather the green that Alex Penelas is stuffing into Democratic coffers.

###

Copyright 2000 Miami Herald

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