The Port of Miami’s plan to deepen the channel into its harbor to accommodate post-Panamax ships ran into an environmental roadblock this week.
A group of environmentalists filed a petition on Monday with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection contending that the project would badly damage Biscayne Bay and kill protected wildlife, according to the Miami Herald.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a permit to widen the entrance to the main channel by some 300 feet and deepen much of the port to 52 feet. The project is necessary for the port accommodate the much-larger ships that will start coming through the Panama Canal after it completes its new set of locks in 2014.
Miami is the only port in the Southeast with the permits, Congressional approval and funding needed to start deepening its harbor, which the Army Corps planned to undertake this summer. But the petition by a group of environmentalists could put the project on hold.
“The concept of blasting a hole in the bottom of the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve is just something my clients couldn’t live with,” said James Porter, the attorney representing the Tropical Audubon Society, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper and Miami Beach boat captain Dan Kipnis. The project calls for as much as 600 days of “confined blasting,” which Porter said would remove five to six million cubic yards of material from Miami’s harbor.
Miami Port Director Bill Johnson stood by the findings of state reviews that said the project would not destroy the bay.
“The project has undergone extensive studies and reviews by numerous agencies to ensure that stringent environmental safeguards are in place to preserve the surrounding waters, ecosystems and marine life,” Johnson said in a statement. “We respect the permitting process and look forward to a speedy resolution.”
Florida’s DEP said it is reviewing the environmentalists’ petition to ensure it passes legal muster, which would take about two weeks. If the DEP’s attorneys find the petition “legally sufficient,” the state can set a hearing. If deemed insufficient, the DEP will dismiss the petition, at which point the environmentalists’ attorney Porter can file an amended copy.