Only one road lets cars enter and exit Florida International University's Biscayne Bay Campus. The Arch Creek East Environmental Preserve pens in the rest of the area's western border — and sometimes creates a traffic bottleneck that backs up through the campus.
FIU seems to think it can solve this problem by letting cars plow through the nature preserve. A single "access road" connects the south tip of the campus to NE 135th Street, but the street isn't open to the public. Now FIU is lobbying Tallahassee to let the school open that road to the public.
Naturally, nearby residents are infuriated, and North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin is chief among them. All week, Galvin has been blasting out emails and posting Facebook Live updates about the proposed change. Now that the proposal sailed through the Florida House yesterday, Galvin is leading a drive to urge residents to call their state senators and demand they kill the idea.
"This is city property," Galvin tells New Times. "It's city-owned land. How does the state Legislature have a right to tell us what to do with it?"
North Miami formally turned Arch Creek into a preserve in 2007. FIU has been fighting to gain access to the road for a while. Galvin notes that the university in 2011 asked the county to let it use the access road and then later tried to lobby Miami state Sen. Gwen Margolis to adopt the change in order to make it easier for the campus to evacuate during hurricanes. Now FIU is trying again, and the school confirmed to the Miami Herald earlier this week that administrators are using the Parkland massacre to argue that the state should open the access road to evacuate the school in the event of a shooting.
Instead, Galvin and other preserve defenders say that FIU can easily build new access roads in other areas of campus and that the school is trying to sink its teeth into the park. Two state representatives — Central Florida's Blaise Ingoglia and the Panhandle's Brad Drake — inserted identical amendments into their bills (HB 883 and 1287, respectively) stating local governments cannot regulate highly specific roads that lead into or out of public universities. The language just so happens to reference the exact road FIU wants to open:
A local governmental entity may not prohibit motor vehicle use on or access to an existing transportation facility or transportation corridor, as defined in s. 334.03, if such facility or corridor is the only point, or one of only two points, of ingress to and egress from a state university, as defined in s. 1000.21, regulated by the Board of Governors of the State University System as provided in s. 20.155.
Though Ingoglia's bill failed, Drake's measure — a huge, multipronged transportation bill — sailed through the House unanimously yesterday. Galvin confirmed North Miami's own lobbyists are now working in Tallahassee to persuade the state Senate to change course.
"Six years ago, they tried to push this through Gwen Margolis," Galvin says. "But the local community was able to successfully convince her to reconsider. Now they picked Drake, whose district literally borders Alabama."
Galvin says residents' only recourse is to bombard their state senators with calls and emails — just like many of them did with Margolis in years past.
"There are so many unanswered questions," he says. "What do they plan to do with all the cars on the road? There are mangroves there. I've had little old ladies planting mangroves there every Tuesday morning for three years."
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In 2016, FIU proposed plowing over its own, separate nature preserve to build a football field.
The Urban Paradise Guild, one of Miami's most prominent environmental rights groups, released a white paper yesterday deeply criticizing FIU's Board of Trustees over the Arch Creek plan. In no uncertain terms, the group says the university is "stealing" an
"Traffic will kill birds, mammals, and insects in one of North Miami’s few remaining natural areas," the environmental group writes. "Pollution (road runoff and exhaust) will degrade the air and water, affecting federally protected mangroves and manatees, as well as seagrass beds, corals, and aquatic organisms in Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves."
The group then attached a video of a manatee swimming through the park's waterways.