Maggy Hurchalla is a water-loving adventurer, Miami pioneer, and Bill Of Rights patriot who is fighting for the constitutional rights of American citizens to petition the government and exercise free speech. She’s gone to court for all of us, and Janet Reno’s sister won’t back down. Here’s what she had to say about fighting for her love of Mother Nature, getting SLAPPED for being an American, and her early life in greater Miami.
Hello and congratulations and thanks for sticking up for nature!
Yeah. I believe in it.
What is the danger of corporate interests affecting free speech about environmental issues?
Whoever has the most vengeful disposition and the deepest pockets to spend on lawyers can keep anyone from saying anything. It’s not just about the environment, and it’s not a liberal vs. conservative issue. One of my amicus is the Cato Institute. I’m not the only one with a SLAPP case. Greenpeace had one, and others have too.
Why weren’t the politicians you reached out to held accountable the same as you?
Because they had an election throughout this years-long process and there became a new majority on the county commission. The new commission received money from Lakepoint. Originally me and Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District were sued and quite confident to win for 3 or 4 years. But politics changed the board, and both other parties made a deal.
Where can people find out more?
What kind of precedent does your case set?
It sets a precedent that any time you talk to your public officials you’re in danger of having a SLAPP suit against you if you criticize anybody or any contract or anything related to the county with business. The SLAPP suit is meant to crush you and silence you. They can spend a half a million dollars on lawyers for arguments about zoning or Lake Okeechobee and water quality. It doesn’t matter if they win. They make everybody terrified of ever saying anything. At that point, they’ve won. And I refuse to be terrified.
What was greater Miami like when you were a kid?
Let’s see…North Kendall Drive had a German Prisoner Of War camp across the street from Dadeland. West of US1 there was hardly anything. We grew up on 20 acres. Baptist Hospital was a rodeo at Mr. Pembry’s ranch. Kendall Drive dead-ended before Krome Ave. One never would have imagined what it looks like today. Before the 20 acres, we originally moved into a little, “ranch house” would be too diginified, it was not quite a shack. In South Miami in the early 1940’s, we used to drive US1 with a horse and buggy. Not because there were no cars yet. I’m not that old. But because there was gas rationing. There were few if any cars on the road. My father was a police reporter for the Miami Herald. It was not uncommon to see my grandma out there trotting on her horse.
Do you remember anything about Biscayne Bay?
We used to go to the wading beach at Matheson Hammock and my pony didn’t like the bridge across the canal. I had to lead him over. Crandon Park had just opened when I was about 6 years old. I love kayaking on Biscayne Bay. Everything about Biscayne Bay. We used to camp on the Ragged Keys long before Stiltsville.
Do you remember anything about the Everglades?
Mostly we used to go out on Tamiami Trail and the Garfish would steal our bait, and if we were lucky we would catch a Brim for dinner. Our parents both liked wilderness adventures and we had a Jeep, and one day my mother piled four kids into the car and we headed to Flamingo. It wasn’t a national park yet. There was Royal Palm Hammock, and nothing but a dirt marl road. Nothing at all at Flamingo except an old dock falling in the water and some fishermen’s nets. We got stuck in the marl on the road and had to push the Jeep. We saw alligators and raccoons and got bitten by mosquitoes. When I got bigger I walked across the Everglades from Flamingo to Tamiami Trail with my brother. It was not hard or heroic, it’s just that nobody does it. It was the last night of April in dry season with no tent. It was the driest April in the history of South Florida at that time. It rained from 8p.m. to midnight and we got soaked, but we had a fine adventure. On our second night, at Old Pot Hammock, where there was a big black pot and an owl hooted at us all night, we could see the Shark Valley Tower. We were only a couple of hours walk from it, but I refused to swim across the moat with all those alligators in the dark. The next morning we walked there and there was a bridge there so we didn’t have to swim at all.
Any memories of Snapper Creek?
Some time in the late 1940’s, my sister and I took a rowboat from Sunset Drive all the way to Snapper Creek. It was all pasture then. The only thing out there was the Spotlight Bar, and sugar cane on the north side of Sunset. We spent the night in a pasture, woke up the next morning, rowed east, and heard the mournful sound of a little calf stuck in the tree trunks. We went and found the farmer and he rescued this calf and we were very proud of that. Snapper Creek was very empty back then.
What about Cocoplum?
Cocoplum was a private club back then off of Cocoplum Circle and you had to pay to get in. One time we had to go ashore there when our sailboat sank, and we came ashore to find a B-movie was filming there in which a guy was being tied to a post and danced around by naked girls. It was a little shocking.
My mother came to Miami in 1926 right before the great hurricane, and she spent that hurricane on Miami Beach. She was from Macon, Georgia and had no idea what it was. So during the lull in the storm she went for a walk on the beach when it was perfectly calm. This was a class 4 hurricane that hit Miami Beach directly. She was 14 years old. And she fell in love with Miami in that hurricane. She caught a two foot snapper on Lincoln Road and had it for dinner.
What about South Miami?
I was four years old when the Richmond Blimp Base, which was where the zoo is now, caught fire. Somehow a spark got loose in there when it was raining like hell and even though it was twenty miles away we could see it burning.
Where is that amazing photo of you sitting in the water from?
Hahahahaha. I have to send you the story on that. There was a group of us who did a fantastic trip in the center of Florida with the Florida Wildlife Corridor Group and Justin Riney who took a paddle board around Florida. And my husband Jim and I had our canoe and they all had paddle boards, and we paddled Fisheating Creek. Fifty-two miles of it. And all of it was beautiful and not too difficult until Cowbone Marsh, which was impassable, except Justin and Joe The Bear Man went ahead with a machete and cut a trail and we dragged the canoes. That’s me in the water there.
What do you think about Big Sugar?
I think that their demands for having an absolutely guaranteed water supply from Lake Okeechobee is destroying Miami’s aquifer, destroying Everglades National park, and destroying Florida Bay. I am a strong proponent of sending water south. I was on the Committee of the Governor’s Commission for a Sustainable South Florida. I live on Indian River. I care desperately about our waterways and they’re being destroyed by dumping from Lake Okeechobee. It’s bad enough with the dirty water. Now they’re dumping hazardous Cyano Bacteria.
Any other concerns?
I am concerned that the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir is too small. It’s the little reservoir that can’t. I find it frustrating that in a water management system largely built by taxpayers, that sugar refuses to sell the land in order to keep the system going. The Everglades are not meant to destroy sugar. They won’t sell us back the land we leased them.
How did Lakepoint manage to get a jury to go against you?
I never know what a jury is thinking, but I do know that a Lakepoint lawyer was required to tell the truth. Two of the jurors told the reporters that it was the emails. It is not illegal to send a personal email to a commissioner. It is not illegal to speak to them in a grocery store. But the Lakepoint lawyers convinced them. At least two of them.
Do you think the system is corrupt?
All systems are corrupt, which is just a particularly aggressive way of saying that no system works perfectly. You always have things pushing in different directions. Lobbyists always tell congressmen what to do and send them emails and campaign contributions and meet in private. And that’s not illegal. And the U.S. Constitution includes the right to petition the government for redress for grievances, so we can tell them what to do. We’re the only country built on the principle that we can tell our government what to do. And I think that’s a tremendously important principle.
What did Janet Reno think of environmentalists?
She got stuck in a lot of swamps with me over the years and we had a lot of wonderful times together. In fact we got lost on the Wacissa River one time. My sister (Janet Reno), when she was State Attorney, had a sixteen foot Thunderbird Outboard and on long weekends would go up the east coast of Florida to St John, then the Ocklawaha just enjoying Florida, and then go back to work and leave the boat. She ended up doing most of the Suwanee River. See, my entire family has gotten lost on rivers, stuck in the mud, stranded on sandbars, or stuck on the reef. I love this state very much, and we have two Amicus briefs and one of them is a strange combination of people on different sides like the Cato Institute, joined with Greenpeace, the ACLU, the Sierra Club…all on my behalf. Also, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Marine Resource Council. And a number of other groups like the Presbyterians, Unitarians, State Council of Jewish Women…
What is the importance of seagrass?
Seagrass is the secret of the universe for the estuary and the bay. No seagrass, dead bay.
Any correlation between Janet Reno, 2 Live Crew, the First Amendment history of Florida, and your case?
I just found the column Luther Campbell wrote praising my sister, and of course they had the song talking about her. She was the only one who didn’t think State Attorneys should censor black music.
Anything to promote?
Yes I’ll be speaking with Carl Hiaasen about my adventures in Florida on December 8th, 2020 for a virtual event. Register here: https://friendsoftheeverglades.salsalabs.org/storiesfromthesawgrass/index.html
Collected Articles about Maggy Hurchalla’s Recent Travails: