Environmental concerns lead students to launch attack on Blockbuster project

May 31, 1994|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Sun Staff Writer

The campaign began in a dorm room at Harvard University where a biology student and his girlfriend tapped out this message on their computer:

"Over 2,400 acres of undeveloped wetlands critical to the restoration of Everglades National Park in Florida is about to be destroyed."

And ever since that alert went out last month on the Internet, the vast, global computer network, about 500 letters -- from as far away as California, Texas and New York -- have arrived in the office of Florida Gov. Lawton M. Chiles Jr. The majority have urged him to veto a bill that would enable the development of Blockbuster Park, a sports and entertainment complex proposed a 2,500-acre tract of land between Miami and Fort Lauderdale that skirts the edge of the Everglades. The project is being proposed by millionaire video and sports mogul H. Wayne Huizenga and his Blockbuster Entertainment Corp.

As the missives made their way to Tallahassee via "snail mail" (electronic mail users' nickname for the U.S. Postal Service), the environmental sympathizers e-mailed their sentiments and concerns to Cambridge, Mass., and Harvard student Patrick Lee.

From the confines of his dorm room, Mr. Lee and Annie Fox, a biology major on a year's leave from Swarthmore College, instigated this campaign against the project.

"It's not going to be just a park. Once a park gets through there is going to be more development . . . it's sort of a foothold in that area," said Mr. Lee, a Miami resident who says that his opposition to the Blockbuster project is his first foray into computer-generated activism.

Mr. Lee, 20, first read of the Blockbuster project in USA Today.

"It sounded like a very bad idea," said Ms. Fox, 20, also of Miami. "But we wanted to know more. And we started researching."

They collected studies on the Everglades, Blockbuster literature the proposed park and material from the Army Corps of Engineers, which built the original water management system of locks, canals and dikes that over the years has changed the flow of water in the Everglades.

The students decided to launch a protest drive and put out their message on the Internet last month.

Their electronic mailbox began filling almost immediately with messages, from Florida and beyond.

Some officials familiar with Blockbuster's project have expressed concerns about the accuracy of the information being sent via the Internet across the globe. For example, in the original posting, Mr. Lee and Ms. Fox described the project as an "amusement park." Blockbuster describes the complex as a "theme park."

"The governor has received a lot of letters from people around the country," said Rep. Steve Geller, the Florida legislator who sponsored the bill at the request of Blockbuster. "But almost none of those letters are from Florida. It's not in the middle of the Everglades. . . . This will be the most heavily environmentally regulated project in the history of the state of Florida."

Of the hundreds of responses Mr. Lee and Ms. Fox have received, they say only one has been negative. So far, they say they have spent more than $100 of their own money to mail copies of research studies and Blockbuster material to inquiring minds.

"We haven't seen our phone bill yet," said Ms. Fox. "It's going to be scary."

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