Environment: Crusader in the Swamps

The southwest coast of Florida, along 200 miles of shoreline from St. Petersburg to Naples, still consists largely of mangrove swamps—low-lying tangles infested with insects. But to developers, the swamps hold a promise of beachfront resorts as shiny and lucrative as those on the east coast, and a multimillion-dollar building boom has already started. Big companies like Gulf American Corp., GAC Corp. and Mackle Bros, are moving into the area, filling in the wetlands and building high-rise hotels and condominiums. The most unyielding obstacle to this juggernaut of change is a pensioner of modest means named George C. Matthews, who has...