A contractor clearing land on Virginia Key to make way for the Miami International Boat Show is responsible for the illegal removal of protected mangroves, Miami administrators said Thursday.
Environmental regulators discovered the blunder back in May after coming upon a pile of trees chopped down immediately west of the Miami Marine Stadium. Most of the trees were invasive species, but amid the Australian pines and Brazilian peppers were black and red mangroves, which provide valuable protection from erosion and shelter for young fish and nesting birds.
The tree removals outraged Miami residents and played right into the hands of critics from neighboring Key Biscayne that the Boat Show’s plans to exhibit hundreds of vessels on the stadium grounds will damage an environmentally sensitive area. It also incensed some Miami commissioners, who have yet to receive a comprehensive answer as to how the city made such a damaging mistake.
“How can the city of Miami allow that to happen?” Commissioner Frank Carollo almost shouted Thursday during a city commission meeting.
Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo said the city is still trying to answer that question.
“Our contractor was instructed to remove exotic tree species out there. Amongst those there were mangroves,” Bravo told Carollo. “The contractor mistakenly removed mangroves among the species removed. The contractor has agreed to take responsibility for his actions.”
Bravo told a reporter later that two contractors had been working on the site, Metro Express and JB Builders, and that the city doesn’t yet know which company cut down the trees. She also said that only a small portion of the 330 feet of brush cut down was comprised of mangroves.
Efforts to reach the two companies after Bravo provided their names Thursday evening were unsuccessful.
The city is currently working with the county to correct the illegal removal of mangroves. Earlier this month, Miami-Dade’s director of the Division of Environmental Resources Management sent the city a cease-and-desist order from any further unauthorized work and gave the city one month to enter into a consent agreement.
City officials met Wednesday with environmental regulators, and said they would consider replanting mangroves on Virginia Key in planters. A summary of the meeting provided by environmental officer JoAnne Clingerman states that the city is talking about a settlement and entering into a consent agreement in the next 10 days.
Coming to terms with the county may not be enough for city commissioners, who want to know how the mangroves were cut and why the city didn’t stop it. Carollo, who was livid, said it’s ridiculous that the city hasn’t been able to answer those questions yet. City Attorney Victoria Méndez said there are liability issues that need to be worked out, but Carollo wanted none of it.
“I think it’s insulting that the city of Miami does this and there’s no response and you want to give some kind of report in September after the summer?” he said. “That’s just unacceptable.”
In other action Thursday:
- Commissioners approved the receipt of a $22 million, zero-interest loan from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in order to dredge and clean the Wagner Creek and Seybold Canal, a tributary of the Miami River that is among South Florida’s most polluted waterways.
- Commissioners upheld a decision by their historic preservation board to remove a parcel of land on the Miami River from the South River Drive Historic District. Avra Jain, the new owner of the Miami River Inn, said the decision was made improperly and unfairly damaged the district, the remainder of which is made up by the buildings comprising the inn. Former state lawmaker Manny Prieguez Jr. contended that the building that made the property historic was razed years before he even bought the property.