Building highways outside the Urban Development Boundary will hurt Everglades restoration

On behalf of the 63 organizations of the Everglades Coalition, committed to the protection and restoration of the Everglades, we urge Miami-Dade decision makers to deny application for expansion of State Road 836 past the protective Urban Development Boundary (UDB). The Everglades Coalition has consistently presented its position, more than seven times since 2008, on the UDB and threat of expanding it and the impact to the Everglades.

Miami’s low-lying topography makes the city uniquely vulnerable to rising tides. The center of the county is occupied by a ridge known as the “Atlantic Coastal Ridge” with an average elevation of approximately 12 feet above sea level. Outside the ridge, however, elevations decline quickly, with almost a third lying at or below 3 feet above sea level. To make things worse, Miami is experiencing a faster-than-average rate of sea-level rise. This is not just a coastal issue — the county’s western periphery will also experience increased flooding in already low-lying areas.

Flooding isn’t the only problem. As Miami’s population grows, so does the demand for freshwater. Continued withdrawal of freshwater from the Biscayne aquifer, combined with the rising seas, will allow saltwater to further infiltrate the aquifer and render it unusable.

The challenges before us are immense. Fortunately, solutions are at hand: Pursue full-scale accelerated Everglades restoration; cease new development in the low-lying western and eastern periphery of the county; and encourage infill development, walkability and transit-oriented development to accommodate growth.

To achieve these objectives, we simply need to commit to upholding the protections which already exist, most notably the Miami-Dade Urban Development Boundary (UDB) which prohibits development in the low-lying western and eastern portions of the county.

The unpaved sensitive land outside the UDB is critical to protecting our water supply and to Everglades restoration efforts. It provides a path for water to percolate into and recharge our aquifer. It contains lands designated for Everglades restoration projects that will restore desperately needed freshwater flow and absorb the impacts of flooding.

To the detriment of the Everglades and low-lying areas, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority proposes a 500-foot-wide extension of State Road 836 well past this protective boundary into thousands of acres of farms and wetlands, in hopes it will solve traffic woes. But what Miami’s undeniable traffic problems require is earnest investment in the county’s SMART plan and the promotion of infill development along transit corridors and the Atlantic Coastal Ridge.

This latest affront to the UDB policy will invariably lead to new development and urban sprawl, and put people and investment in harm’s way. It will prove disastrous for Everglades Restoration and lead to more traffic. Adhering to the good planning principles already in place and embodied in the Urban Development Boundary and the SMART plan will help Miami face its challenging future of rising seas and population growth.

This expansion proposal must be denied. The future of the America’s Everglades and South Florida depends on it.

Michael Baldwin and Mark Perry are the co-chairs of the Everglades Coalition.