By: Al Sunshine - Miami Pine Rocklands CoalitionMiami’s Globally-Imperiled Richmond Pine Rocklands are about to get even more Protection from Developers’ Plans to bulldoze and pave over South Florida’s biggest tract of Pine Rocklands outside of Everglades National Park.
A new Congressional Register Notice to be published Monday, August 17 will designate much of the Globally Imperiled Richmond Pine Rocklands “Critically Endangered Habitat”for two tiny plants found nowhere else in the country. Under the terms of U-S Endangered species act, that action will make it harder for developers to disturb the land there for almost $1 Billion dollar wroth of commercial development including a Walmart Strip Mall, Apartments, Offices, Restaurants, a new school and the proposed “Miami Wilds Theme Park.”According to the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service, "These plants are listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. Both plants are only found on the Miami Rock Ridge in South Florida. The critical habitat being designated for these two plants largely overlaps, for a combined total of about 2,706 acres. The plants’ critical habitat designation includes lands in pine rockland habitat on the Miami Rock Ridge, outside of Everglades National Park, in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Areas within the designation include occupied and unoccupied, but suitable, habitat, within the plants’ historical ranges. Two construction projects are currently proposed in an area of Miami where pine rocklands exist: Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wilds. This critical habitat designation won’t impact the proposed Coral Reef Commons construction project. However, the presence of listed species such the Bartram’s hairstreak butterfly and Florida bonneted bat could, which is why the Service is working with the stakeholders of this project to determine what the possible impacts to listed species might be and how those impacts might be mitigated or eliminated. In fact, the Service is working with the developer of the proposed "Coral Reef Commons" project on a Habitat Conservation Plan that would help in that regard."The Federal Notice will also disclose any possible transfer of Federal Lands there for these developments will have to undergo a full environmental assessments, full federal hearings and ultimately full Congressional Approval." Because U.S. Coast Guard lands are included in the proposed Miami Wilds construction project, and would require transfer of the federal lands to the county, potential adverse impacts on critical habitat will be evaluated for this project as part of the required Section 7 consultation to avoid destruction or adverse modification of the critical habitat. However, regardless of this critical habitat designation, Section 7 consultation related to the land transfer would still be required to address potential adverse impacts on listed plants and animals present on the property, including the Florida brickell-bush", according to Federal Officilas..The action follows several years of lawsuits filed by the Center for Biodiversity which says “As a result of a 2011 agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 2,706 acres as protected critical habitat for Carter’s small-flowered flax andFlorida brickell-bush, two imperiled flowers found only in the disappearing pine rocklands of Miami-Dade County, Fla. The flowers’ habitat has been fragmented and destroyed, mostly by development, and is now threatened to be wiped out by the construction of a strip mall with a Walmart.“We're thrilled these two plants have gained the critical habitat protection they so desperately need to survive,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida director. “The proposed Walmart and strip mall are planned for the last place on Earth these plants live. We hope this protected habitat is a nail in the coffin for this terrible project, which would essentially pave paradise to put up a parking lot.”But environmentalists worry the latest Federal Listing still doesn't go far enough to protect the biggest tract of privately owned Pine Rocklands in the country from being developed for a Walmart Strip Mall.William Wagoner is a long-time local South Dade resident who lives acorss the street from the Richmond Pine Rocklands.He’s also one of the founders of the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition and says “Haven’t we paved over enough of Dade County already, do we really need to pave over even more?Remember these are Developers we’re talking about, NOT Environmentalists or Conservationists. They could care less about the animals and plants they ask for Take Permits for. They could care less about the added traffic, 20,000 or more cars per day these projects cause. They do not expect to pay for the needed improvements to infrastructure, they expect the County Taxpayers will cover that expense, Miami Wilds is expecting the County to kick in $130 million (*) for Wildlife Walk and Miami Wilds Shuttle $24 million, Parking $40 million, Coast Guard Replication (moving the antennas) $13.5 million, Site Preparation/Modifications and Utilities $26.5 million and On Site and Off Site Roadways $26 million.(*) Source: Miami Wilds Livability Community Presentation Page 33 of 58 As a Taxpayer you have to wonder how much of your County Services will go up in rate or be cut back because of Miami Wilds. Remember every square foot of Pine Rockland they claim to “preserve” is just that much less Revenue per square foot that they can earn. Don’t let Developers involved fool you, if they could, they would pave it all and the County would give them a nice tax break for doing it too.”
While these projects are important for Miami Dade and South Dade’s Economic Development, maintaining globally-imperiled "Life Boat" habitats for endangered plants and animals that used to thrive all over Miami Dade is even more important as we face critical climate issues like global warming and possible sea level issues in our own backyards.If it was not for Federal Laws, and the U-S Department of Interiors’ Fish and Wildlife Service, Local Politicians and Developers would have already allowed bulldozing these unique environmental treasures for more urban sprawl.Where's the local Poltical leadership working to save the Pine Rocklands and not pave them over?This has been going on for a year now,But it seems as if not one elected state lawmaker is publicaly interested in preserving the Pine Rocklands.Environmentalists continue to ask tough questions about how these projects got approved and insist this globally imperiled habitat be preserved and restored and NOT bulldozed and paved over.Remaining questions include Where's the local elected leadership working to make this happen?Where's the Congressional outrage from our elected Washington lawmakers?We've seen 2 local Dade County Officials ask for Amendment 1 money from the Legislature to buy back the former UM South Campus from a Palm Beach Developer.That was a very good start.But that request has gone nowhere and the developer insists the land is not for sale.Was the local request even a priority for Miami Dade County Lobbyists to pursue when they were last up in Tallahassee?Why have so many local lawmakers remained silent over the lack of interest by UM and Ram, the property’s new owner, to resolve these issues?With a new President at the University of Miami, can we get some real answers to claims "We didn't know it was an endangered Habitat”.That "doesn't wash” since we know in 1997 UM refused to allow the land to be listed on the local endangered lands program, refused to allow anyone to inspect the property, and reportedlythreatened to sue anyone who wanted it listed as endangered?Then there's the 2006 articles in the schools' own Newspaper, "The Miami Hurricane”, reporting on environmental issues at the South Campus and the school's concern about developing it while it remained so environmentally unique.And what about the 2006 settlement with the U-S Dept. of Justice to settle claims it contaminated the Pine Rocklands’ soil and water with radioactive waste from dead lab animals?UM's Administration under former President Shalala has remained mostly silent, but insisting it’s done nothing wrong.Under its’ new President, Dr. Julio Frenk, hopefully it will be more responsive to community concerns over its’ sale and planned developments on it's former South Campus.It's a $22 million dollar question (that's what it sold the land for) that needs to be answered.As some critics have asked for almost a year now, why aren’t those questions being asked by a Federal or State Grand Jury?Our children and grandchildren are counting on us to leave them a legacy of what Miami used to look like.Not just traffic jams, strip malls and paved-over endangered forests with none of the rare plants and animals that live there today.