By the Miami Herald Editorial Board
It would be easy for Miami-Dade County commissioners to dismiss environmentalists who are fighting against a proposed industrial complex on the edge of Biscayne Bay as anti-progress tree-huggers.
That would be a mistake. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a staunch pro-business conservative; Miami-Dade County’s own experts; and state and federal agencies agree that the South Dade Logistics & Technology District could be a bad deal for the environment.
For elected officials to ignore all the red flags these entities have raised would fly in the face of reason.
But county commissioners might do just that. A majority of them allowed the project to advance last year against the recommendation of county planners. On Thursday, they will cast a final vote on a developers’ proposal to add almost 800 acres of rural land off Florida’s Turnpike to the Urban Development Boundary. The applicants promise the district, consisting of warehouses and distribution facilities, will bring more than 11,000 jobs to South Dade in the next decade, a hefty figure that they fail to “substantiate,” county staff wrote in a report.
The Urban Development Boundary — or UDB — is a county-drawn line that’s a buffer between development and farm and environmentally sensitive lands. It is only supposed to be expanded when the county is about to run out of existing space. However, county staff said in the report that there’s enough industrial land south of Southwest 184th Street to last through 2040. Developers disagree, saying there are too few developable parcels in the region.
The proposed industrial district near Homestead sits at Southwest 268th Street and north of Moody Drive. It’s in a “Coastal High Hazard Area” and would reduce the “community’s resiliency to major hurricanes,” according to county staff.
BUILDINGS VS. FARMS
Aligned Real Estate Holdings and its team of consultants have painted the project as a better alternative to the farming operations that currently take place on the location.
They say fertilizer runoff from tree nurseries and crops hurts Biscayne Bay. They have vowed to hold all stormwater on site and direct it into ground water slowly. That, they told the Herald Editorial Board, would achieve the goals of existing bay and Everglades restoration projects “in spades” and without public funding.
The South Dade Logistics & Technology District would be “a shining example of how private property owners and industry can deliver long-term resilience solutions,” Aligned Real Estate Holdings wrote in a letter to state agencies.
The notion that warehouses are better for the bay than green space on its face defies common sense. Beyond that, Miami-Dade Chief Resilience Officer James Murley wrote in a letter that urban development and parking lots also bring pollution like heavy metals. He warned that because it’s unclear what businesses would operate there, it’s impossible to determine how much pollution they would produce, the Herald reported.
Developers also have tried to convince county commissioners the 793 acres are “poorly suited” for agriculture. But the Florida Department of Agriculture disagreed with that claim in a scathing response to the project in October, saying agricultural production has been present in the area for almost a century. The department opposes the logistics district, adding it would disrupt flood control in surrounding areas.
The biggest problem is whether the land, or portions of it, might be needed in the future for a project to restore Biscayne Bay and the Everglades. Developers have tried to convince the Editorial Board and elected officials that that’s not going to be the case, but they aren’t telling the full story.
Last fall, at least parts of the 793-acre parcel had been under consideration for water-storage use under the Biscayne Bay and Southeastern Everglades Ecosystem Restoration. The BBSEER’s goal is to send more water to the Bay and restore wetlands and mangroves.
In March, scientists didn’t include the parcel for consideration in further studies. But the Army Corps of Engineers told the Herald this week that older proposals haven’t been screened out and are still part of the process.
Aligned Real Estate Holdings told the Editorial Board through its spokesman on Wednesday that, “Even if the Corps were to reassess” the site, “we are confident it will not be included in any BBSEER project in the future” because it was previously rejected in 2008.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Interior dealt a blow to that claim. In a letter to the County Commission, the federal department warned against advancing the proposal before BBSEER planning is finished.
Rubio opposes the project for the same reason. That he and County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, a registered Democrat, have joined forces against the UDB expansion, speaks volumes about the risk it poses to the Everglades. They co-authored an op-ed in the Herald last year.
This won’t be the first or last time developers come before the County Commission with grandiose plans that purport to fix our economic and environmental problems. But our elected officials must read the fine print. If they do — and take it seriously — they must prioritize our already-fragile natural resources.
Unchecked urban sprawl got us into the trouble we’re in today. More of it won’t be the solution.
This editorial was written by the Miami Herald Editorial Board, which is part of the Invading Sea collaborative of Florida editorial boards focused on the threats posed by the warming climate.