The Port of Miami's much-debated "Deep Dredge" will be delayed for months -- possibly years -- as a Tallahassee judge hears arguments for and against the project this August.
Port officials tell Riptide that they are optimistic the project will still be completed on time. But a lawyer representing environmentalists says his clients are prepared to go the distance to prevent the port expansion.
"In the event we are not successful in finding a mutually acceptable solution we will continue with the challenge, take the case to trial, and seek a judgment prohibiting the dredging from going forward in any manner," says James A. Porter.
Environmentalists have argued that the dredge project -- which would enable the port to receive the super-sized freight ships that will soon stream through a widened Panama Canal -- isn't a guaranteed economy boon. Those ships may never arrive, they say, while environmental damage to Biscayne Bay will be lasting.
Port officials say the dredge project -- part of a larger $2 billion port expansion -- will create jobs and dramatically increase shipping to Miami. If it's completed on time, that is.
The court-ordered delay is a temporary victory for environmentalists, who sued at the last minute to stop the project.
The Miami Herald quoted Port Director Bill Johnson lamenting the environmentalists "obvious delay tactics." But Johnson was more optimistic in a statement emailed to Riptide.
"While disappointed in the delay in the permitting process, we believe the project will move forward and that the dredging will be completed to meet the 2014 deadline tied to the opening of the expanded Panama Canal," he said.
Porter -- who represents the Tropical Audubon Society, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, and fishing captain Dan Kipnis -- didn't leave much room for negotiation, however.
"The likelihood of settlement will largely depend on the County's willingness to acknowledge the risk and the consequences of failing to resolve the matter and going to trial," he said.
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