Environmentalists Sue to Stop Port of Miami Deep Dredge Project

Faced with up to two years of underwater blasting that they say will forever scar Biscayne Bay, local environmentalists played their last card yesterday to stop the Port of Miami "Deep Dredge" project: They sued.

Now a judge will determine whether the Florida Department of Environmental Protection followed proper procedures to safeguard Biscayne Bay before approving the $150-250 million project.

"Once we inflict enormous environmental damage on the Bay, we can't go back," said Captain Dan Kipnis in a press release accompanying the lawsuit. "This could be a permanent setback to the Bay as we know it."

Plaintiffs on the suit include Kipnis, The Tropical Audubon Society, and Biscayne Bay Waterkeepers. The trio of environmentalists first raised the threat of suing in September, when they appealed for more time to study the project and its possible effects on Biscayne Bay's fragile ecology.

But that request was denied on November 10, leaving them little option but to file an official suit, lawyer Jim Porter explained yesterday in a letter to FDEP officials.

Port officials argue that the dredge will make Miami more competitive as Post-Panamax freightships start streaming through the Panama Canal. Port upgrades could create 30,000 jobs, claims Port Director Bill Johnson.

Even if unsuccessful, however, the new lawsuit could delay the dredging for up to one year.

"My clients remain open to finding a solution," Porter wrote in his letter. "They seek the opportunity to meet and talk with the stakeholders about how to improve the terms of the permit to better protect Biscayne Bay and the coral reefs. If the Department is open to such a discussion we may be able to avoid the need for protected [sic] litigation on the permit and other matters."

FDEP officials confirmed receiving the lawsuit today but did not comment. Back in September, however, water resource management director Mark Thomasson said he wasn't worried by the threat of litigation back.

"This wouldn't bring everything to a screeching halt," he said. "We wouldn't have given notice of intent to issue a permit if we didn't think it was in the best interests of the bay."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.

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