Buy back pine rockland property, then protect it

RALLYING TOGETHER: Amy Werba, center, marches with others as environmental advocates protest planned development of a Walmart and an amusement park on pine rockland near Zoo Miami.
RALLYING TOGETHER: Amy Werba, center, marches with others as environmental advocates protest planned development of a Walmart and an amusement park on pine rockland near Zoo Miami. Miami Herald Staff

Tropical Audubon Society and the Hold the Line Campaign have long supported in-fill development that is well-placed and supports smart-growth principles. The proposal to create a community redevelopment agency or, rather, a “developer subsidy” to mow down globally imperiled pine rocklands where there are less that 2 percent remaining in Miami-Dade County is absurd.

We also recently opposed the use of $13.5 million of general-obligation bond money to make this deal more attractive to developers such as Twentieth-Century Fox and RAM. Miami-Dade residents should demand that we not spend one more minute or one more taxpayer dollar on this project. Instead we should use resources to purchase, protect and manage the entire 900-acre parcel. Not only is finding a way to buy the remaining property the right thing to do, it also will invigorate Zoo Miami by enhancing and showcasing its own local habitat.

The county has been planning the Miami Wilds Project for more than a decade, wasting precious time and resources desperately needed elsewhere in the community. The University of Miami had the opportunity to create a research facility and satellite campus on this property after being gifted more than 130 acres from the federal government until a decision was made to sell that parcel in 2005 for a mere $22 million. The university should recognize its error, buy back the property and help the community preserve these amazing 900 acres. More than a dozen endangered plants and animals have been found to be using this one area. In fact, the Fish and Wildlife Service designated it “critical habitat.”

This is what must be done to protect this area:

▪ Commissioner Dennis Moss, who has deferred this issue from Tuesday’s agenda, should instead withdraw the entire proposal and seek a new location for the Miami Wilds Project. With 95,000 signatures and counting, the Pinerockland Coalition formed mainly of District 9 constituents, local businesses, homeowners associations and six nonprofit environmental organizations want the pinelands protected. Let’s honor the concept of governing for the people. CRAs were originally designed to help lift slum and blighted areas out of poverty.

▪ UM’s board of trustees should meet with RAM development company and its chair, Peter Cummings, the executive board of the Pinerockland Coalition and Miami-Dade County in order to set up a trust fund with $22 million deposited for the purpose of buying back the property currently slated for a Walmart and Chick-fil-A. UM President Donna Shalala repeatedly has said that nobody objected to this back in 2005. However, Tropical Audubon Society, the Native Plant Society and a Ph.D. student from UM all testified to the many endangered species and the quality of this forest and that it should be protected.

▪ Miami-Dade County should lobby for Amendment 1 dollars to help purchase and maintain this rare and endangered ecosystem — in addition to telling the Parks Department and other staff members to focus their energy on preserving, not destroying, these 900 acres.

If we all pull together, anything is possible. We have already lost 98 percent of this forest; we cannot spare one more acre to development.

Instead, we should be ripping up parking lots, planting trees and figuring out how to get people out of their cars and back out into nature.

Laura Reynolds is executive director of Tropical Audubon Society.