Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Carmel on the Case: Hunger Strike
A Miami- Dade property owner has started a hunger strike. She says the county has ruined her life by shutting down her plant nursery in what she believes is a property grab. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On The Case.
WSVN -- Desperate times call for desperate measures according to Aida Fernandez.
Aida Fernandez: "What has brought me here is the desperation. I have out run, I've gone everywhere I could possible go to get help."
So she has begun a hunger strike. Aida says she will not eat and she will not leave this tent until someone in authority pays attention to her plight and that of her neighbors.
They live next to the Everglades in western Miami-Dade County in what is called the 8.5 square mile area. Here you'll find farms and nurseries, even an occasional bald eagle.
As 7 News first reported almost a year ago, the Department of Environmental Resources Management, DERM, has been filing court cases against property owners in the 8.5 charging they are on protected wetlands and have violated laws by filling or farming those lands.
As a result, properties are being cleared and farming prohibited. Once productive land has now been stripped to the ground, nurseries have been taken over by weeds.
Last year, DERM's director told me the owners should have know they were on wetlands, but when I checked county records on several properties, I could find no notice to owners before the county took action against them.
Carlos Espinosa: "Our staff determines that this is a wetland and then they prepare a document that tells the property owner, you know you're in a wetland, you did certain things."
Aida and Jose Fernandez are accused of filling in their land for a hibiscus nursery. They say fighting DERM in court has left them broke and broken.
Aida Fernandez: This is my last resource. This is my last hope to save my property. I have no other way to go, and just like me, my neighbor behind me, my neighbor beside me, the other one over there, they one with the palms. Everyone here is in the same situation."
Her property was once covered with potted plants, ut DERM forced them to get rid of the plants and wants the property cleared down to the rock, and left to return to its natural state. That would make the land useless and worthless.
Aida Fernandez: What do you think is gonna happen? They're gonna come one day and it might not be tomorrow but the plan is to come at some time and just take it away from us. Pay just pennies on the dollar."
Aida Fernandez: "I can not take that any more, and neither can anybody else, so I will sit here on a hunger strike until somebody gives me some answers and somebody does an investigation on that because this is totally illegal."
Despite the heat and the bugs that only a South Florida summer can bring, the 46 year is digging in determined that her voice be heard and she's doing that the old fashioned way with big banners, and the modern way with a web site that will monitor her progress.
Carmel Cafiero: "Aida hopes this desperate measure will catch the attention of someone, somewhere who will come forward to help her and her neighbors save their homes, their livelihoods and their American dream."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
My Land Grab By Derm