News / Events

Protecting Volusia's beauty will take vision


May 14, 2010

As a Volusia County councilman, Clay Henderson guided the development of Volusia Forever, the first local land-preservation program in the nation. He has also been a member of the state's Constitutional Revision Commission and president of the Audubon Society of Florida. He currently practices environmental law, land use and smart growth for Holland & Knight. He is a native of New Smyrna Beach and still lives there with his wife, County Judge Mary Jane Henderson, and two children.

To be a Volusian is to fully appreciate that our quality of life is intrinsically linked to the quality of our environment. Our environmental ethic is grounded on love for the montage of beaches, estuaries, lakes, rivers and springs that are unique and our awareness that there are few places on this Earth so blessed.

Across the state, Volusia is respected among the top tier of those counties who take a leadership role in natural resource issues. We were the first in the nation to tax ourselves to acquire environmentally endangered lands and the only community in the country to approve joint bond issues for both conservation lands and environmental, cultural and historic preservation projects, which also augment our distinct quality of life. Just last year, the Florida Department of Community Affairs singled out Volusia for its Smart Growth Plan which is focused on strategies to protect our "Environmental Core."

These things did not just happen overnight. We grew leaders here at the federal, state and local levels who understood the importance of conservation. This newspaper has won numerous awards over a number of years for environmental journalism and that helps nurture an environmental electorate who hold leaders accountable. We hope The News-Journal will continue this leadership.

Last week a number of community leaders came together for a celebration of the restoration of Rose Bay. After nearly 20 years of work, the removal of fill and muck will undo the cumulative effects of a century of pollution. Rose Bay will get a new lease on life. On hand to celebrate were local members of Congress whose voting records usually put them at opposite ends of the spectrum. There were local, state and water management district officials who more often than not are fighting over dwindling resources and turf. But there they were together sharing credit for a project they all worked together to complete.

The word heard over and over at Rose Bay was "partnership." The restoration of the bay happened only because agencies with different missions came together for a common purpose. Partnerships were also the key ingredient in the success of Volusia Forever. Only by partnering with other agencies could our dollars be leveraged to a better conservation result.

Unfortunately, our current economic and budgetary situation has wiped away funds to continue Florida Forever at past levels and our own Volusia Forever is down to its last few projects. Going forward, the next generation of environmental leadership will need to be more proactive, strategic and nimble to solve our problems.
The biggest single issue facing all of us is the dwindling supply of cheap water. The solutions for the future will require partnerships for well fields, alternative water supply and reuse where the cost alone should force local governments and utilities to work together.

In spite of our efforts to conserve lands, we still see greater pressure on wildlife habitat. It's death by a thousand paper cuts as small rural ranchette style development fragments habitat on a daily basis. In the future, we'll need to employ more strategic partnerships with large landowners who by their good stewardship are protecting our future water supply and imperiled wildlife and should be rewarded for that action.

Conservation alone will not be enough. As with Rose Bay, the future must be in environmental restoration. Two hundred years of ditching, draining, dredging and filling has left its mark on our landscape. An inspiring goal of the St. Johns River Alliance is to restore the St. Johns to the way it was before the arrival of European settlers. The same could be said of the Halifax River or Indian River Lagoon. It will take proactive partnerships of community leaders and various levels of government to restore these crown jewels to their rightful place.

In the northern stretches of the county, a scenic road called Walter Boardman Lane is named for a pioneering conservationist, enduring educator and consummate gentleman. Using gentle prodding he taught a generation of leaders and citizen activists how to conserve lands and not waste energy fighting each other. He is proof that one person can make a difference.

To continue our success we must continue to build upon partnerships and keep our discussions to a civil tone to develop trust and a long-term vision. Many of us genuinely believe that our future economic success must be built upon a foundation of a clean and healthy environment. It's the best hope we have for a sustainable future.

The News-Journal has invited a variety of local folks to use this space to share their point of view about our greater community, its challenges and its opportunities for success. These guest editorials will appear over the next few months.

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