Miami-Dade County

Commissioner calls off vote on Miami-Dade manatee protection revisions

A Miami-Dade commissioner withdrew from a vote Thursday proposed revisions to the county’s manatee protection plan that could have allowed more boat docks to be built along key local waterways.

But that doesn’t mean Commissioner Bruno Barreiro’s plan is going away.

Instead, he asked county staffers to informally send the proposals to state regulators so they may weigh in.

“Go up to the state, get feedback and come back,” Barreiro said, adding that he would like to have a resolution in the next three months.

The commissioner had hoped the county would formally transmit his proposal to Tallahassee for approval or denial. But he acknowledged he didn’t have the support of his colleagues on the land use and development committee.

Of the four committee members present Thursday, three had reservations about his amendments. A fifth member was absent.

Lee Hefty, director of the county’s division of environmental resources management, or DERM, called Thursday’s action the “best approach” to hammer out an updated manatee-protection plan. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must both sign off on any changes. The agencies prefer to work with counties behind the scenes to draft language before a formal review.

Some of Barreiro’s revisions have been vetted by county and state regulators and originated with a committee that finished reviewing the manatee protection plan in 2009. But others came from the marine and development industries, and Hefty said they went counter to scientific data compiled to show danger zones for endangered manatees.

“I can tell you, there’s no compromise on the table,” Barreiro said.

He said he was frustrated that the committee’s recommendations from five years ago didn’t go anywhere, and that he intended only to jump-start the conversation. Among the revisions he endorsed, Barreiro said, was at least one change proponents of more development don’t want: grandfathering fewer properties to allow them to keep or rebuild docks without seeking new permits.

Environmental activists and representatives of the marine and recreational boating industries in the audience did not get a chance to speak. The item was withdrawn, and county rules would have required a public hearing only had Barreiro’s proposal been different from the one discussed at length by the same committee in January.

Only Harvey Ruvin, the elected clerk of the courts, was given permission to approach the microphone to oppose loosening any restrictions and remind commissioners that Miami-Dade has a history of protecting sea cows.

That’s a stance the county should continue to take, several commissioners said.

“I know that we might not be the most populous [county] for manatees,” Commissioner Lynda Bell said. “But they’re a species that merits protection.”