Miami-Dade County leaders have a number of decisions to make in the coming days, months and years that will define how we prepare for a changing Miami. If unsustainable developments are approved and move forward — be it a landfill expansion, a highway running through the Everglades ecosystem or new commercial and industrial development in currently undeveloped low-lying areas — they will create future liabilities and sprawling urban areas that will require expensive, though not necessarily effective, flood control. This will put the region’s water resources at risk.
On Tuesday, the County Commission is scheduled to consider whether to approve an application from the Neighborhood Planning Company for an industrial and commercial development on more than 60 acres of agricultural land and wetlands outside of the Urban Development Boundary (UDB).
The development would sit entirely on top of the West Wellfield Protection Area, in which certain land uses and activities are regulated or prohibited to protect the potable water supply from contamination and to provide recharge of the aquifer. Industrial development on this site puts our drinking-water supply at risk. This proposal should not move forward.
The development would be outside of the UDB, close to Everglades National Park and encroach on the Everglades ecosystem. Yet impacts of this project on Everglades-restoration projects have not been evaluated.
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Numerous endangered and threatened species live in the area, including the bonneted bat, Eastern indigo snake, wood stork, little blue heron, reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, snowy egret, tricolored heron and white ibis. If county commissioners approve the application, they will do so without understanding the potential impacts to wetlands, Everglades restoration and numerous endangered and threatened species.
Not only is the proposed development inconsistent with the county’s Comprehensive Development Master Plan, it flies in the face of responsible planning for sea-level rise. It is part of continuous pressure to develop outside the UDB, in most cases on land that is extremely low lying and vulnerable to sea-level rise. Neighborhood Planning Company’s proposed industrial and commercial expansion of the UDB is one of several projects in the works that would add infrastructure to undeveloped areas in the county vulnerable to sea-level rise.
Similarly, a expansion proposal for South Miami-Dade would put a landfill in the footprint of Everglades restoration in a location that will be completely inundated with two feet of sea-level rise. The landfill proposal is particularly egregious considering one of our best defenses against sea-level rise is restoration of the Everglades ecosystem.
Likewise, the proposed expansion of State Road 836 would put a major highway through the Everglades ecosystem in low-lying wetlands.
All of these projects must be stopped. Flood control in the face of rising sea levels is a challenge we have not yet figured out how to address. One thing is clear: We are struggling to find flood-control solutions for the existing urban footprint. We cannot afford to bring on additional land, which will require additional flood control, to urbanized Miami-Dade County.
Adaptation to sea-level rise requires a vision for our region that minimizes the footprint of land we develop and makes more room for water. Our region has a monumental challenge ahead to figure out solutions for this problem. Without a dramatic shift in greenhouse gas emissions, these solutions will only be temporary. We must adapt. If we continue to allow urban expansion without considering the liability and infrastructure we are putting in harm’s way, we ignore reality. Isaac Stein, a University of Miami architecture graduate with the firm West 8, devoted his senior thesis to saving Miami Beach. His visionary design for Miami Beach, featured in November Vanity Fair, uses natural systems such as mangroves to aid in flood control and erosion prevention, while creating an vibrant urban environment that exists with rising waters.
Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision for New York City and Central Park and Daniel Burnham’s plan for Chicago made those cities the vibrant and the dynamic places they are today. Visionary and anticipatory urban planning for Miami-Dade County has the potential to allow this region to thrive in the face of climate challenges.
The protections in place to protect the water supply and the Everglades ecosystem are ever more critical in a changing climate. These factors alone are reason enough to deny any application to expand the UDB and develop industrial land on top of a Wellfield Protection Area.
Julie Dick is a staff attorney at Everglades Law Center.