Temporarily Grounded?

The race to develop Homestead Air Force Base could soon hit a major snag. It's called Mother Nature.

"I think this is a litmus-test issue," declares Alan Farago, a member of the Sierra Club's Miami Chapter and one of the staunchest foes of the development. "It's an instance where the rhetoric of protecting the environment meets the reality of insider politics, and there's a major question in the minds of the national environmental community whether or not the Democratic Party is able to represent the public interest in this matter."

While the Clinton administration might be torn on this topic, the same can't be said for the Dade County Commission, which, as a body, has tried to ram the deal through. The commission's most recent gesture came September 23, when it voted (nearly unanimously) in favor of a resolution that ordered the county's lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to fight a proposed bill designed to curtail airplane traffic above national parks. The bill, introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, would allow the secretary of the interior to regulate flights in order to protect the so-called natural quiet of the parks.

Dade commissioners want the wording of the bill changed so it exempts Dade County, thereby allowing commercial planes to continue passing without restrictions over Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park. Under HABDI's plans, a commercial airport at Homestead would generate more than 250,000 flights annually, the majority passing over at least one of the parks. "By approving the resolution, Dade County has announced to the nation that this is one of the most anti-environmental jurisdictions in America," Farago says. "This resolution is a hostile act against the national parks."

Adds Joe Browder, an environmental consultant in Washington, D.C., and a board member of Friends of the Everglades: "Dade County has had a fig leaf concealing its real intentions. But now that fig leaf has dropped. Local government is saying that these parks can be the dumping ground for our noise and pollution in the interest of our economy."

And, in fact, during discussion that preceded the vote, Commissioner Natacha Millan said almost exactly that. "Show me an economic development motor and show me a bird," she proclaimed, "and I'm going to choose the economic development motor.

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