MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The fate of Biscayne Bay is once again before the Miami-Dade County Commission, who must now decide whether to extend the county’s boundary to allow a massive industrial complex on what is now farmland in South Dade.
It’s a nearly 800-acre parcel of land environmentalists say is vital to restoring the Everglades and the health of Biscayne Bay.
“I’ve been concerned about the bay for a long time,” resident Charles Munroe said. “Unfortunately, it’s a constant fight. You have to keep your guard up.
“They have to stop this,” the native Miamian continued. “They have to stop this complex from being built.”
The 794 acres sit south of Florida’s Turnpike and north of Southwest 268th Street, between Southwest 107th and 122nd avenues.
It’s land outside of Miami Dade’s urban development boundary (UDB), drawn by the county to protect farmland and the Everglades from urban encroachment. Developers are now asking the county to expand it to make room for their project.
The commissioners will take up the matter Thursday at 9:30 a.m. If the county approves it on a preliminary vote it then goes to Tallahassee for a full review before it comes back to the commission for a final vote.
Environmentalists say they shouldn’t.
“This is also the site for the current Biscayne Bay restoration project, under Everglades restoration and this is part of the footprint of that plan,” said Laura Reynolds of the Hold The Line Coalition.
That coalition is fighting to protect the UDB and the use of this land for Everglades restoration, to recover the more than 27,000 acres of wetlands lost that’s contributing to water quality issues and seagrass die-offs in Biscayne Bay.
“We know that that area is really important because it’s adjacent to the mangrove fringe that’s part of Biscayne National Park,” Reynolds said. “And so the idea is to make sure the water is clean before it reaches the national park, and in order to do that, we have to expand the spatial extent of wetlands.”
Developers argue their project will mean a long-overdue economic boost to South Dade, an area hurting for jobs for almost 30 years since Hurricane Andrew ravaged the landscape.
“There hasn’t been a dependable employment base in South Sade for years and years,” said Juan Mayol, a lawyer representing South Dade Industrial Partners. “And this will become really an economic engine for the entire area.”
If approved, the South Dade Technology and Logistics District would be Miami-Dade’s largest industrial park: 9 million square feet of warehouses and retail space plus a 150-room hotel, promising over 11,000 jobs for residents tired of commuting and sitting in traffic for hours.
“You know the ride back and forth to downtown Miami — which is, you know, where most of the jobs are for people that live here in this area,” South Dade resident Timothy Forbes said. “Bringing this project here will really reduce a lot of that traffic, which helps the economy.”
Developers say their project will also help the environment by eliminating the farmland and all the deadly nutrients that run off it.
“We’re going to be reducing pollutant loads to the bay significantly,” said Edward Swakon, president of EAS Engineering and an environmental consultant to South Dade Industrial Partners. “Taking our project out of the need for the ag drawdown, we’re going to be reducing our water consumption. All of these things are things that help Biscayne Bay in the long run.”
But that’s easier said than done.
“The flow of water and the flow of phosphorus through the system in South Florida is really really difficult to model and predict,” said Dr. Jim Fourqurean, associate director of Florida International University’s Institute of Environment. “If this parcel of land gets changed and gets moved inside the UDB and developed, we lose the chance to be able to use that land to manage water quality and water quantity that can flow into the southern part of Biscayne Bay.
For years, Fourqurean has been documenting the seagrass die-off in the southern bay and worries that making this land impervious would disrupt the natural flow of water.
He argues you also lose the natural buffer to protect the land from the rising sea and storm surge. The area’s only 1-2 feet above sea level and is in a coastal high hazard area. Developers plan to remedy that by raising the elevation of the proposed project by up to 9 feet. But that has neighbors worried.
“So if you let them raise that land all that water is going to be pushed to us. I’m totally against it. I’m a property owner,” Mark Hill said in testimony during a South Dade community council meeting.
Developers say that won’t happen.
“The code of the county would require us to retain drainage on-site,” Mayol said. “And that affects two ways right, it affects the drainage for the development. It affects the adjacent roads and the adjacent properties. We cannot overflow our drainage into an adjacent parcel.”
The problem is the county has yet to see how they plan to do this and has not received a detailed stormwater master plan. It’s one of the big reasons staff from the county’s planning advisory board advised against moving forward and argued approving this would open the flood gates to even more urban sprawl in South Dade.
Miami-Dade’s growth rules say you can expand the urban development boundary once the county runs out of land to develop residential and commercial properties, but they’re not there yet. As a matter of fact, county planners say there’s already enough land within the existing UDB that should last until 2040.
A map shows over 500 acres of available industrial land in South Bade, but developers say that’s not big enough, even though Phase Three of their project still has no definitive development program and accounts more than half of the acreage they’re requesting.
We asked Mayol about the fact that there’s no covenant, no assurances for that third phase.
“Well there will be in place the transmittal hearing, and it’s important to understand that this is a long process,” he said.
It’s now in the hands of the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners who must decide whether or not to expand the UDB.
The fate of South Dade and Biscayne Bay both hang in the balance.
“It’s not just about having jobs,” Munroe said. “It’s about also having a good quality of life.”