The Port of Miami will be able to move ahead with its project to deepen its harbor under an agreement announced Thursday with three environmental groups that filed a petition with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in December to block the dredging.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez announced that pending approval by the Board of County Commissioners, the county had reached agreement with the Tropical Audubon Society, Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers and a county resident, Dan Kipnis.
The 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 to accommodate the much larger ships that will start coming through the Panama Canal after work is completed on new canal locks by 2015.
The agreement was reached after a number of meetings to discuss how the county could best support the goals and objectives of the environmental community. The county agreed to provide funding to the Biscayne Bay Environmental Enhancement Trust Fund managed by the county’s Department of Permitting, Environment and Regulatory Affairs. The county is also donating funds to the nonprofit groups Tropical Audubon Society and Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper for projects designed to protect and restore Biscayne Bay.
Because these funds would support environmental projects, the petitioners agreed to withdraw their opposition to the issuance of a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit to allow the Corps of Engineers to move forward with the construction phase of the dredging project. These funds are in addition to the regulatory and environmental monitoring and mitigation requirements that are part of the state permitting process.
The money will be used for county-sponsored projects including: mangrove and wetland restoration at Oleta River State Park in North Miami; restoration of coastal dunes and plants along the north point of Virginia Key; monitoring of relocated coral colonies on the natural reef system; monitoring of small fish populations in the sea grass beds; and the improvement of shoal marker and signage systems in the north part of the Bay including the Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area.
The agreement will go before the Board of County Commissioners on May 1 for final approval.