NAPLES — Residents opposed to the Jackson Laboratory project on various fronts are kicking into high gear with political action committees and petitions to stop the controversial project and potential of $130 million in local taxpayer dollars being used to bring the genetics research institute to eastern Collier.
A group has come together recently to form the Coalition for Open Economic Development, COED, and will be filing paperwork shortly to become a political action committee, said Golden Gate Estates resident Peter Gaddy, who is on the steering committee.
“We’re getting a tremendous amount of support and a lot of offerings of financial support,” Gaddy said. “We are not incorporated yet, we intend to. The process of that has already started.”
The group’s mission is to support economic development and diversity that is done in an open process and which would bring benefits to Collier residents, he said.
“We want to make it clear we are not opposed to economic development and we are not opposed to the county encouraging that,” he said.
The group opposes that voters are not being given the opportunity to vote on the Jackson project and potential that $130 million in local dollars would be used to entice the Maine-based genetics research group to Collier.
“We also don’t believe the Jackson Laboratory proposal is a very good one,” he said. “The returns are miniscule compared to the amount of the investment. We would like to see economic development in Collier County that does some good for its citizens.”
The Collier County Economic Develoment Council has made the pitch for the Bar Harbor genetics research group to come here and establish an institute of personalized medicine. The plan calls for the lab to create several hundred new jobs and be an anchor, or catalyst, for other biomedical and health-care groups to come to Collier so that a biomedical park develops over a 20-year span with thousands of jobs.
Paperwork to form a political action committee, Stonewall Jackson Issues, was filed Nov. 12 by Lehigh Acres resident Steve Hunt, who has a company that makes campaign signs and other artwork. The PAC was formed to “educate and promote economic development in Collier County.” Hunt could not be reached for comment.
Hunt did campaign literature for Commissioner-elect Georgia Hiller, a critic of the Jackson project and funding proposal without a referendum.
Hiller said she is not involved in the creation of Stonewall Jackson Issues and said she was aware of COED being formed. She added that she is not in a position to be involved in such groups but supports citizens taking the initiative to create them to let their positions be known.
“I think it is a very good thing and I encourage them to pursue whatever path they are on,” she said.
Barry Willoughby, an organizer with the Naples Tea Party, likewise said he was not familiar with Stonewall Jackson but learned about COED when Gaddy and others attended a recent Tea Party meeting.
“They (COED) are supposed to have a pretty good base of support,” Willoughby said, adding that the Tea Party supports the group’s efforts.
Several citizens also have joined forces to collect residents’ signatures on a petition for Gov. Charlie Crist, calling on the governor to stop the appropriation of state dollars for Jackson until Collier residents can have a voter referendum on the issue and proposed use of $130 million in local dollars to match state dollars.
This past spring the state Legislature approved $50 million in first-year funding for the project and it would have to approve the remaining $80 in subsequent years.
Jackson officials have submitted an application for the state money to the state’s Enterprise Florida office, which is under review, and from there it goes to the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development, OTTED for evaluation.
Collier residents Chris Carpenter and Linda Roth have been collecting petition signatures to send to the governor. Roth, who said she volunteers for Carpenter, estimated that at least 2,200 signatures had been collected by Nov. 2 election. Carpenter could not be reached for comment.
“I’m sure this is going to be an ongoing process,” Roth said.
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman