Your How To Source: Issues of Value, Ethics, Human Needs and Deeds Edited by Heinz Dinter, PhD
Apathy reigns and Biscayne Bay pays the price (2006-10-12)
By HEINZ DINTER, PhD
Why do they turn their back on a precious gift of nature that offers so much tranquility, so much pleasure, so much profound living, and so much economic progress? Because they chose apathy over caring. That is why.
We are focusing on a shame that did not have to linger. It did not have to be. And if those who live there do not rise to the call for action, their paradise may become a body of water with dead fish, void of manatees because they will have fled to a healthier environment, and death of nature may be wreaking the surrounding’s doom. The challenged waters of Biscayne Bay lapping at the shores of and shielding Fair Isle in Coconut Grove (Miami), Florida deserve better — and so do those who have been calling the island home for nearly three decades. And it will come to the surface that the house of cards erected on Fair Isle and named Grove Isle by home owners and business entities is not a noble house. And Biscayne Bay may suffer, falling prey to avarice.
Fair Isle is home to three high-rise condominium buildings 510 condo dwellers call home as the Grove Isle Condominium. Sharing the island with the home owners are the Grove Isle Hotel & Spa (home of Baleen restaurant) and the Grove Isle Club, owned and operated by Noble House Hotels & Resorts based in Bellevue, Washington. Yet another commercial establishment operates from Fair Isle: The Grove Isle Marina.
Biscayne Bay — Pride of the Magic City
Extolling the beauty and identifying the needs of this magnificent body of water hugging Miami is not an effort — it’s a labor of love.
Those who live near the shores of Biscayne Bay or are surrounded by its lapping bliss appreciate its beauty and serenity. But are they truly concerned about its future well-being?
The following reminiscence by Robert A. Burr (email@example.com, author of Rob’s Redland Riot), a member of one of Miami’s most prominent pioneer families, adds even more significance to what we must learn about this segment of Miami’s and Biscayne Bay’s proud history, and what we must protect:
Early pioneers that arrived before 1900 depended on the bay and local creeks and rivers for transportation. The only road was the old military trail from Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Dallas on the Miami River. It was not a good road and was prone to flooding often.
Little River (Biscayne Blvd at 78th Street) and Arch Creek (the original settlement now known as North Miami) were populated by pioneers in the 1890s. These waterways were critical for moving crops to market in Miami via the bay.
I can give you info about the first Bay Causeway and the first man-made bay islands. My great-grandfather was chairman of the Dade County Commission, the leading political figure in the county from 1915 to 1921 and the most vocal proponent of road building.
Jamie Colee Makes Promises
James (“Jamie”) P. Colee, then Vice President Development of Noble House Hotels & Resorts, addressed a letter dated January 12, 2000 to the members of the Grove Isle Club at the Grove Isle Hotel & Spa.
I would first like to apologize for the inconvenience that you are experiencing as a result of the hurricane damages to the Tennis Facility at the Grove Isle Club and the delays in repairing the facilities. We are making every effort to take this opportunity to upgrade the entire facility. However, when dealing with insurance companies and local building authorities, things have a tendency to take longer than we would all like. I am sorry for any incorrect information that you may have received from the local management and can assure you that they are giving you the best information that they can and are in no way intentionally trying to misguide you. You are indirectly feeling the same frustrations that we are in settling this insurance claim and the false promises that we are given by building authorities and insurance representatives.
On the brighter side, as we continue to negotiate the improvements to the facility, the repairs to the Tennis Facility will result in a top notch, professional, facility that I think all Club Members will be proud of. We are taking the opportunity to improve all of the problem areas that the club has had to endure for some time.
In the upcoming week of January 17th, we will be starting the following improvements as well:
● Install proper drainage for all courts that will keep the clay run off from draining into the bay and protect the delicate ecosystem that have been affected in the past years by sediment run off from our courts. Tentatively scheduled to start 1/17/99. [Since January 17, 2000 fell on a Monday, 1999 should most probably say 2000.]
I hope that this information helps to get you as excited about the upcoming improvements to the Tennis Facility as we are. I understand that this has been a frustrating experience for all of you and understand that the process of change and upgrading a facility is never without its share of difficulties. I can only ask that you remain patient a bit longer and you will not be disappointed. In the upcoming weeks, you will begin to see all of the changes that we have all been waiting eagerly to take place. I hope that seeing actual construction in progress will help to calm the frustrations that you have had and excite the Club Members about the future of the Tennis Club Facilities. I think that when we are completed, we will have one of the finest tennis facilities in South Florida.
Please feel free to give me a call any-time to discuss this or any other matter pertaining to the property improvements at Grove Isle.
Sincerely, (signed) Jamie Colee, V.P. Development, Noble House Hotels and Resorts
In addition to the promise of protecting the delicate ecosystem, the letter contained eight additional promises related to the club’s tennis facilities.
The overwhelming majority of the promises made in 2000, especially those related to solving major problems such as dealing with the delicate ecosystem, remain promises in 2006 and the tennis facilities continued for all these years in disgraceful condition.
Noble House Hotels & Resorts is owned by the Colee family with father Patrick (“Pat”) R. Colee as Chairman.
In October 2005, Scott R. Vokey, vice president and general counsel of Noble House, confirmed the information contained in the letter is “old” but does not deny the problems still exist. Patrick and James Colee refused to comment.
Vokey, in an email of October 2, 2005 to Heinz Dinter (he researched the issue and contacted Noble House executives to verify the facts), stated: “… and you threaten us (there is no question that you are threatening us by your reference to DERM, etc.) with publication of old, incomplete information.”
Vokey, in an email of November 5, 2005, vehemently continues the stance of all is well by refusing to admit the truth, belittling the gravity of Noble House’s disrespect for environmental concerns and the laws in place to save our ecosystems from destruction, and falsely claiming “… you will find that the allegations related to Jamie Colee’s 1999/2000 letter also are unsubstantiated. All the work was done. Again, I have no intention of proving that … In any event, what is the point of looking in the rear view mirror of 5 or 6 years ago? Do you honestly think that is news?”
It is thought-provoking: “The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of a nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell big ones. ... Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.” These words were uttered by the most evil man this world has ever known.
Neither Noble House nor Grove Isle Hotel & Spa, operator of the Grove Isle Club, has presented any evidence that the work to protect the Biscayne Bay ecosystem was carried out. The staff of the tennis facility confirmed that this and other repairs promised five years ago were not carried out. This is also well-known to the Grove Isle Club tennis players. Why did Noble House not keep its promise way back in 2000 to fix the courts? Why does Noble House now try to sweep the issue under the rug?
Why did everybody keep their eyes closed when they saw streams of clay gush into Biscayne Bay following a downpour, or the sprinkler system did not obey intended time limits and worked overtime, or worse, when a broken watering pipe turned a tennis court into a water fountain display with pollution in clear sight? And, as Jamie Colee so eloquently admits, Noble House permitted sediment run-off from the courts into Biscayne Bay before 1999 — and they let it continue for all these years. Should there not have been an uproar from the club members?
The Conscience of Grove Islanders
The Grove Isle condo residents and other Grove Isle Club members dream of peace of mind but are too busy to pitch in and to be counted. What does it take to turn apathy into action? It’s the silent killer: Apathy.
Should sadness or indifference control our conscience?
Jamie Colee’s letter six-and-a-half years ago went to 510 Grove Isle home owners (condominium documents dictate Grove Isle Club membership), approximately 100 condo renters (yes, renters must be club members in addition to the condo’s owner), close to 100 owners and occupants of Grove Isle marina slips (the club membership rule also applies to slip renters), and the “off-island” club members numbering more than 200. So dictate the "Condo Docs" — magna carta of condo serfdom.
What can the conscience of some 1,000 intelligent, conscientious residents and beneficiaries of island tranquility — who pay nearly two million dollars in annual membership fees to Noble House — accomplish? Is it nothing?
Not one, not a single Grove Isle Club member asked the simple question after many years of Biscayne Bay’s struggle to stay alive as a healthy marine environment and as the pride of the Magic City. Why is nothing being done to stop the pollution of Biscay Bay when Noble House decided to save money. The Grove Islanders didn’t care or didn’t want to get involved. Did they simply forget about the hypocritical promise made by the Noble House executive?
All hell broke loose when Grove Isle Club member Heinz Dinter brought Jamie Colee’s promise to everyone’s attention. Noble House management struck with the deadly speed of a venomous water moccasin: in a desperate move to hush the voice of truth they drummed Dinter unceremoniously out of the Grove Isle Club and resorted to ugly threats to silence the pen-swinging newsletter publisher.
The expulsion of the avid tennis player, coupled with extortion attempts by Noble House, orchestrated by Vokey, the Noble House vice president and general counsel, and Grove Isle Hotel & Spa and Grove Isle Club general manager Michael D. Allen was designed to silence Dinter and, among other problems, drown the Biscayne Bay pollution disgrace in the clay-drenched waters of the bay. Noble House management hoped that their scandalous conduct as owners and operators of the Grove Isle Hotel & Spa would float downstream and would soon be forgotten. They were counting on the fleeting conscience of the Grove Islanders and their ardent desire not to get involved. Noble House counted on the apathy that would keep the lion’s roar of protest to a whisper no one would hear.
More revealing is the sentiment of the three club members who enthusiastically pitched in to document atrocious service at the Baleen restaurant to be brought to the attention of Michael Allen, the general manager. But the Grove Islanders, hot under the collar over the pathetic service, didn’t want to get involved any further when the next step called for standing by their earlier effort of telling management the truth — what is wrong at Baleen. They decided to stay in the background because they preferred to favor apathy over standing by their principle of right versus wrong. They simply did not want to be involved any further. (Read the details at “Lunch at Baleen — the Palapa Bar”.)
That leaves the question, “What about the pollution of Biscayne Bay?”
Why do we let unethical businessmen terrorize and abuse us? Why are we pouring our hard-earned money into efforts to unjustly enrich others? Why don’t we spend our wealth on peace of mind instead of stacking sandbags to stem the flood called CARING? Why don’t we? Because of APATHY, that’s why.
Protecting the Environment
DERM is the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management whose primary goal is to help protect, restore, and conserve the air, water, land and ecosystem resources of Miami-Dade County.
Why does it have to come to this? The answer pains those who care and make it a point to understand.
It’s the “I don’t want to get involved” syndrome and the fear of getting whipped by the “big guys” with beaucoup money to toss into the ring if a fight (that’s lawsuit) surfaces.
What is an ecosystem?
An ecosystem is defined as an ecological unit consisting of abiotic components such as air, water and land coexisting with biotic components such as plants and animal life. All members of the ecosystem contribute to its sustainability because of their dependence on each other. When left undisturbed, an ecosystem has the ability to naturally balance itself. Each ecosystem possesses unique characteristics that are necessary for the species that reside there to flourish and evolve. Because of the importance of ecosystems to our health, the environment, and even our economy, Miami-Dade County DERM is working diligently to protect and manage our ecosystems as efficiently as possible.
Reporting Environmental Emergencies,
Complaints, and Environmental Crimes
The Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) responds to environmental complaints and emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If your complaint is an emergency please call (305) 372-6955. If the situation is not an emergency you can file a Non-Emergency Environmental Complaint online.
The following situations, among others, should be reported to DERM immediately:
· Waste liquid discharges or spills into storm drains, street drains, parking lot drains, waterways, or onto the open ground.
· Any spill or discharge to the environment of suspected (hazardous) waste.
· Chemical spills or dumping incidents; any dumping of chemical drums or containers or abandoned drums.
· Turbid (cloudy) water in any waterway, canal, or Biscayne Bay; may be due to construction and may be discharged through a pipe or from a storm drain.
· Any dredging or filling in or along Biscayne Bay.
If any of the above situations are observed or arise contact the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management/DERM Complaint Desk at 305-372-6955.
Environmental Crimes may be reported to the Miami-Dade County Police Department Environmental Crimes Unit or call 305-477-1616
DERM steps into the fray in defense of Biscayne Bay
July 31, 2006
Mr. Kelly Lewis. General Manager
Grove Isle Hotel & Spa
Four Grove Isle Drive
Coconut Grove, FL 33133
Re: Water Quality Impacts to Biscayne Bay Associated with Storm Water from the Grove Isle Tennis Courts
Dear Mr. Lewis:
This letter follows our July 11, 2006, onsite meeting to discuss drainage issues associated with your facility’s tennis courts. As you know the Department received a citizen complaint regarding water quality impacts to Biscayne Bay resulting from storm water runoff from the Grove Isle tennis courts. Biscayne Bay is an important part of our community and valuable natural resource. In addition, Biscayne Bay is identified as a State Aquatic Preserve and an Outstanding Florida Water. For these reasons Biscayne Bay is afforded a high level of protection under state and local laws.
Our site inspections of the Grove Isle facility indicated that during significant rain events, clay from the tennis courts can wash off the courts and over the seawall into Biscayne Bay (see attached photos). During our inspection, we observed a drainage system surrounding each of the clay tennis courts. However, our inspection revealed that the drainage collection system was filled with clay material from the tennis courts and was in need of cleaning and/or maintenance. In addition, areas near the access gates for some of the tennis courts appear to allow storm water from the tennis courts to flow out on to the island’s perimeter path and over the seawall.
In order to prevent further impacts to Biscayne Bay, I am requesting that you perform the necessary maintenance on the tennis court drainage system, and perform any necessary improvements to site grading in the vicinity of the tennis court access gates to eliminate the opportunity for clay laden storm water to flow out over the seawall and adversely impact Biscayne Bay. As indicated during our meeting, it may be possible to address this issue through modifications to the landscape features in those areas, or through the installation of additional drainage features.
Following receipt of this letter, please provide a response including a summary of any actions taken to address this issue. In addition, please provide information on the drainage system for the tennis courts, including a description and location of any drainage features, structures, or outfalls, the date of installation, and the routine maintenance schedule. If you have any questions or need further assistance please contact me or Manny Tobon, Manager of DERM’s Water Control Section at 305-372-6769. We appreciate your cooperation in addressing this issue in a timely manner.
Lee N. Hefty, Chief
Environmental Resources Regulation Division
Mea culpa. The truth confirmed
Here is the verbatim letter dated September 18, 2006 to Lee N. Hefty, Chief, Environmental Resources Regulation Division, Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) from Kelly Lewis, general manager of Grove Isle Hotel & Spa, Noble House Hotels & Resorts.
In response to your letter dated July 31, 2006 regarding the Grove Isle Hotel & Spa and the water quality impacts to the Biscayne Bay area we would like you Mr. Hefty and the entire Miami Dade County office to know that the environment and the effects our property has on it are a matter of grave importance to us. Since receiving your letter we have joined forces with all of our departments including Engineering to address all the challenges that were addressed in your letter as well as to improve on those previously noted. As you can see by the enclosed photos we have done significant landscaping, site grading and curbing as this was the identified solution for the apparent deficiencies mentioned in your last correspondence. I have also enclosed the signed preventative maintenance schedule for the drain system which shows that we service the drainage system on a monthly basis. If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to call me directly at 305 860 4350.
Kelly Lewis, General Manager, Grove Isle Hotel & Spa
[Mr. Lewis is general manager number 8 spanning an 8-year period.]
Will the manatees and dolphins have a better future?
Will complacency and “I don’t want to get involved” result in Biscayne Bay dying a slow death while apathy reigns?
Yes it will unless vigilance of conscientious people keep a watchful eye on man-made dangers looming with an aim to harm our environment. The Grove Islanders and their friends living in the surrounding waters can live a healthy life with peace-of-mind tranquility at their beck and call if apathy no longer dominates.
The manatees and dolphins will thank you, too.
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