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Jenny Staletovich / WLRN / North Carolina State University Commissioners pass a vote to move decades-old boundary that protects South Dade Wetlands.

FL - Storm surge concerns after Miami-Dade wetlands boundary change

A vote by Miami-Dade County commissioners last week to move the decades-old boundary that protects wetlands and farms will allow development in an area previously off-limits because of its vulnerability to flooding.

A 380-acre warehouse and logistics center would replace farm fields near wetlands that help protect the coast from hurricane storm surges while also cleaning the stormwater that drains back out.

South Florida Roundup host Wilkine Brutus discussed the issue with WLRN’s Environment Editor, Jenny Staletovich.

The proposed location for the warehouse is east of Florida’s Turnpike and about a mile-and-a-half from a coastal mangroves preserve.

“We're talking about an area that is prone to flooding and has already seen some impacts from sea rise,” Staletovich said.

Aligned Real Estate originally proposed a larger project totaling almost 800 acres, but it failed to win the necessary votes. After four attempts, the scaled-back plan won an 8-4 vote, the super-majority required to amend the county's comprehensive plan.

The developers argued the warehouses will provide more jobs and reduce traffic by providing local work. They say the supply for industrial warehouses in the southern part of the county is nearly depleted. But county staff say sufficient industrial land is available to meet demands.

“The bottom line is the county said we have plenty of warehouse industrial space inside the boundary, there's no need to move the boundary,” Staletovich said. "Especially in this area in South Dade that is designated a [coastal high hazard zone], that ultimately is needed to protect us from storm surge. It's [also] a project that affects two national parks.”

Because the project would be in a coastal high-hazard zone, facing increased flooding from sea level rise as well as worsening hazards from hurricane storm surges, developers are planning to elevate the center.

The project drew a long list of opponents that include the U.S. Department of Interior, the Everglades Coalition that represents more than 60 environmental groups, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and several municipalities. Many opponents worry the project will interfere with Everglades restoration. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the midst of planning a critical project to help reverse damage to Biscayne Bay and southern marshes caused by canals and other old flood control features.

"We need our wetlands now more than ever," Staletovich said.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has until Friday to decide whether to veto the commission's vote. However, the veto could be overturned if two-thirds of the commission then votes to override it.

“[Cava] said very plainly she opposes that [and] that it is in the wrong place, it's the wrong project,” Staletovich said. “She said afterwards that she was weighing her options.”

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