Swamp Hammock neighbor voices concerns
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodayLAKE PLACID Donald Skipper makes it clear: he doesn't trust Braha Sebring LLC, the business group that wants to place Swamp Hammock Outdoor Recreation and Country Club on an 1,134-acre ranch that borders his own for 3.25 miles.
Published: January 26, 2013
Published: January 26, 2013
Both properties were once part of his grandfather Chesley Allen Skipper's 54,000-acre estate, which also included Highlands Hammock State Park and Harder Hall. Both are presently quiet working cattle ranches with wetlands, fishing ponds, white pelicans, ironhead storks and even a few fox squirrels.
Skipper also plainly says he's not against mud bogging, but he and his cousin John Skipper have been among Swamp Hammock's most vocal opponents. Admittedly in the not-in-my-back-yard camp, it's the interruption of his peace that Skipper resents most: "If it makes noise, I'm against it."
Swamp Hammock has petitioned Highlands County to offer mud pits where monster 4-wheel trucks can rev their engines, spin their wheels and race.
Skipper is worried about a 1,000-yard rifle and pistol range. He's not sure in which direction shooters will fire, but he thinks bullets will either fly in the direction of his land or Marguerite, currently a shell road that boarders both properties and the Hardee-DeSoto county lines.
Promoters asked Highlands County to allow 46 activities: log cabins, all-terrain vehicle and dirt bike trails, an obstacle course, a general store, fishing areas, a heli-pad, car and tractor shows, vehicle display and sales areas, truck tug of wars, truck and tractor pulls, horseback riding, radio-controlled model areas, restrooms with showers, a golf driving range, swimming areas with beaches, weddings and retreats, ballfields, paint ball, battle re-enactments, fireworks and laser lights, a drive-in movie theater that could double as a concert stage, and mobile food, beverage and alcohol vendors.
What that means to Skipper is thousands of vehicles and people, perhaps every weekend. The county will require trash collection bins, but Skipper believes that litter will nevertheless blow across his land. He fears that will include plastic sacks, which he says "cowboy autopsies" have proven will kill a grown cow, if eaten.
Swamp Hammock supporters have suggested that on mud-bogging weekends, Skipper should move cattle from the south side border with Braha to the north side. That's how Skipper earns his daily bread: breeding cows, which nurse calves until they're six months old.
His cattle will shy away from the noise on their own, Skipper scoffed. "They'll go over to the other side." But along the way, he contended, they'll produce less milk, and calves will lose weight, which will reduce their sale price.
Additionally, the cows will avoid the north pastures, which will become undergrazed, and the south pastures will be overgrazed.
Skipper keeps hitting the trust issue: he's had numerous run-ins with Braha personnel and management, and contends they don't do what they'll say. Braha has also been the target of numerous lawsuits, which Skipper says is mostly about unpaid bills.
"They are not really good neighbors," he said, understating his disgust.
Despite neighborhood concerns of loud noise and traffic, the planning staff and the Planning and Zoning Commissioners recommended last week that Swamp Hammock should be allowed to build an outdoor recreational club. The county commission will meet Feb. 26 for the final say on the issue.
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