Palmetto Bay

Vice mayor’s mangrove dispute drags on

The county’s suit against Palmetto Bay Vice Mayor John DuBois, alleging that he illegally trimmed mangroves and filled wetlands on the 8-acre bayfront property he bought for $2.25 million in 2000, continues.

State and county laws protect mangroves because of their importance to the ecosystem and because they protect from shore erosion. Property owners typically have to apply for a permit to trim them, although the state does exempt some trimming. Work in coastal wetlands — which are also critical to shore erosion, drainage, and local ecosystems — also typically require permits.

In July 2013, the Environmental Quality Control Board ruled that numerous violations had occurred on the property and noted that aerial photographs showed a 5,270-square-foot mangrove canopy to have disappeared between 2003 and 2005. The EQCB proceedings did not determine the full extent of the damage done.

The case has been ongoing since September 2012, and last March a Miami-Dade circuit judge ordered DuBois to hire environmental consultants to assess the extent of the damage done and to recommend actions for remediation.

DuBois won a small concession from the county in September, when it agreed to remove language from the order assuming that a proper wetland delineation had already been performed on the property. The revised order required DuBois’ commissioned environmental assessment to establish one following state statutes.

But the environmental report DuBois ultimately filed to the county in November, prepared by RS Environmental Consulting in coordination with DuBois’ lawyer, essentially argues that no significant environmental damage was done, and that no remediation is necessary.

The 37-page report concluded that historical surveys of the area had shown the site not to have wetlands on it, and that DuBois had not illegally filled any wetlands. It also concluded that despite isolated incidents of wrongful mangrove trimming occurring, that “a significant net ecological gain in mangrove health, extent and density” had been achieved under DuBois’ stewardship.

The county will likely next take aim at the report’s credibility: on Thursday, the Regulatory and Economic Resources department — in charge of reviewing and accepting the environmental assessment report — sent a letter to DuBois’ lawyer requesting a series of clarifications about it.

In late January, DuBois filed a suit in federal court against the county, alleging that it used its environmental agency to discriminate against him by singling him out for selective enforcement. It also alleges and that the RER department retaliated against DuBois with additional enforcement mechanisms — and ultimately with litigation — when he spoke out against them publicly.

DuBois has filed similar litigation before: in March 2013, he sued the DERM enforcement officer who issued the citations against him, alleging that the citations were falsified, and that the officer was engaged in a coordinated conspiracy to slander DuBois during the 2012 election cycle in which DuBois won his seat on the Palmetto Bay council. That suit, which named several defendants, is still ongoing, although all counts related to the enforcement officer have been dismissed.

DuBois declined to be comment for this story.