Feds host online meeting to discuss Walmart in rare forest

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will host an online meeting Thursday to answer questions about plans to build a Walmart-anchored shopping center on the largest remaining tract of rare pine rockland outside Everglades National Park.

Earlier this month, the agency rejected requests to hold a public meeting on the controversial project and instead scheduled the online webinar from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Callers can participate by calling 888-324-6912. The conference number is PW3668902 and passcode is 2938997. The session can also be accessed by going to https://www.mymeetings.com/nc/join.php?i=PW3668902&p=2938997&t=c.

Information to be reviewed during the call is available at: https://www.fws.gov/verobeach/NewsReleasesPDFs/CRC/20170426_CRCpublic%20meeting_ESA_CRC.pdf.

The controversial project includes 900 apartments, a 289,000-square-foot shopping center and parking on 138 acres of pineland near Zoo Miami on a former navy blimp base. The land, given to the University of Miami by the U.S. Department of Education, had been targeted by environmentalists for conservation. But in 2014, the university sold the land to a Palm Beach County developer for $22 million. After Peter Cummings started work, U.S. wildlife officials warned him to stop or face potential violations for harming endangered species.

A draft conservation plan includes about 51 acres of preserved land, but critics worry chopping up the forest will make it harder for the endangered bats, butterflies, beetles and plants that inhabit the forest to survive. The agency is taking public comment on the plan through May 22.

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