Unions get smart (and angry), gays get benefits (and ridicule), UCF hates environmentalists (and trees) and can somebody make Gary Siplin go away? Please?
Published: April 28, 2011
Speaking of coital concerns, there wasn't a whole lot of that talk going around when the Orange County Board of Commissioners unanimously - and finally - voted to approve same-sex domestic partner benefits at its April 19 meeting. Sure, there was some talk: an expected cry of "sodomy!" from one lone sad person named "Chuck Norris" with a Jesus bone to pick, an unexpected (allegedly behind the scenes) reference by a certain fey member of Mayor Teresa Jacobs' staff that gay men are loose , so they should have to settle down for six months before milking the county's health insurance teat. Mostly, though, it was the prideful knockout that everybody was waiting for, according to former Commissioner Linda Stewart, who has been fighting this battle for all of eternity. In fact, the discussion went even further, suggesting that the county might draw up a domestic partner registry. "It could have been worse," Stewart says, adding that there are still a lot of kinks to work out with the county's ancillary operations, like the sheriff's office and LYNX. That's OK. Gay people are apparently rather kinky. It would appear that the Uni- versity of Central Florida isn't about to hug a tree anytime soon. Consider (again!) the university's quiet lunge for the Arboretum, a piece of land currently under protection by a state conservation easement and the only undeveloped part of the campus "core." Well, for now.
Last September, the university asked the St. John's River Water Management District to release the easement on that prime 7.85-acre patch of land, offering a 10-acre parcel at the eastern edge of the campus as a replacement. Students have since made it clear that they're not hip to the deal - the Arboretum is used for outdoor classes and hosts a popular organic vegetable garden maintained by student volunteers; the proposed replacement is a swampy parcel of land that the university had already set aside for conservation and would be difficult to build on even if UCF wanted to.
In November, environmental activists delivered roughly 1,500 student signatures to the St. Johns Water Management District affirming the student body's opposition to the move. Then, during student government elections in March, more than 87 percent of voting students ticked the "yes" checkbox on a referendum to continue conservation of the area. Finally, on April 1, UCF was awarded the "Tree Campus USA" distinction from the Arbor Day Foundation, but the ceremony was met with a protest from students who called the award hypocritical and brandished a banner that read "Save the Arboretum."
Despite student opposition, however, the university's administration believes it knows what's best. "What we're pursuing makes ecological sense, and makes long-term sense for the campus as well," says UCF spokesman Grant Heston.
And according to St. John's compliance manager Bill Carlie, the university is about to get what it wants. The university sweetened the deal late last year, adding 6.5 acres to the proposed replacement; that and other factors were plugged into a complex "mitigation assessment" formula which spit out something that resembled a green light for UCF. "It's not about whether this is the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do," Carlie says. "This is a proposal that meets the law."
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