Last summer, environmentalists were horrified when a section of protected mangroves on Virginia Key were cut down by a City of Miami contractor working on preparations for the 2016 Miami International Boat Show. City officials apologized and blamed the contractor, saying it was all a mistake.
But now the mayor of Key Biscayne says that's B.S. — and that she has the emails to prove the City of Miami knew exactly what would happen to the mangroves.
"They feigned ignorance," Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay says, "but I think this email really sheds light as to what the intent was."
Last June, residents and elected officials alike cried out in protest when the contractor cleared 300 feet of protected mangroves along the shoreline.
“How can the City of Miami allow that to happen?” Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo shouted at a commission meeting. "They were wiped out. I just don't fathom how this city overlooks that and just tears up an environmentally sensitive area — I think that's just outrageous."
Miami's deputy city manager at the time, Alice Bravo, laid the blame on the contractor, saying a work crew was "instructed to remove exotic tree species" and "mistakenly removed mangroves" that were among the invasive species.
"The contractor has agreed to take responsibility for his actions," Bravo said at the July commission meeting, soon after the mangrove destruction, and assured everyone that the city was working with the county to implement a remediation plan.
But now, just weeks ahead of the boat show, Peña Lindsay says the City of Miami was, in fact, an active participant, not an unwitting bystander, in the mangrove destruction. Peña Lindsay's assertion is based in part on a December 2014 email sent from a boat show organizer to Bravo and others related to ground preparations for the show.
The email, which was provided to New Times, reads in part:
"Can you confirm that the entire property will be cleared of trees and leveled with a limerock ground surface from the Rowing Club border on the east to the parking lot area of the Fish House on the west? We need to know specifically the plan for the trees immediately in front of the stadium, the circular drive curbs, and the old ticket box shelter."
There's no reply included in the email chain from Bravo or others. But Peña Lindsay — who has long opposed the boat show's relocation to Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key — is convinced the communication is evidence of a plan to raze the mangroves.
Besides the protected mangroves, a historical fountain on the property was also removed, "under the pretext that it was a safety issue," the mayor says. She adds that "from the beginning" of the city's talks with the National Marine Manufacturers Association — the boat show's organizer — she and the Village of Key Biscayne were concerned about a lack of transparency related to the project and the City of Miami's overt interest in commercialization.
"What may have been a good idea," Peña Lindsay says, "kind of evolved into a really bad, poorly thought plan that had been fast-tracked."
The email request, which Pena Lindsay reads as a followup to undocumented, verbal meetings between the city and NMMA, lays bare the city's and NMMA's true priorities. "The actions speak volumes," the mayor says. "The mangroves were cut, and the circle was removed... It's not an accident."
But Bravo, who is now director of Miami-Dade's transportation and public works department — and no longer a City of Miami employee — vehemently denies that she or anyone with the city was aware the mangroves would be destroyed.
"No, no, no, no," she says.
Bravo acknowledges receiving the December 2014 email but maintains that the NMMA employee "was talking about the parking lots where tents were going to be, not the shoreline and mangrove areas."
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Asked how the destruction could have occurred, Bravo says it was a simple error: "The contractor failed to take the necessary steps to protect the mangroves. So you have to ask him."
Peña Lindsay isn't convinced.
"They couldn't care less about this community," she says, referring to the City of Miami and NMMA. "They couldn't care less about the resources that are in and around land that they are raping and pillaging."
This week, the Miami International Boat Show gained final approval for its site move to Virginia Key and is scheduled to begin February 11.